Time goes by-and I’m still trying to write!

Well everyone, I just wanted to apologize for disappearing from the blog scene!  Life has thrown me a promotion and it is eating up all the time I have to write.  I barely spend any time on the computer at home and because I work for the DoD the sites I visit at work are monitored and semi controlled so there really isn’t anytime to write there either.  Please bear with me as I am trying to get a couple of posts up.  A little teaser about them, one involves the 2013 Colorado Distillers Festival and the second is a look at Lenny Eckstein — owner/head distiller of Deerhammer Distilling Company.  Please stay tuned and I am really looking forward to getting these posts up!

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Review of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Batch 29

stranahans

What can I say, I’m from Colorado and I have embraced Stanahan’s Colorado Whiskey as a little piece of home I can take with me.  The story of this whiskey is a great one and while I know it well, I will leave it up to the crew from the distillery to tell so please check out their website at www.stranahans.com.

Stranahan’s has become one of the craft whiskey successes from the United States and has made a name for itself world-wide.  At one point the distillery was shipping nationally and internationally but demand overwhelmed limited production and a decision to cut back was made.  In 2010 shipments outside of Colorado stopped and the only place you could get it was in the home state.  In 2011 the distillery tripled its whiskey making capacity by adding two more stills and production has been nonstop.  While there have been no official press releases, distribution to other states will begin again in a few short years (batches consist of barrels 2-5 years of age).  Until then you will have to search for the whiskey via the internet or take a trip to Colorado.  Stranahan’s has also partnered with Proximo Spirits which will hopefully help in its future distribution.

This first entry of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is actually a combination of two batches.  When I first started writing about my experiences I was uninformed about keeping track of batches.  Luckily I kept the bottles of these two but made joint notes for them.  Over the years I have come to learn the consistencies in the whiskey and appreciate the differences and let it be said, each batch is different!

wellbuilt

Whiskey: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

Complexity- demanding

Type- Single malt, small batch (notes from batches 29 [distilled 2006] and 52 [distilled 2007]), non-chill filtered, aged a minimum of 2 years, 47% ABV

Appearance: rich and dark full gold to old Sauternes with thick, slow-moving tears and no visible impurities.

Aroma: one might think with higher ABV this whiskey might be overpowered by alcohol, luckily it is not.  Very sweet and almost a dessert in itself I can not stop nosing this one.  Each breath brings a new aroma and it keeps wanting to give me more.  A very evident citrus takes stage in the form of orange peel mixed with dried fruits.  Raisin with a fleeting hint of dried fig dance on the nose while sweet continues to bleed into dark chocolate.  Vanilla bridges the gap and I begin to find toasted almonds with hints of oak.  I can not say the spices arrive at this point because I have been aware of their presence the entire time, but I am now focusing on them.  Cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of freshly ground pepper are most evident but a slight hint of salt and fennel seed blanch the end.

greatcatch

Taste- a welcome and oily mouth feel hug the palate starting things off.  I know this is a single malt, but it very much has the character of a bourbon.  Sweet again envelopes the mouth.  First to visit are the spices.  Cinnamon is ripe, overshadowing a hint of nutmeg and the fennel seed in the nose has turned into full licorice.  Vanilla kisses the flavors as it dances with cracked pepper and a dash of salt.  The bourbon character shows as hints of corn come onto the palate with butter.  As sweet flavors continue to develop they reveal themselves to be butterscotch and caramel with hints of brown sugar and dark chocolate.  Big, full of flavor and character this is just as fun to drink as it is to nose.

Finish-  This is where the alcohol finally makes an appearance making the finish just a bit acerbic.  The medium finish is not tainted by the alcohol however and the sweet continues to follow suit.  The malt finally makes an appearance and cookies can be found dabbed with chocolate.  The chocolate is balanced with vanilla giving way to notes of oak and coconut.

mestranahans

Verdict- Must Have

I am biased concerning this dram, and as you can see by the picture I have been apart of their bottling crew and have bottled my own bottles!  Even with those facts in mind I highly recommend this whiskey to anyone able to get theirs hands on it!  It offers a complexity and character hard to find in other whiskeys.  As each batches comes out there are evident similarities but it is the subtle differences which make sampling this one a nonstop thrill.  I have had a number of the batches and will report on them as time marches on noting the differences and what is highlighted.  If you do make it out to Colorado, stop by and see the crew, they are extremely friendly and will be happy to answer any questions about the whiskey.  It is also worth taking the distillery tour and stopping off in the “The Rackhouse” for lunch or dinner!

