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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Crap in my Freezer

Our refrigerator is running out of time -- repairs that mean a new fridge, but don't make it unusable -- so we're taking our time shopping for a new one. It's a welcome luxury, really.

That allows is a reasoned, calm approach to emptying the freezer, rather than just grabbing everything and shoving it willy-nilly into the full-size freezer we have downstairs. That's a chance to get rid of things like blocks of quickly labeled "EMRGNCY BEAN SOUP -- 2/11" and several bags of lima beans I bought on sale in...2013?

Because I'm a whiskey writer, I also found three spherical ice molds, a Corkcicle Whiskey Wedge glass (still full of ice!), a set of Han Solo in carbonite ice cubes, and, inevitably, a bag of Whisky Stones. The one set of smaller sphericals are already on their way to the house in Millheim, the Corkcicle has a fresh charge of ice (waiting for this damned Dry January to be over). The Whiskey Stones? Already in the trash, because DEATH TO WHISKY STONES!!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Sierra Nevada is 40 -- an interview with Ken Grossman

Sierra Nevada Brewing is 40 years old this year. They've released a 40th anniversary beer (6.0%, 65 IBU), I suspect there will be much hoopla later in the year, even for a company such as this that is still using labels that look almost exactly the way they did 40 years ago.

Ken Grossman has been at the helm from the beginning, and running things solo for over half that time. He's starting to step back now (more about that below), but make no mistake: Ken made Sierra Nevada what it is, what it became, and what it's been. There have been huge contributions from other folks, but Ken's hand is on the tiller.

I got an opportunity to interview him today, and I wanted to get that right up. I also sampled the 40th, and tasting notes are at the end of the interview. (As is usually the case, I talked to Ken on the phone and took down what he was saying as fast as I could...but some of this is direct quote, some of it is paraphrase. When I had problems, I asked him to repeat himself. Generally, though, he was pretty thoughtful and slow.)

I'm in italics, Ken is in plain type. I didn't do my usual bolding except for the first few words to make it easier to pick out when things stop and start, and a few things I found exceptionally interesting, like the statement on Sierra Nevada hard seltzer, and one of the "argued over" issues, and the Sierra Nevada whiskey that never happened.

Ladies and gentlemen: Ken Grossman, founder and owner of Sierra Nevada. 

Congratulations on 40 years! I've been drinking Sierra Nevada on the regular since 1987, and enjoying the hell out of the ride. But my favorite Sierra Nevada beer is still the Pale Ale, which I never tire of (my wife splits her fave: Celebration when it's in season, Torpedo when it's not). Do you have a favorite year-round or annual from the line-up?

I drink Pale, but I don't stick with one style. I drink through the portfolio pretty regularly. In the past few weeks, I had Porter, 40th, Bigfoot, Pale, and some of our new Kombucha. I went over to [the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room in] Berkeley and tried some of the small batch beers there. I try to always keep tasting and enjoying everything. I'll rotate through the seasonals when they first come out. I really enjoyed the Bigfoot this year. You know, I get that question a lot, and I usually tell them it's like trying to pick your favorite child.

Yeah, sorry, people ask me my favorite whiskey all the time. But it brings up a sadder question: which Sierra Nevada beer that didn't make year-round or regular annual status do you miss the most? For me: Glissade, a wonderful lager we still talk about. How about you?

Glissade, that was a great beer. There are plenty of them, but the realities of the market, the support you need from wholesale and retail involves a certain velocity. So even if the beer's fantastic, if the volume's not enough, the retailers will pull it, the wholesalers see that, and we're supporting something that, for whatever reason, isn't making it. Do we want a brand that's not in a good growth mode, or something that's more where the consumers' tastes are? And it might be tastes, might be the branding, or it might be something else. Hazy Little Thing took off more than we expected last year, it was 98% growth. It caught us a bit off guard. We'd predicted 40,000 bbls. First year doubled that, and then doubled that again.

The 40th seems to be a very Sierra Nevada beer: a 3C (Cluster, Cascade, Centennial hops) IPA, relatively dry, and a very drinkable 6%. But what about the oats and acidulated malt? Is that a regular thing that I just don't know about, or is it something different for this beer?

