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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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Stories, Legends, and Lessons: The Duke, a smoky German, and Wild Turkey's Master's Keep Rye

I can't keep up the level of the Little Book extravaganza every post. I do have more fun ones coming, but there are a LOT more of these straight-up reviews; mostly whiskey, but some beer as well, and maybe a tequila or cognac as they come over the transom.

Without further ado, then.

Duke Kentucky Straight bourbon - Duke Spirits. Since "Duke" is John Wayne, you know there's going to be a story here. Stripped to its essentials, Wayne liked bourbon, and his son Ethan recently found a collection of all his old scripts and old bourbon bottles. He took the bottles to someone who knows whiskey, and apparently asked them if they could figure out what Duke liked, and blend up a bourbon like that. This is the result: a 5 year old Kentucky straight bourbon at 44%.

Well, you know. Interesting story, and even an interesting idea to recreate what bourbon John Wayne liked by blending up something from the evidence of his drinking. But to then call that an "original recipe" dating from 1962 is more than a stretch. It's a story, little better than the "grampa's family recipe" stories that the marketplace is littered with in these times.

In this case, the whiskey should have been where they put the emphasis, because it's not bad at all. There's a nose full of spicy old-timey hard candies and hard oak. It lands well with a good firm mouthfeel, and a mouthful of blueberry cobbler, cough drops and brown sugar. A bit thin on the finish, but I almost feel like I'm searching for a problem. That's pretty good for a 5 year old bourbon. Lean on that.

Palatinatus Single Malt - Destillerie Thomas Sippel, Pfalz, Germany. Aged in American oak, peated malt, distilled in 2014
This time the story is mine. I got an email from an old high school friend, Don Hershey. He'd been to Germany on vacation, and they decided to take in a distillery tour. While doing the tour, he saw a copy of Tasting Whiskey, and mentioned to the tour guide that he knew the author. One thing led to another, and they asked him to please take me this bottle to taste.

Don agreed, and met me for a (perfectly conditioned) glass of bitter at Bulls Head pub in Lititz, PA. He told me the story and gave me the bottle, we got caught up, and I went home to try this German malt whiskey. 

45%. It pours a pale gold. The nose is a fruity smoke, with hints of menthol and leaf smoke. Light and youthful, but not green. Sweet and light on the palate, with bacony smoke up front that backs off to allow a clean maltiness to come through and again, the fruitiness. This is light and pleasant at 5 years, and I'm curious where aging will take it. It could use more integration, and that's exactly what time should bring. The Germans are doing a lot of whiskey-making, and they certainly know their malt. Keep your eyes on them.

Wild Turkey Master's Keep Cornerstone Rye
 -- Wild Turkey Master's Keep collection. If this is the one you opened the blog post for, well, I'll be honest: me too. I've been a Turkey fan for years (though I've called them out when they take a wrong turn), and this just sounded like a killer. "...a backbone of 9 year old barrels married with a selection of very rare 11 year old barrels."

This is Eddie Russell's selection, his whiskey, and proof that he's learned what I believe is his father's best lesson: old whiskey is just old whiskey. Some folks seem to think rye is just getting started at 9 and 11 years old. Hogwash, and this stuff gives them the lie. Don't buy into that narrative. Taste and see for yourself.

54.5%. Hello, nose. Baked goods (vanilla, honey, nuts, baklava?), fruit pie crust, bit of anise. Open up: I'm tasting spicy hard candy, more honey, hot but not breathless heat, some of that pastry - well-baked and browned - and dry peppermint pastilles. Oak is present but doesn't intrude. Finishes long, with dried fruit, oak, and spices. At 52% rye, this almost drinks more like a high-rye bourbon, but the dryness of the rye makes it different, and delicious.

A great addition to this Master's Keep collection.

Just to keep you interested. While I was tasting whiskeys, Pippin was tasting rawhide. He found this 4 month old American beef hide quite tasty.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Little Book: Tasting the 3 Chapters with Freddie "Little Book" Noe

Chapters 3, 2, 1; left to right
Pulling Apart Beam's Little Books

Just a warning: we've got seven whiskeys to get through, plus comparisons, plus some reflections on blending. So why not get a drink before starting? 

Beam Suntory (hereafter referred to simply as "Beam") turned out three surprising and excellent whiskeys over the past few years. The "Little Book" bottlings are named for the man who blended them, Freddie Noe. Freddie is the son of Beam master distiller Fred Noe, the grandson of distilling icon Booker Noe, and the great-great grandson of Jim Beam himself. He's said to take after his grandfather, and so he's been known as "Little Book." 

That's all interesting Beam family and company history, up to the point of the release of the first "chapter" of Little Book. Because at that point, two things happened. 