 

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Review of Platte Valley Corn Whiskey

In all honesty, Corn Whiskey is my least favorite whiskey spirit. I am reminded of “underage” punches or drinks made with “Everclear” and all night binge escapades! Even then, I did not care for the drink and kept clear, but I have aged, and I am now exploring whiskey to appreciate it instead of for the effect, so I can not ignore this style anymore. While I have had previous experiences with corn whiskey (see my post about the 2012 Colorado Distillers Festival), this is my first time focusing on it specifically for a tasting session. So let us see if my opinion of this whiskey has changed! And might I add, I chose this particular entry because of the packaging! Moonshiners be praised!

platte-valley-corn-whiskey

picture take from www.liquorama.net

Whiskey: Platte Valley

Complexity: Easy

Type: 100% Straight Corn Whiskey; selected and bottled by McCormick Distilling Co. Weston, MO; distilled in Kentucky; 40% ABV; aged 3 years; Batch 226; bottled on April 2, 2012

Appearance: definite Chardonnay in color with medium moving tears which are just as thick

Aroma: simple, straight forward, and young. When nosing this I think state fair. Butter-butter-butter. Yes butter is heavy in this drink. As I let the whiskey permeate my nose other elements begin to show themselves. Sweetness starts to take character and mixes with the butter giving a prevalent butterscotch aroma. The softer sweet smells also bring out genuine corn and corn stock aromas. Inescapable is the alcohol and soon it makes a play for my attention giving me medical rubbing pads and a surprising vinegar smell. And then its done, ending very quickly.

Taste: I am first taken with the mouth feel. The oiliness comes through in a big way. Mind you, it is not like the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac but it is the first thing I notice. As time is spent, flavors become clear and the simple, straight froward and young all are revisited in the mouth. Taking center stage is the flavor of corn. Butter, which was so prevalent in the nose, has backed away and now mixes with corn giving a nice fresh buttered corn on the cob savoriness. This whiskey has a sweet element to it not turning too acerbic and to my surprise popcorn does not show through! This very much stays fresh kernel and never goes to the popped kind.

With Water: the only noticeable difference is that the buttered corn flavor is brought out more. I know, usually this part is longer, but water did not do much for this one.

Finish: disappointingly short. I mean really short. Heavy corn, a bit warming, and then it is gone. I almost feel like I am letting the reader down by not coming up with anything more to say, but if I said any more, I would not be telling the truth.

Verdict: Never Again
I am glade for this experience. It has changed my opinion of straight corn whiskey and I now believe there could be an example of this spirit I will appreciate, but it is not this one. The most attractive aspect to this sample is the packaging, and it is a great display item. I will also admit this could be a good mixer, and at its price-point it could actually do well in that capacity, but my blog is about sipping whiskeys and this one falls way short. If you are looking for something to put on the shelf, then by all means, grab a bottle but do not expect a great time finishing it off!

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Review of Maker’s Mark 45% ABV vs. Marker’s Mark 42% ABV

Wow!  What an opportunity!  I was thoroughly surprised to walk into the liquor store and see the Maker’s Mark 42% ABV sitting on the shelf!  I was sure this one was going to pass me by with the company’s quick reversal decision…just a quick blurb if you have not been informed about the controversy.  Maker’s Mark decided to lower the alcohol content of its standard whiskey to keep up with demand.  This lead to a backlash from loyal drinkers of the spirit and spurred a “social media” whiplash that quickly sent the company wheeling and reversing their decision.  If you want to read more about their response  please follow this link to their website and check out the news section.  The following is a short excerpt of their response…

“Dear Friends,

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.”

Rob Samuels, COO and Bill Samuels, Jr., Chairman Emeritus

It is nice to see a company listen to its constituents and change such an important long-term business decision.  Now back to my adventure with the change.  So there were the bottles!  I had to go to a different store to find some stock of the 45% AVB version, got a bottle and planned a tasting of the two.

Rare is the opportunity to experience something like this and I was ecstatic but also contemplating how my perception to the two whiskeys have been tainted because I knew there was a difference.  I questioned if my findings would be correct.  In the end I decided I have faith in my abilities and know my limitations.  I have done this long enough that I believe I can be balanced and give, to the best of my ability, a true and honest side by side comparison of the two whiskys.

MakerMark4245

Whisky: Maker’s Mark

Complexity: 42% Hard45% Hard

Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 42% ABV Bottle Code L3038MMB, 00770816

45% ABV Bottle Code L2320MMB, 05520926.  No age statement.  Label states each batch is made with less than 19 barrels.

Appearance:
42% ABV- Young Sauternes with a heart of Pale Gold.  Tears are medium slow and thick with no visible impurities.

45% ABV- Pale Gold is the dominant color with Young Sauternes only being noticed at the edges.  Tears are just a touch thicker and fall just a bit slower than the 42%.  No visible impurities.

Very interesting!  When looking at the two there was a definite color difference.  While they both resided within the same spectrum, one is laced with lighter colors while the other poses deeper and darker hues.  The addition of water to cut the ABV made a subtle, yet noticeable difference in the color.

Aroma:
42% ABV-  Maker’s Mark is American small batch Bourbon.  Everything you might expect to experience is present.  Warm and inviting, corn with a fun and submissive licorice play at the start.  The oak is ever-present throughout the dance keeping tempo and adding support, but the 42% seems young and a little relaxed.  Red fruit comes through with apple bleeding into cinnamon spice.  A soft vanilla reverberates through the spicy corn and hints of burned sugar with caramel float at the edges.