We do oats in quite a few beers for the mouthfeel; in intentionally hazy beers we use a lot of them. We do use levels of acidulated malt in a number of beers, just for balance of acid. It's a malt that goes through a lactic step before kilning, it helps with pH balance, gives a softness in the flavor.

The hops...we were trying to go back to 1980. Cluster was the American hop, Cascade wasn't quite as popular then as it would be, and then Centennial would come later, the super-Cascade.

You know, Cluster never really got a fair shake in America. It's been around for years in variants. This aromatic hop, it was so different from what the German brewers were used to using, those subtle Noble hops. The American brewers were mostly German trained, so they weren't used to that in-your-face aroma. But it was considered an acceptable source of bittering, not as an aroma hop. As more aggressive, higher-alpha (acid) hops were bred, the Clusters fell to the wayside. It has a unique character, and we've played with it in various formulations. It's about 6% Alpha, and you've got bittering hops with triple that now. It doesn't yield that well (per acre), and doesn't have a competitive place as a bittering hop. We've grown some Cluster, and we've gone out and picked wild Clusters outside of Chico [in the area of an old hop farm]. It adapted to the climate down here and does well for what it is. It seemed like a no-brainer.

Cascade we used in a lot of our early beers, and Centennial is just a great all-round hop. You've probably heard of beers that are focused on Centennial that are in the top few beers in the country.

It's hard being an established and large craft brewer these days. It hardly seems fair, to have done the hard pioneer work, to be making some of the best beers you've ever made, and see attention and sales go to new, small, "cool kid" brewers. Is there a path to continued success as a large craft brewer? Do you just keep making good beer?

That's table stakes. The majority of the small brewers are now making good beer. To be considered in the competitive set when people pick a beer to buy, we have to make great beer. We've been innovating, spreading our wings. We're looking at other alcohol beverages than beer. We just put on our first hard kombucha. We've got a great team put together for using bacteria and other yeasts.

We're about to release Wild Little Thing, a lactic, somewhat tart beer, should be out in a few months. Just tasted the latest batch. We want to appeal to a wider band of beer drinker. Hazy Little Thing appeals to people who are not necessarily core Sierra Nevada drinkers, may not even be aware of the traditional Sierra Nevada beers.

And we're working in alternatives: Kombucha is one, and we're looking at others. I don't know that we'll do an alcoholic spritzer. We'll want it to have some more meaning and soul, more in line with what we are than just fermenting sugar and putting flavor in it. The Kombucha we hope will appeal to a similar consumer. We worked really hard at making it, the cultures are ones we intentionally put together. Most of them are combinations of yeast and bacteria that just happened, passed on from a friend's uncle. We've been purposeful about that: a little funky but not a lot, lower alcohol, organic. I think it has a lot more to offer a drinker that wants something that's better for them. We wouldn't call it a health beverage, but the things people are concerned about: carbs, alcohol, it meets those needs in an organic package.

But to get back to your question? Just make great beer and keep up with the changing drinker. We have to, you know. The younger folks drink more than us as we age.

Looking back on all that you've done -- starting a successful family-owned business, creating the American pale ale and American barleywine styles, pioneering estate brewing and wet hop brewing, going solar, creating 100s of jobs -- what things are you the most proud of having accomplished?

There is a lot. The industry is nothing like what I thought it was going to be 40 years ago, more than 40 years ago, when I was trying to raise money. (Brewing industry pundit) Bob Weinberg was predicting the beer industry would be down to 2 or 3 breweries in 1990.

I'm proud we were part of the revolution that changed the face of beer in America, and set the stage for a change of beer on a global scale. The breweries here weren't innovating, didn't have the cachet of countries like Czech, Germany, UK. And now it's come full circle, we're known for beer more than those people. I played a part in that transformation, and I'm proud of that. Some of our early labels and tools are in the Smithsonian, from our fledgling industry. And with Boulder (Brewing) closing, we're the last man standing, and haven't been sold, so we're the oldest of the pioneers. 

Any regrets? Anything you wish you'd done, or Sierra Nevada could have made happen, or in the way craft brewing has turned out?