45% ABV-  The first couple rounds of inhaling the 45% show a more rich and what seems to be older whisky.  The oak is most noticeable.  In the 42% I said it was young and relaxed but with this the alcohol adds a bit of weight and age.  The aroma has a more noticeable bite which, depending on your preferences, can be good or bad.  The cinnamon and licorice are more potent with the corn being more spicy and the whisky, in general, being more intense to a small degree.  The one difference I noticed was how the added alcohol brought out some tobacco scents in the 45% which were not present in the 42%, specifically a light Cherry Cavendish blend.

I should note, my nose is very sensitive to alcohol vapor and I can easily knock out my sense of smell if not careful.  I need to bring a whisky slowly to my nose giving it time to adjust and it amazes me when I see others fully stick their nose into a glass and inhale deeply, if I did this I would not be able to pick anything out for a while!  I believe this is one reason I have made a noticeable distinction between the two and to test my sensitivity I did a blind nosing and picked the 45% with no problem.

Taste:
42% ABV-  If you want a classic and fully American bourbon, again, Maker’s Mark represents the class very well.  As with the nose a sweet corn is the first to open its eyes followed immediately with cinnamon spice.  Other spices are present with just a hint of clove and pepper being dominated by the cinnamon.  A pleasantly bitter soda begins but quickly gives way to more sweet aspects.  A very light touch of apple returns with butterscotch making a play for your attention.  Caramel swims around the tongue but can be missed if you are not paying attention as does light butter.  A creamy mouth feel flows though the mouth.

45% ABV-  As in the aroma, the senses are stimulated just a bit more but let it be said, that does not make this better or worse.  Everything found in the 42% continues to be present in the 45%.  The differences I noticed were not many.  The 45% was more drying in the mouth but did not impact things for me as much as it did in the nose.  Licorice has transformed into anise and I am reminded, briefly, of a Sambuca while it travels over the middle parts of the palate.  It can also be said in the mouth one experiences a bit more of a bite.  The 45% mouth feel did have a noticeable difference.  The creaminess of the 42% is more oily in the 45% and I look for oily in bourbon and expect the creamy with Scotch…usually!

Finish:
The finish is where I noticed the biggest differences.  I enjoyed the 45% more in this category and feel the extra alcohol helps bring the finish out.
42% ABV-  Sweet and soft oak with corn and vanilla.  Medium long.  Full but not overwhelming.  The 42% just did not have the complexity of the 45%.

45% ABV-  Once it goes down vanilla takes center stage.  The constant in all is the oak and it still plays its song on the finish.  The interplay of the oak and vanilla leads to other nut flavors and I am overjoyed to find coconut at the end.  The sweetness in the mouth relaxes to a touch more bitter and drying but in a good way.  Very light corn and butterscotch wafts up as cherry comes through with apple revisiting, but all are late in the end.

Verdict: Again
Before I took my first drink, I thoroughly did not believe that a meager  3% could make any real noticeable difference.  To be honest, while I enjoy Maker’s Mark, I do not drink it regularly.  If I had never heard of the switch I probably would not have remembered it was originally 45% ABV and gone about my business when picking up a bottle.  Mr. Samuels was correct in his interview with Mark Gillespie on WiskyCast Episode 412 in that the recipe is almost indistinguishable from the original on the palate, but I did find differences on the nose and finish.  Were these differences big enough to make me never buy Maker’s Mark again? No!  It was still a great whisky in the 42% form and I really believe a good part of the market would not have picked out the differences.  As for how I feel about the two…I preferred the 42% in the mouth but much more enjoyed the 45% in the nose and on the finish and as someone who can spend hours nosing a whisky before taking a drink, I would have been disappointed losing the 45%.

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Review of “Thomas H. Handy Sazerac”-2011 bottling

The resurgence of rye whiskey in the United States has been a slow climb for the drink, but in recent years it has experienced an explosion.  The Thomas H. Handy Straight Rye Whiskeyin my opinion, has reached the pinnacle of excellence in the rye whiskey category and while other rye whiskeys come close, none have reached the greatness of this particular creation.  This has also been the toughest and most challenging whiskey I have sampled to date.  I have been sampling and appreciating whiskey for a number of years and can honestly say this entry may be a bit beyond me.  That being said, I did the best I could describing my experience and hope you enjoy what I have to say.

Whiskey- Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey

Complexity- Complex To date, this truly is the most complex whiskey I have sampled.

Type- Straight Rye Whiskey, no age statement givien, 64.3% ABV, Uncut/Unfiltered, bottle code K228118:11

Appearance- This expression spans three color levels which is a first in my experience.  At first glance I obviously pick up strong Old Sauternes but the more time taken inspecting it the light catches what I would describe as “thick strings of color.”  Old Gold and Copper interplay and can easily be overlooked if time is not taken to appreciate the varying levels of color saturation.  The tears, as one might imagine at this ABV, are slow and thick with the oiliness of this whiskey being blatantly obvious!  Almost imperceptible bits of matter are present in the whiskey, but I am leaning more towards the oil deposits interplay with other elements being the contaminant rather than any true impurities, but being unfiltered I may be wrong.  Typically the visual appreciation of a whisk(e)y is a quick subject for me, but this expression has shown there is another level to this category and makes me question if I have not been giving it the proper attention I should in earlier samples.

Aroma- SO MUCH IS GOING ON HERE!  Heavy dark spices!  Cinnamon, cloves and pepper envelop the senses and instantly take me to baking a pumpkin pie (yes, a touch of pepper in the pie adds some wonderful flavor).  The dark theme continues with chocolate around the 75% range.  The bitter mixes with some sweet syrupy molasses, and then fruit enters.  Bitter re-surges with tart orange peel but again softens to sweet and tasty prunes.  More dried fruits play with the palate, but other than raisins and figs I have trouble picking them out.  It is not all about the spices and fruit however.  The grain is delicious and tempting.  A truthful and hearty rye bread is exquisite and if you have ever baked bread in your place of residence, imagine those fresh aromas coming from a whiskey!  The fresh-baked bread however quickly transforms to buttered raisin toast and the aroma is just as crisp as biting into that first bit of toast.  Exciting, complex, and alive, this creation has topped my list and has not been matched by another whisk(e)y yet in my exploration.  I have found so much and yet I feel like there is more waiting to be discovered.

Taste- 64.3% ABV!  Yeah it is that high, but not to worry, it compliments the whiskey so well and once you adjust, not only does it even out you are expecting it and want more!  Alcohol plays little in the actual taste and is easily lost in the multitude of flavor.  Sweet, but not in the processed sugar way.  A natural sweetness abounds and is tempered by the welcome spiciness of the rye.  Brown sugar mixed with light but present pepper.  Molasses touched lovingly with cloves.  Cinnamon is there, but once the whiskey is in the mouth the cloves are more present than cinnamon, something I am happy about!  The grain is again a warm hug on a winter day.  Buttered rye toast melts on your mouth.  Other spices play with dried fruits, but in all honesty, I am a little lost and am having trouble picking out exactly what I am tasting.  Powerful, bold, and in need of respect.  Nothing I have sampled yet has come close to the oily mouth feel.  It is coating and enveloping in the nicest way, and so very much appreciated!

With Water- Sorry, not adding water to this one.

Finish- The finish is a whole new monster.  Without a doubt it is warming!  Bitter sweet chocolate is present as is the heavy rye bread and spice, but new taste sensations develop and take center stage.  Missing in the nose and palate, vanilla has poked its head out and said “Hello!  I’ve been here the whole time!  Where were you!”  Holding hands with the vanilla is licorice.  To continue with the new, coconut and some tasty almond extract evolve in the depths.  The raisin toast in the nose and butter toast in the mouth are now replaced with honeyed toast!  I am amazed at how the toast flavors have actually changed with each stage of appreciating this whiskey!  So much more is going on, and the finish last for quite a while but is a complex whirlwind of flavor and I again am out of my league!

Verdict- Something Special
WOW!  Really, WOW!  This is an experience I am trying to master but it continues to best me.  As I said, this whiskey is out of my league and I have tried my best to describe it, but it is one every fan of whiskey should experience.  Buy a bottle when you can!  But be warned!  This is a wild animal and must be approached with respect.  It will reward you but if taken to quickly it will burn you.  Quite simply it is a world class whiskey.  I also have  samples from the 2008 and 2012 bottling and hope very much the other vintages equal or surpass this one, but I need to grow as a whiskey drinker to fully appreciate what I have and any others I buy in the future.  I however can not see this whiskey falling from grace too much and give it my highest possible recommendation!

 

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Review of…Trade Whiskey…?

Is this for real?  Trade Whiskey?  Apparently so.  So what is trade whiskey?  While the history of it is not fully documented the story entails the dilution of whiskey, post civil war, by traders transporting the goods.  These traders were allowed a daily allotment of the whiskey as part of the deal for its transportation, but whiskey was a valuable commodity and anything they drank meant less money at the final destination.  With this in mind traders “added” certain foreign substances to the whiskey to make up for the losses.  One of the primary ingredients added was river water.  Other items mixed into the whiskey included molasses, red pepper, tobacco (used primarily for color), black sugar, gun powder, and rattlesnake heads.

I had the entertaining experience of trying some trade whiskey at one of Colorado’s top rated steak houses The Fort.  The Fort is a recreation of Bent’s Fort, an Army Military stronghold built in the 1800′s.  The Fort has served dignitaries from around the world as well as a local bear.  It is a very fun environment and the food is something that should not be missed.  As for the drink, their recipe consists of bourbon (Old Crow), red pepper, gun powder, and tobacco.  So how did it taste?  Here is my review!

My half consumed Trade Whiskey!

My half consumed Trade Whiskey!

Whiskey: Trade Whiskey

Complexity: Easy

Type: recreation of post Civil War whiskey recipe using bourbon, red pepper (Cayenne), gun powder, and tobacco

Appearance: Cloudy with impurities floating throughout the drink, although that is the point.  The color tended towards pale to full gold but this is misleading due to the addition of red pepper and tobacco.

Aroma:  weak and light, there were not a lot of scents from this drink surprisingly enough.  This may be due to a poor nosing environment or simply the low shelf liquor.  A touch of corn and weak spice came through, but not enough to make an impression.