I wouldn't say regrets. I talked to Fritz Maytag about this when I saw him at the Smithsonian. One of the things I wanted to do in 1980, and I still have the copper pot I was going to do it with: I was going to make an American scotch whisky in 1980. We did supply some wash for St. George back in the late 1980s. One of the guys was just saying a couple months ago, 'If you'd done that when you first got here, you'd have 30 year old whiskey now!'  (Would you, though? Would you have kept some that long?!) I like to think we'd have kept at least one bottle!

You've always seemed like a very 'no drama' kind of guy, and Sierra Nevada reflects that: solid, continuing brands, packaging that rarely changes, beers that clearly pay homage to classics, but often make solid advances. Why has Sierra Nevada been so steady all these years, still the same beers at the core, still the same colors and graphics? Is it because of your company culture and your personality, or is it something you could do because you were in this very, very early? Is that a strategy you've followed because it worked, or because it's the way you know? 

Several times over the years we've hired firms to do a major refresh of the pale ale. It ended up being the artwork for the XXX package. That's one of the versions that was done for refreshing Pale Ale. There was internal angst about such a big shift – and I love that label – but our family argued over that. That statement on the sixpack; that's one of the things we argued about! 

We see other brewers – what's the industry saying, every time you do a package refresh you get a 5% sales bump? But I've seen some brewers go through a half dozen or more in ten years and I think it can do damage to brand equity. I don't think it's all upside. Some brands need a refresh, but every year or two seems like a lot. A homebrewer friend did the original labels, he was in the Maltose Falcons club. Chuck Bennett.

You've got 40 years in, more than that, counting start-up. That's a career for most people. Are you looking to hang up your boots any time soon? Is there an exit strategy for Ken Grossman, and what does the company look like on the other side of it?

We hired a CEO, promoted the COO Jeff White into that last year. I've been slowly unloading stuff that I'd rather not be doing. I'm working less, trying to work myself out of the job. I like the technical stuff, so I still play a role in that. I've got two children involved in the business out here. Brian oversees the customer experience side at all three places. Sierra is on the people side and in the leadership group.

I'm just trying to stay out of people's way, and I stick my fingers in where it makes sense. My wife is always after me to work less, so I took a bike ride this morning, I only have one meeting after this, and then I'll head home. I have a woodshop and a metalshop at home. I bought a welder and a lathe, first pieces of equipment I bought, and I've still got 'em both. 

Thanks, Ken. For everything. 

Tasting Notes on Sierra Nevada 40th Hoppy Anniversary Ale -- Oh, that beautiful fresh yeast smell. Nothing like a Sierra Nevada ale. Beer's a little bit hazy, with an apricot nectar color and a crunchy white head. Noses pine and pith, with a bit of orange candy. It plays slick but sharp on the tongue, with firm hop flavor -- that pine and citrus again -- but not the gripping bitterness of a Celebration.

In fact, this is a beautiful feat of brewing: they've taken the basic building blocks of their brewing, a brewing tradition (you can certainly say that after 40 years of it) that includes Pale Ale, Bigfoot, Celebration, Torpedo, Tropical Torpedo, and Hazy Little Thing...and once again they've taken those basic ingredients and created a beer that slides into that formation without infringing on any of the others, and yet clearly belongs in that formation. These are all beers that are individuals, and only Bigfoot does that by being hugely different. 40th does it almost all with mouthfeel. Well done!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Booze Tariffs Are Going To Affect YOU


I'm about to start tasting notes again, finally. But this comes first, because it's important and there isn't a lot of time left. For what? For you to help stop the crazy booze tariffs that are looming.

There's so little time left, less than a week, that I'm going to tell you what to do first, and then you can read the explanation below. But trust me: DO THIS NOW. Send a (pre-written) email to the US Trade Representative here, telling them to knock off this unfair, job-killing action (this is easy, and all you need to do is add your name and address to it, like I did). Then go here and drop a comment directly in the Trade Representative's face, official-style. Click on the "Comment now!" button in the upper right corner, and leave your comment in the next screen that pops up. It can be as simple as "I oppose the imposition of tariffs on European wine and spirits in this action. Such tariffs will directly hurt US companies, and US jobs." (That's what I submitted.) Or you can get more ideas here.