Taste:  as one might imagine a bit of the red pepper came through as did a noticeable metallic taste I am assuming came from the gun powder.  The tobacco made almost no appearance.  Some light bourbon flavors in the form of corn, light butter and fleeting hits of caramel are present, but most noticeable was this does taste a bit “watered” down.  I did speak with the bar tender and he assured me there was no water added.

Finish: the finish was very light and short.  Nothing really stood out or made any type of impression other than “watered” and light alcohol.

Verdict: Again

WHAT!!!!! Again???!!!  Yes!  While not a complex drink or offering much, it is like drinking a piece of history.  It is more than fun holding in your hand a spirit that has red pepper and tobacco, and hey let’s add some gun powder just for the fun of it!  It is an experience I do recommend and yes, the connoisseur in us will be let down but the adventurer will have a blast!

 

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Review of “Kane Extra” from Kenya

My good friend Sebastian, head of "Building Minds in Sudan."

My good friend Sebastian, head of “Building Minds in Sudan.”

I am happy to have received a bottle of this product and would like to thank my good friend Sebastian Mawien for providing me this experience!  He and I worked together and have developed an appreciation for each other and a great friendship.  On one of his trips to Africa he was gracious enough to bring back a bottle of Kane Extra which, he explained, as one of the local whiskeys and something that makes the local population do “crazy things!”  In my research of this product I have come up with next to nothing for information about it.  I have gone to the distributor’s website and they do not even list it as one of their products.  With what little data I could find, some refer to it as a rum product while others claim it to be similar to “white lightning” from in the United States but nothing on the label or in my research indicates what it really is.  In my sampling of the spirit, I found it more to be like white lighting than rum and will treat it as such until proven otherwise.

I threw out my bottle so this is the only picture I could find.

I threw out my bottle so this is the only picture I could find.

Whiskey- Kane Extra from Kenya (by standards, this can not be considered whisk(e)y)

Complexity- Easy

Type- White Lighting, no age statement no statement about grain used, no statement of ABV but tastes like the 40-45% range, distributed by East African Breweries Limited from Nairobi, Kenya

Appearance- a soft Fino Sherry with quick-moving tears and no apparent impurities.

Aroma- a very, very young sweet aroma brushed with Maraschino cherries strike the nose but are lost quickly to turpentine and alcohol pads.  The depth of this spirit stops there and one would be very taxed to find anything more.

Taste- the cherries come through again but not as strong as on the nose.  Crisp and bright with a slight cola taste, the untamed youth comes through as there does not seem to be any balance or complexity.  As it dies on the palate a hint towards spice takes momentary shape but quickly fades.  The mouth feel is drying and slightly oily.

With Water- the water seems to help calm the unruliness but not enough.  I am surprised to find a hint of cereal with water and the sweet flavor is brought out just a bit more.

Finish- a hint of spearmint, alcohol, and a bit warming.  Simple and to the point, then it is over.

Verdict-Never Again

Would I ever buy Kane Extra again, no, but let me ask you, how often do we get to try a spirit from a country you have never seen in your own?  I could not and would not pass up this opportunity.  True it does not offer me much in complexity, and to be honest it really was not pleasurable to drink, but it offers me insight to spirits made in Africa, and while they do receive Scotch and other whiskys this, according to Sebastian, is popular among the locals.  In a way, I am seeing and experiencing what a group of people thousands of miles away are, and to boot, unless I go to Kenya or the Sudan I may never have the opportunity to try it again.  So I am thankful to have been able to try it, but do not recommend it.

 

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Holiday Whiskey Gift Review

While not whiskey, this is a great picture and it embodies the awe we all felt when Santa visited us and we got that special gift!

While not whiskey, this is a great picture and it embodies the awe we all felt when Santa visited us and we got that special gift!

This holiday season was very successful and a wonderful end to the year.  As I stated in my last post, my birthday celebration was a treasured event, but this entry is about the whiskey related items I received and a review of them.

First off, as you might expect whiskey did make its way under my tree, in a big way.  All but one bottle received was unique and not tried before.  Bottles from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, India, and the U.S. all found a place on my shelf and are slated for sampling in the upcoming year.  But I am most proud of two bottles in particular, neither of which were actual Christmas presents.  I managed to get my hands on some whiskey from my home state of Colorado, each of which are impossible to get outside of the borders and almost as hard to find within.  I was finally able to get the elusive and rare Stranahan’s Snow Flake.  Supper limited production and only being sold at the distillery my sister and father (thank you so very much!) were gracious enough to stand in line during the wee cold hours of the morning to pick me up a couple of bottles.  When I finally got the bottles I was

Stocked up on Stranahan's with the super rare Snow Flake in the front!

Stocked up on Stranahan’s with the super rare Snow Flake in the front!

astonished to find out the head distiller, Rob Dietrich, had personally autographed them and was signing them for anyone who requested it during the release.  This batch was finished in fresh Malbec wine casks from the local Spero Winery.

The next bottle I am proud of came from the small, yet growing, Deerhammer Distillery.  I am happy to say I have developed a good relationship with their head distiller Lenny Eckstein and am excited to see and follow this distillery into the future!  Everybody should look for good things from them, if you are able to find a bottle!

Deerhammer Down Time Single Malt Whiskey

Deerhammer Down Time Single Malt Whiskey

Again, getting my hands on this bottle would not have been possible without Lenny’s help and I thank him deeply!  I can not express what a unique experience this whiskey has been.  The initial sample was a very complex and joyful ride, you can see my tasting notes on one of my previous blogs about the Colorado Distillers Festival.  Since their debut of this product in August 2012 they had a full release in December 2012.  Down Time was sent all over Colorado and sold out.  Not a bottle can be found but do not fret, they are diligently working on the next batch and for this whiskey’s fan, none too soon can be the next release!

But it was not all about whiskey, there were other products received this season!  The first is a unique innovation on the drinking glass.  A pot shaped, wide-mouthed, expansive lip glass known as the Neat Glass.

One of the selling points the company has given is the reduced amount of “nose burn.”  This problem occurs when an individual smells the spirit and the alcohol causes a burning sensation.   This can actually hinder the appreciation of the spirit because it causes the olfactory to go into a “defensive mode” and deadens the body’s ability to smell.  It usually takes 10 minutes to reset the sense of smell but can take up to 30-45 minutes to get full capacity back.  They also state the glass is scientifically designed to deliver the aromas in a magnified way…so here is what I have found.

I will start by saying I have a very sensitive nose when it comes to “nose burn” and I am very careful when nosing samples.  There have been times with higher ABV whiskeys that I knock my nose out accidentally because I brought the glass to close to quick and what should have been an hour of testing turns into two or three.  For me, the Neat Glass does not completely get ride to the “nose burn,” but it significantly reduces the alcohol vapors and I am no longer overly cautious with bring this glass to my nose.  I tested it using whiskey at 40%, 45%, 47%, 50%, and 62.8% ABV samples.  The wider neck and, what feels like a shelf, rim for delivery spread the aromas out.  I feel like this glass delivers the aroma and spirit to a wider area of my face.  In doing so the aroma of the samples hit me in a different way and some things are highlighted more while others do not come out as much, it quite literally is a different experience.

So what does this mean?  My standard sampling glass is the Glencairn Glass.  The Glencarin concentrates the aroma into a specific area and I feel one can control where those aromas go.  The Neat Glass spreads those aromas out and while they wash over your face it makes it harder to concentrate and identify the specifics.  This is not a complaint!  This is just a different experience because none of the aromas are actually lost.  With the Glencairn I am able to process the information in a more directed way.  With with the Neat Glass I have to search for the aromas and while everything might be there it really is not in the same place as the Glencairn.
In conclusion, I am going to stick with the Glencairn when I sample whiskeys.  The Neat glass however is a new and fun experience and when I am drinking to enjoy, instead of evaluating, I think I have found my glass of choice.  I would like to also note the way this glass feels in the hand.  There is just something about the shape and feel of this glass that make me feel like royalty.  The pot shape fits so well into the palm and the neck and rim hug the forefinger and the thumb is such a pleasing way.  I never thought the feel of a glass would make a difference but with this example, it really does.

Teroforma Whisky Stones

Teroforma Whisky Stones

Next is something I thought I would never use, but they were a gift so I had to give them a go!
Since I have educated myself on whiskey and have grown an appreciation for this drink, ice has not touched a single dram.  Ice closes off whiskey, slowing down its molecules and taking away from the overall experience.  Is adding ice “cool” because they do it in the movies?  Yes.  Has Scotch on the Rocks become a status in culture?  Yes.  Am I going to tell anyone how to drink their whiskey, no, do what you want.  But adding ice does take away from whiskey and you will be missing out.
So when I received this gift, I was reluctant to use it.  The information on the box claims a few things about this product.  The first is it wont dilute your drink like ice does   To this I can not refute the claim.  No water is added so everything stays as it should and after a few uses I have not found the stones to deteriorate leaving no detectable impurities.  They also claim the stones are non-porous and will neither impart odor or flavor.  After doing a little research on soapstone, which these are made from, I have come to trust the claims made by the company.

But what about the final claim on the box, “More gentle than ice, Whisky Stones can be used to cool down your favorite spirits just enough to take the edge off without ‘closing down’ the flavors.”  Well, I had to add ice to my whiskey so  I could compare…which made me very sad.  I am happy to say however the claim is true.  The ice made the whiskey closed off and with a little time became overly watered down.  The stones at the most stunted the aromas and flavors.  The stones themselves never seem to get as cold as ice and in effect do not interfere as dramatically.  It really did feel like the edge was taken off.  While I will never use these in any tasting/evaluation of a whiskey, they are fun to have around and do allow for that connection to popular culture to happen with less impact on the whiskey.  Every time I use them I am taken back to the scene in Rodger Rabbit when Bob Hoskins orders a Scotch on the Rocks and the penguin brings him a glass of Scotch with rocks in it instead of ice.