Okay. Did you do that? NO? The deadline for comments is January 13! Let's go, step it up! Do it, now, and then come back here and read the explanation below.

Here's what's going on. 

Tariffs of 25% on single malt Scotch and Irish whiskies are already in place (and if you haven't felt them, well, thank your friendly importers), similar taxes (yeah, tariffs are taxes. Anyone who tells you differently is lying or stupid) are already in place on European wine.

But that's not all. The EU has retaliated against US-imposed tariffs (that's why they call it a trade war) on European steel and aluminum by throwing a 25% tariff on American whiskey (among other things). And the US government has let it be known that they are contemplating significant increases on booze tariffs: 100% on champagne, unspecified increases on whiskies.

I'll be honest. I stood aside on this because these tariffs were sanctioned by the World Trade Organization. What?  The WTO saying, "Sure, go ahead, lay that tariff down, momma" ?? Well, it's because of this:
What's that wind under our wings? EUROSUBSIDY, mon ami!
After several years, the WTO has finally decided that Airbus was being unfairly aided by subsidies from European governments. (Indications are that they will rule that Boeing was also being subsidized, but that hasn't come out yet.) The remedy was an invitation to the US government to impose billions in tariffs on European goods.

So I stayed out of this, because say what you will about Trump's other tariffs, this one was actually sanctioned, allowed, righteous, and deserved. But someone from the Distilled Spirits Council of the US called me this morning, and asked me why the hell I wasn't on board.

Well, Airbus, I said. This is justified.

Really, she said? Subsidies on aircraft should be equalized by tariffs on whisky? And think about it: some of those European whiskies are owned by US firms (like Brown-Forman), imported and sold by US firms, and directly create American jobs. And they aren't airplanes, are they?

She had a hell of a good point there. This is bullshit. And I don't care if you like the President or not, remember this: he's a rich teetotaler. It ain't gonna hurt him at all.

But it IS going to hurt you. Directly, because everything is going to cost more. That's simple, and easy to understand. But indirectly, because if the price goes up, sales will go down, and guess what? We don't get the allocations anymore. Because France, and Taiwan, and Canada, and Germany, and Japan are all going to be buying up the good stuff because suddenly we aren't, and the distillers are going to be all, hey, why should we send anything nice to America? They screwed us.

So...if you haven't actually sent the email (it's so easy!) and left your comment (please feel free to use mine), would you please go do that? Thanks!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Yeah, Still Sick

I really hate to confirm this, but...I am still sick. The hot toddies feel good, and open me up for a bit, but pretty soon the crud comes back.
I can't smell, I can't taste (well, the chili I made yesterday; I could taste that). So, no tasting notes. I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, fingers are crossed.
I may put up some stuff about my trips. I went to Bushmills two weeks ago, and I did an Aberlour event in Chicago the week before. This Friday I'm going to Denver to experience the annual Stranahan's Snowflake bottling release. So maybe some of that, because there's definitely some interesting stuff from the Bushmills trip.

See you soon. I hope.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Hot Whiskey Medicine

I had some whiskey tasting planned for this weekend (see the tweet to the left), but nature interfered; I caught a rotten cold. I complained, and cigar box guitar virtuoso Shane Speal (get his music HERE, and do it NOW) made a brilliant suggestion: blog about hot toddies. Two birds with one stone: great post material, and feel better, too. Because I did!

Herewith: three hot whiskey drinks, two classics (-ish, I did the best I could at my remote site) and one of my own. Feel free to try them as cold weather attacks.

Hot Whisky: Catskills Provisions honey, (they make an excellent honey flavored whiskey, too, try it!) boiling water, two big half-slices of lemon, and a fat 2.5 ounce pour of Glenlivet 15 French Oak. Because the cork broke, so I just emptied the bottle. Hey, I'm feverish, and not responsible for my actions.