A final comment about the Teroforma Whisky Stones is that I have used them in a number of glass and crystal and have been happy to find no damage.  This takes me to the final gift I wish to report on.  A number of years ago I started on my Whisky Adventure.  This adventure started with research and reading so I stocked my shelves with both whiskey and books.  I researched the process of making whiskey, the marketing of the drink, and the history of fermented and distilled beverages.

This research had me find a small group of industry professionals who seemed to be the only ones writing about whiskey and I gained an appreciation for the information they had to share, but one thing I found in their reviews is none of them had negative words for any of the brands in the book they wrote.  I personally came to the conclusion they must be leaving out the bad whiskeys, the alternative to this thought is the industry has in some way compensated them to speak nothing but good about the products featured  but I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, so it must be the bad stuff has been left out.  That being said I was always a little wary about reviews.  I knew through my own experiences there is bad whiskey out there but since no one was saying anything bad I began to think something was wrong with me, am I tasting whiskey wrong?

Whisky Bible, a valuable resource

Whisky Bible, a valuable resource

I then got my hands on a Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.  This opened my mind to the experience of whisky tasting in more than one way.  I found a reviewer who was not afraid to challenge the industry and was wiling to report on bad whiskey and let the reader know it is bad.  I also finally came to realize we are all different, yes we share some traits because we are the same species, but everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses when it come to what we smell and taste, and that is OK.  Since I picked up that first Whisky Bible it has become a tradition every year to receive the book as a Christmas gift and I look forward to having it under the tree or in a stocking.  I thoroughly enjoy reading his reviews and am always happy to find a dram we have sampled together and compare my notes to his and see how I am doing.  I  always sample my whisky first , journal it, and then compare notes.  It is always neat to have someone with his experience share the same thoughts about a whiskey, disagreement are always fun too.  One example of this is his review of the Glenrothes 1994 Vintage.  He did not have very good things to say about it but the sample I tested was very good which just goes to show we taste things differently.  Jim Murray has some very interesting views on the world of whiskey and I have found him to be informative and a good voice for this drink we all love.

My "little man" Mojo, waiting to get some love while I am trying some whisky

My “little man” Mojo, waiting to get some love while I am trying some whisky

Well, that brings me to the end of my Holiday review.  As you can see here, my whiskey drinking companion and I wish you a very Happy New Year and hope your holidays were as fun and exciting as mine!  I look forward to this new year and am anxious to try new whisk(e)ys, have new distillery experiences, and hope I can contribute something of value to this community of whiskey drinkers!

Thank you for reading, and cheers to you and 2013!

Whiskey Ben

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First entry of 2013

happy-new-year

The time is here and it is now!  My first blog of 2013.  A little late I know, but I am still wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

Sitting here listening to one of my current favorite songs (Deadman’s Gun” by Ashtar Command) I think of nothing but how well this song goes with whiskey!  Now, where to start this first entry into my journey of whiskey in the New Year?  I have struggled to find a beginning.  I have a number of whiskey samples to report about and the list keeps getting longer, but I just was not ready to start pouring on about these whiskeys until I acknowledge the wonderful end of a year I had with the holidays and my birthday!

The time leading up to Christmas saw a trip to Chicago for whiskey and music!  One of the music groups I play with held a concert and clinic at the Midwest Clinic, an event held every year for the betterment of local to international bands and orchestras.  While there I was also tasked with sampling some whiskey and visiting one of the local gems in the heart of Chicago.  Warehouse Liquors, which is located deep in the heart of Chicago, offers the consumer a huge selection of whiskey from around the world!  Bookcase upon bookcase is filled with whiskey and other spirits and should be a destination stop for picking out a bottle while in town.  The staff was extremely helpful and friendly offering opinions and knowledge about all of the products!  They report the staff has sampled almost everything on the shelves which allows for a better and more informed ability to describe whatever you may pick off the shelf.  My sampling while in Chicago entailed products from Nikka, Amrut (I get a kick out of the opening page every time I use it…check it out!), and Chicago’s local distillery Lion’s Pride.  Tasting notes will not be available for a while, sorry about that!

Getting back home two days before Christmas, we really needed a break but there were still preparations to make.  Shopping for the Christmas meal was done and final presents were bought.  I’m happy to say I successfully sent all of my family and friends presents before we left with enough time to get to their destinations and at last, I could relax and enjoy time with my wife, some good food, and whiskey!

A few days later my birthday happened and it could not have gone any better.  We saw a movie (Lincoln, which was great, go see it) and was overjoyed to have one of my best-friends surprise me from out-of-town!  Nothing better than to have a great surprise like that, and what did we do, broke out some whiskey…after we got some from the store that is, let me explain.  Andy and I have a twisted tradition whenever we see each other for the first time in a while.   He and I go out and find the cheapest, nastiest beer we can find and start the evening at as low a point as possible so no matter what we drink next it will always be better!  This time we went with the cheapest and what we thought would be the nastiest whiskey we could find!  We went to the closest military Package Store.  The cheapest one we could find was a handle of Military Special Fine Blended Canadian Whiskey.  I am happy to say it was a lot better than we were expecting, mind you it was not good, just a lot better than what we expected.  We moved up from there with a bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Batch 91 and some Lagavulin 16 yo.

We weren’t finished there, dinner still was coming!  Since moving to Virginia I have found an amazing whiskey bar both in food and selection of spirits.  Still-Worldy Eclectic Tapas is a fantastic destination to go for a special occasion or to have a well balanced and eventful meal!  The establishment serves their meals Tapas style and offers a diverse drink menu with a heavy emphasis on whisk(e)ys.  Their “well” whiskey is Woodford Reserve at $6.50/shot and the most expensive is the Rittenhouse Rye 21 yo at $35/shot.  While the menu is heavy with American whiskey, Irish, Canadian, and Scotch (single malt and blends) can also be found.

The Entrance to the Still

The Entrance to the Still

With such a good selection of whiskey I went against the grain and had nothing but mixed drinks.  While I have sampled many whiskeys neat or with a dash of water, my experience with mixed whiskey drinks is extremely lacking.  That being said, I went for the classics.  I started with a Sazerac.  Their recipe calls for a Sazerac to be served with bourbon, but knowing my history I requested it be served with rye whiskey which is what was used when the drink was first created…and it was delicious!  The rest of my drinks consisted of an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, and a Rob Roy.  So yes, I kept it traditional since I had never before tried these drinks.  My favorite was the Sazerac and highly recommend it!  Food varied and since the portions were small we were able to sample many different things.  To give you a taste of some of the awesomeness we had… Mixed Game Sausage Trilogy (made from turkey, boar, and duck), Fried Green Pickled Tomatoes, Blackened Tuna (which was the best thing that night and possibly the best Blackened Tuna I’ve ever had), Carolina Bison Short Ribs, Fall Squash Gratin, and Oysters Rock-A-Fella.  This was about half of what we had and it was all amazing!

My next entry will continue this blog and review some whiskey related gifts I received!

All in all, it was an amazing birthday and Christmas and I’m thankful to have spent it with family and friends.  I wish you the warmest New Year and I look forward to writing more about the passion I have about whiskey and sharing with you my experiences.

Thank you!
Whiskey Ben

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A “Scottish Way” to bring in the New Year!

Hogmanay fireworks.JPG

Hogmanay fireworks.JPG (Photo credit: katy-mac)

OK, full disclosure, I got this from the Laphroaig Facebook page, but had to share it!  Please enjoy, and hopefully if you try it, much success!!!!!

Also from the site, some Hogmanay toasts!

Happy New Year! And many it be filled with good tidings, a lot of luck, and an ever full glass of whisky! Cheers!

Don’t forget to celebrate Hogmanay tomorrow night.
Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s festival that commemorates the solar divinity Hogmagog.
In former times, animal hide was wrapped around sticks and ignited, producing a smoke that was said to be very effective against evil sprites. This talismanic smoking stick was itself known as a Hogmanay.
In all the traditions and customs surrounding Hogmanay, one theme predominates: the new year must begin on a happy note, with a clean break from all that may have been bad in the previous year. It is from this underlying hope that the most common of all Hogmanay traditions has its root, that of the new year resolution.

“First Footing” on Hogmanay

A Tall, Dark Handsome Stranger
The first person to cross the threshold at Hogmanay brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead. And, to follow in tradition they have to fulfill certain criteria.
They have to be male, tall, dark and handsome. They cannot be doctors, ministers or grave-diggers and your first footer cannot have eyebrows that meet in the middle.
The first footer carries a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky – the lump of coal to keep the house warm throughout the year and the whisky to keep the host warm throughout the year!

The first footer (sometimes called the “Lucky Bird”) should knock and be let in rather than just using a key. After greeting those in the house and dropping off whatever small tokens of luck he has brought with him, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered. No one should leave the premises before the first footer arrives — the first traffic across the threshold must be headed in rather than striking out

Here’s our pocket guide….
Hawf (half) Bottle
Your most important travelling companion. For it’s traditional – and polite – to offer just about everyone you see a “dram”. It’s also traditional for it to be whisky.

Lump of Coal
In days of yore, it was traditional for First Footers to carry a lump of coal with them. This was lovingly placed on the host’s fire. If you’re determined to do Hogmanay by the book then take the coal by all means but be prepared for some grief when you set it on top of the central heating radiators!

AND HERE ARE THE TOASTS!!!!!!!

Hogmanay Toasts

Hogmanay — A Scottish New Year by Charles Campbell
Get up, good wife, and shake your feathers, 
And dinna think that we are beggars; 
For we bairns come out to play, 
Get up and gie’us our Hogmanay. 

The Sacred Three
To save, To shield, To surround
The Hearth, The House, The Household,
This eve
This night
Oh! this eve
This night
And every night
Each single night.

A guid New Year to ane an a’ And mony may ye see
(A good New Year to one and all And many may you see)

Here’s tae us. Wha’s like us. Damn few, and they’re a’ deid!
(Here’s to us. Who’s like us. Not many, and they’re all dead!)

Gaun yoursel’, Big Man!
(You’re a big chap, drinking a lot and are going to continue to do so!)

Gie it laldie!
(Party furiously!)

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