This was good, and the honey and the whisky and the lemon blended up well. This should have whole cloves spiked in the lemon, but I'm working with what I've got. I'm sick, remember. There was too much whisky in the drink, and I mentioned that, and my wife sez, 'So add more water.' No, I wittily responded. I said there was too much, I didn't say I didn't like it that way.

Next up: the Scottish classic.

Whiskyskin: sugar, boiling water, swatch of lemon peel, good dose of Speyburn 15. I'm no snob; I like Speyburn, especially for the money. I like this drink, too. I think it's because the peel is so much sharper by itself, especially when it's squeezed a bit. This is opening up my nose more, which is kinda the point. I like.

I was strongly tempted to have another. But duty called.

Duty...and bourbon.
Hot Medicine: My own magic elixir that I've been loving since my grad school days, when I flirted briefly with over-serving myself, before realizing that would never serve me well. I stick to one of these a night now, because of the strong relaxant power. Hot Medicine is two bags worth of strong tea, made with a pint of boiling water. Let the tea steep at least ten minutes; nothing about this is about making a 'proper' cup of tea, it's about making a monster infusion that can stand up to the following additions. Add two teaspoons of sugar or honey, and 4-5 ounces of bourbon. I added 4 ounces of J.T.S. Brown Bonded tonight, because...bonded.

The Hot Medicine cleared me up, at least for long enough to get to sleep. I blew my nose profusely as I started drinking it, but that's done, and I feel as if just spent half an hour in a sauna. Bed time... thanks, Shane, great idea!

Whiskey. As Davey Crockett said, "It keeps you warm in the winter, and cool in the summertime."

Monday, November 11, 2019

Forgot To Mention: You'd Better Pre-Order The Book

Let's talk about book pre-orders. It's a pretty simple discussion: you want to buy my book. I want you to buy my book. But I really want you to buy it before it's actually available (currently projected release date is February 18, 2020). 

It takes an extra effort to pre-order a book. I get that. There's no instant gratification; not even the Amazon-instant gratification of knowing you'll have it in a day or three. No, you look at that picture of the cover, and read those glowing comments by other authors, and get to look at a couple pictures that may or may not be in the book, and you think, "Yeah, what's the rush?" 

All four of these pictures are in the book. I swear this to you. 

We get that. But pre-orders are what make the book-selling world go around. Pre-orders mean bigger orders from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you pre-order from your local indie bookstore, that can be even better, especially if you get some kind of excited when you do it, because then the people at the bookstore will get excited about it and tell other people about it. (And maybe even invite me to do a signing event, I mean, why not, right?)

Pre-orders are the key to the best-seller lists (well, for books about things that get on the best-seller lists, but a guy can dream), and pre-orders are the quickest way for me, your old buddy the whiskey writer, to get paid. You want all that to happen, right?

So do I, and so does my editor. We came up with a plan. If you pre-order, we have some bonus material for you. See, I was constrained by the word-count on this one, and my math was not up to snuff. I overwrote, and there were a couple thousand words that didn't fit. There's a section on making whiskey from a craft-type beer mash that got cut, and about a dozen tasting notes, including a couple nice long comparatives. I was maybe going to try to sell that to a magazine or website, then the editor says, 'hey, wait a minute...'

You can get this bonus material (in PDF form, as a download you can read on your smartphone or tablet) if you pre-order. Once the book's out though (currently February 18), offer's over, and the stuff's gone. But if you do stir yourself, and your credit card, you can get Whiskey Master Class...Plus! And don't worry: if you've already pre-ordered, you will also receive the bonus material. Of course you will. And thank you!

That's beautiful, baby. Yeah.
(We don't have to ask you not to share/post the PDF once you've received it, right? Because you respect copyright, and the idea of a creator making a fair living for their work, and don't want to create any negative waves? Thought so. Thanks!)

Here's how it works. It's going through the publisher, so it's a bit hand-made, not all slick and Amazony, but it works.

First, order the book before February 18! Next, email your proof of pre-order purchase -- see the Amazon example below, which you'd want to copy out of your Amazon order and paste into the email; if you pre-ordered at a bookstore, snap a photo of the receipt and send that along with the name of the book, the store, and date showing -- and send it to us at with a subject line of "Whiskey Master Class Bonus Offer". Easy-peasy. Copy the proof of purchase, paste it in an email, send it to us, and we'll send you the PDF. Done.

Order Confirmation
Hello Amy F Lerseth,

Thank you for shopping with us. You ordered "Keto: A Woman's Guide: The..." . We’ll send a confirmation when your item ships.
Order #113-5877026-4278628
Tuesday, June 11

Your Orders
Ship to:
Amy Lerseth
Total Before Tax:
Estimated Tax:
Order Total:
$14.42(or less)

But here's the BEST part! If you pre-order and send in your proof of pre-order, we'll send you the bonus material right away! (Okay, as soon as the editorial assistant can get to it, but real soon!). So you can start enjoying Whiskey Master Class right now. That's pretty cool, right?

So help me out here. You'll get the book, plus the bonus material. You'll be assured of getting it as soon as it comes out, so you can start learning about whiskey flavor creation right away. And you'll be helping me get paid, which is a noble gesture on your part, thank you very much!

How about it? Pippin likes people who pre-order.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Genesee Schwarzbier, 2019 return!

I don't know what I love more about this can illustration. Is it the closed eyes, signaling relaxed enjoyment? The full face beard and red flannel of the mountain man? The jaunty pipe -- a PIPE, on a beer label, oh my God! -- with the little design on the bowl?

No, it's gotta be the BIG GLASS OF BEER! The dude is loving that beer. Happy to be here, folks, having a big old schwarzbier.

And so am I, now, and I'm a happy fella. I've been waiting for months for the reappearance of Genesee's Schwarzbier. Yeah, really, a canned seasonal from a lumpy old regional brewery in upstate New York, and it is a happy day that it has returned. My wife brought some home from a visit to her mother outside of Rochester, and I can only hope that it trickles down to Pennsylvania soon.

Schwarzbier has always been a favorite of mine. Dark, flavorful, mild, and utterly drinkable in large quantities. I recall the first time I brought a case of Kostritzer's classic home. I opened one, and started making dinner...and 40 minutes later Cathy came through the door, and somehow 5 bottles were empty.

But it's fairly temperate, so it's all good. Take a big lager-brewed swallow: smooth, creamy mouthfeel, a roasty and chewy flavor, a just slightly tangy finish of black malt, and hurra! We're ready for another!

I'm taking a sixer along to dinner -- Figs, a BYO Mediterranean place in Philly -- and it's going to be welcome. I still recall being at a busy German-tapped bar one night, when a woman came up and asked for "your lightest beer." Give her a Kostritzer, I called, and they did. She looked at me as if to say, 'you're blind,' and I urged her to try it. It WAS the lightest beer they had: the black beer.

Thanks for the winter gift, Genesee!

Heaven Hill Bottled In Bond: three glasses

4 year old; The Six; the new 7 year old
I've always been a fan of Heaven Hill because of the value of their whiskeys. Evan Williams, in the familiar black label, the Bonded, and Single Barrel bottlings, is the benchmark for bourbon value. I will admit: I didn't get the value prospect when I first started seriously drinking bourbon. I perversely wanted to spend more money on my whiskey. When I found Elijah Craig 12 year old for $14 (20 years ago!), I changed my mind.

So one of my favorite bottles was the Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Years Old in the white label. I liked the way that bottle poured down the long neck, I liked the smack in the face of its unapologetic big corn/big oak character, and I sure did like that $14 (or less) price tag. That and Wild Turkey 101 were the bourbons that led me to realize that I preferred bourbons on the low side of 12 years old.

I felt betrayed when Heaven Hill pulled the Bonded Six from the market last year. That's a little harsh; it makes sense. Why put such great whiskey in a bottle for $14 ($21 for a handle!), when whiskeys that aren't even as good are selling for four times that? It simply no longer made sense for Heaven Hill, even with their long and loyal practice of supporting markets that had supported them (in this case, the bottom shelf bandits, I guess). I get it.

But now we get Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 7 year old, and it's $40 a bottle. Where's that rise in price come from? An extra year of age, and I guess the Bottled-in-Bond hyphens aren't free, and that is a very snazzy new bottle and label. But you know me Al: how's it taste?

I just went through the process of sorting all my bourbons and ryes, so I knew I had not only the Bonded Six and the new bottling, but a 'pint' bottle of Old Heaven Hill Bonded, a 4 year old that I believe is still out there. Let's taste them.

Old Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond — No age statement, but I'm guessing this probably isn't much over 4 years old. Sweet corn on the nose, some hot oaky alcohol, and some pleasantly delicate nuts and fruit pastilles there as well. Simple but well-built on the tongue: everything the nose promises, with a bit of creamy sweetness as well, and maybe a hint of green corn. Decent finish. Better than I remember, to be honest.

Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Years Old —  Given the age of this bottle (I found it buried in the back of my liquor cabinet), it was likely laid down by Parker and Craig Beam. In Parker's honor, I'll note that I smell corn, and oak! I also smell lots of spicy candy, coffee cake streusel, and sweet stollen dough. Big entry: hot corn pudding, Red Hots, peppermint oil, and a beginning of the oak that will build through the finish. The heat is a rock-em sock-em kind of thing, a punch, but a gloved punch that's not going to knock your palate out. Instead, it brings you back for more, like the soothing pummeling of a massage. I want to finish the sample, but I'll have to come back to it.

Heaven Hill 7 Year Old Bottled In Bond — Trying hard to clear my head of expectations... The nose has more candy -- orange nougat, butter mints -- but also lots of cornmeal and dusty seed corn, along with whiskey-wet barrel oak. Quite different from the Bonded Six on the palate: smoother, more cornmeal and dried corn, the Red Hots are lighter and not as sweet. That's it: it's a lighter, almost brittle sweetness over a richer corn and oak underlayment, almost like a crème brûlée kind of structure (not flavor; structure). The end of the palate and into the finish is more austere, and shorter.

When I go back to the Bonded Six after this, it seems a lot sweeter, until that finish, which piles on the oak. That's where I think the Bonded Six has the advantage; the finish on the 7 Year Old is shorter, and less...magnificent. The 7 has a more interesting nose, it has more balanced flavor that we'll call 'separate but equal,' but that Bonded Six finish is something I'm going to miss.

Is the Heaven Hill 7 Year Old Bonded worth $40? At 100° and 7 years old, baby, most definitely! Especially when I look around at what else is going for $40 these days. Hell, get a bottle of this and a bottle of New Riff Bonded for about the same price, and you'll have $80 well-spent; catch the right store pricing, and you'll have enough left over for lemons, superfine sugar, and chips for a whiskey sour party you won't soon forget. This steps lightly and brightly along the edge of young bonded power and mature whiskey sophistication, a young boxer who just got his first silk suit.

Are the days of punch-in-the-face bourbon gone? There are always 4 year olds that will slap you: Beam White, Jack Black. There are  8 to 12 year olds that will body-slam you: Russell's Reserve, Knob Creek. But when I go looking for the solid haymaker to the chops that was the Bonded Six...I'm not sure it's going to be out there. Maybe I need to get out Jimmy's Remedy: Turkey 101. I'll let you know about that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Another German malt: Slyrs

I never expected to be doing notes on two German malt whiskies in the first month of the new blog, but here we are. How'd it happen? Fairly simple: we took my son to dinner for his birthday. We went down to Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street in Philly; Thomas said he felt like German food, and that's a great place for it.

When I'm at Brauhaus, the foremost thing on my mind is beer, and at this time of year, it's Oktoberfest beer, festbier, Märzen! I got a half liter of house Traunstein fest going, and things looked decidedly rosy. Then the owner, Doug Hager, came over to the table. He had a small bottle with him.

As you can see, it was labeled Slyrs Single Malt Whisky. There was also some writing on the masking tape holding the cork in.

Can you see that? "Lew's Mouth Only!" Doug said it was to help keep from drinking it all himself; the Slyrs is, he said, his favorite (German) whiskey!

I've known Doug for quite a while, ever since he sang a silly little beer song for the judges at the Philly Beer Geek competition ten years ago (just before Brauhaus opened). This was the first time I knew he was a whiskey drinker. Thanks for thinking of me!

Slyrs is a 43% non-age statement bottling, thought to be around five years old. That would be young for Scotch, but Slyrs is aged in new charred American oak barrels, like bourbon, so it ages faster, picking up color and flavor faster. Let's see how that worked out.

There's a fruity, almost Juicy-Fruit gum aroma to it, along with a firm oak spine. It's sweet, grainy-doughy sweet, but there's some prickly spice as well. The mouth is hot for the proof, but the sweet malt and vanilla-oak comes through quickly and puts the heat in the background. Slyrs is young and lively, not a smooth-tempered contemplative dram. The malt is sweet, the fruit is there, but the oak chases it around the mouth, smacking it on the ass with a barrel stave right into the finish, which is oak-dominated and fairly long.

This could use some more age, though how that would go in new oak is a question. Slyrs is energetic and fresh, but it borders on busy, Might want to take a cube with it.

By the way...this whole "single malt" thing gets me a bit peevish. "Single Malt" seems to be aimed at leading one to believe that this whisky is like Scotch, maybe a lot like Scotch. I feel the same way about American "single malt." Distillers tell me it's because it's all malt, made from a single distillery, just like single malt Scotch, but this conveniently overlooks that Scotch came up with "single malt" to differentiate from the much more widely-sold blended whiskies. "Single malt" is Scotch whisky blended from casks of all-malt whisky, all from the same distillery...a distinction different from American and (presumably) German malt whisky distillers, since the Scots do blend from more than one distillery on a regular basis, something American distillers do not, to the best of my knowledge, do except for the very rare collaboration. We'll be talking a LOT more about American single malt whisky this Saturday, Nov. 2 at Julio's Liquors, in Westborough, Mass.: the American Single Malt Symposium, with people from Balcones, Westland, Virginia, and Sons of Liberty distilleries. If you're anywhere near...get a ticket, come on by!

I've got nothing more German coming up, but you never know...

Friday, October 25, 2019

I Can't Wait: Maker's Mark RC6

I have a table full of whiskey samples waiting to be tasted. I'm working through them. But every now and then...something shows up that I find exciting, and I just have to try it ASAP. That's what happened when I brought home a box that turned out to contain the new Maker's Mark RC6.

RC6 is the 'code-name' of the type of stave used for extra-aging the whisky. Maker's Mark has been working with Independent Stave Co. on a series of staves that can be hung (on special structures of food-grade plastic and stainless steel) in barrels of aged whisky. The staves have been heat-treated in a number of different ways: toasted, charred, infra-red, slow broils. RC6 is a selection by Maker's wood master, Jane Bowie: ten virgin toasted American oak staves.

But what interested me (in the context of having just written Whiskey Master Class) was a note from my Maker's Mark contact that "Jane Bowie spent years perfecting the finishing proof, and it's really special." Proofing, the act of deciding what proof the whiskey should be cut to before entering the bottle and then executing that decision. Here's what I said in the upcoming book:
Adding water changes the alcohol level, which changes the aromas that come forward. More alcohol will carry oak tones; lower the alcohol and the oak backs down, allowing the richer vanilla notes to come out. Distillers will proof whiskeys to different levels to find the optimum aroma profile or to find the level that brings out the particular flavor they’re looking for.
Adding water doesn’t change what flavor components are in a whiskey, nor does it take them away or add them. Adding water changes how whiskey presents itself to your senses, shifts what you sense first or more intensely.
It’s like a person changing her wardrobe. The person is the same, but your perception of them is different.
Jane decided that this whisky, finished with 9 weeks of cold-conditioned RC6 character, was best-dressed at 108.2° proof. Let's find out.

The heat's there, packed full of Juicy-Fruit gum, nutmeg, light clove, and dry cocoa. I drew in a big snoot-full, and got stung by the fire; beware. Light and frisky on the tongue: more spice, sweet pastry dough, and brighter fruits. The alcohol fire is there too, and I wonder...let's add some water. Call me a philistine, but that's lush with the water, more spready on the tongue. To me, it is...yummy, to use Bill Samuels's target phrase.

These limited offerings will be coming out once a year. Should be an interesting class in oak innovation.