First, "American blended whiskey" took a huge leap upward in respectability. We were used to thinking of things like Kessler's, Four Queens, and the old, pre-Kirin Four Roses, and Seagram's 7: a little bit of whiskey and a lot of grain neutral spirit. 

That's not what Freddie had in mind with these blended whiskeys. He wanted to try things, work with different characters of spirit, while maintaining full transparency for the drinker. While Four Roses has been blending their ten in-house bourbons for years, we don't really think of Four Roses as blended whiskey. Freddie didn't dodge that label, and the industry has responded.

"It's new stuff," he told me a couple weeks ago. We were on the telephone for an hour or so, each of us with a supply of these three whiskeys, and the component whiskeys of Chapter 3 (more on that later). "Our competitors are talking to us and each other, asking questions. It's been real cooperative."

Freddie's been using his position as Fred Noe's grandson to take advantage of tasting widely of what Beam has to offer. "I have a curious palate," he said. He's been tasting whiskeys in the warehouses for years. 

"I get to taste the whiskey through its full lifecycle; I know what they're like at different ages," he said. "I see all the levers you can pull for flavors." It was interesting to hear that; "pulling levers" is a bit of jargon I've started hearing in the last two years from blenders and distillers alike. 

That's the second thing. When that first Little Book hit, those of us who were watching immediately started taking Freddie seriously. He was obviously more than just Fred Noe's son working on a vanity project. 

Freddie started talking about age, and time. "There's a lot of time in blending," he said. "I'll spend a lot of time working on the blends, and then spend a lot of time not working on them. Step away. You have to be able to get away so that the whiskey isn't just your expectations. I have to make sure that the levers we pull still make it Beam. 

"And that means that you've got to know what defines your whiskey," he said, sounding awfully damned experienced for his age. "Even new distilleries have a history. We're all doing it for a cause, a tradition, or a passion."

Then you can take what Freddie called "asset liquids," the core barrels that contain the classic components of Beam whiskeys, and start putting them together in different ways. "A strong base drives the blend," he said. "A younger whiskey will quickly fall behind an older, bolder whiskey. I'll start with equal parts and let the whiskey drive the blend. See what's driving the flavors you like, and move toward that.

"Then I focus on details: a longer finish, more vanilla up front," he said. "I love the process. Blending is a tool, though. I'm a distiller at heart, I will not stick to just blending."

We did some tasting.

Chapter 1 -- 120.4°, a blend of 4 YO straight bourbon, rye and malt whiskeys (both at 6 YO) and a 13 YO corn whiskey. You've got a bourbon, and the component grains of bourbon; it seemed like a good place to start, since you already know they go together well. The nose is full of oak, dusty grain, and vanilla. It's a full, gentle entry on the palate, almost lush, and smooth for the proof. There's a big fat heart of sweet cereal, orange slice candies, and fresh-cut oak. Tasty, juicy bourbon without restraint until the whiskey rolls off the tongue and the finish sets in and dials up the oaky, spicy heat a bit.

Chapter 2 -- 118.8°, a blend of 8 YO Kentucky straight rye, 40 YO (that's right, 40!) 100% corn Canadian whisky, and 13 YO Canadian rye whisky (which I'm guessing is probably Alberta Distillers 100% rye); definitely the lightest in color of the three bottlings. Freddie admitted this one was difficult. "Not every blending idea works out," he confessed. But he'd tagged along on a trip to Alberta Distillers and tasted through their inventory. "I picked up a fruity, floral note, and made a note to work with Canadian whisky. I was interested in whether our aged rye would dominate the Canadian." It is floral and sweet on the nose, with vanilla and caramel, if not the heavy Canadian caramel. Taken on the tongue, it's roly-poly sweet, with grassy rye mint, cinnamon candies and oaky spice on the back end. There's a long finish, especially for a Canadian: oaky, hard candies, and horehound drops. The spice of rye is definitely there, and the lazy sweetness of that 40 YO corn whiskey is like a comfy blanket on a cold night.

Then we tasted the four component whiskeys of Chapter 3.

Knob Creek 9 YO, 117.4° -- Knob has a place in my whiskey heart. The first whiskey I had as a pro was Knob Creek. Took my breath away, bulged my eyes a bit. But damn! Freddie said the Knob is a lot of the flavor of Chapter 3. "It's not the predominant volume in the blend," he said, "but it does add a lot. Booker spoke about its boldness." There's a lot of vanilla up front, with crackling, 'two-legged oak,' my notes say. "Young Knob is more corn forward," Freddie noted. "Watching it transition to more oaky is an eye-opener." On the tongue, there's a lot of cracked corn and more vanilla with a good dose of oaky, almost smokey heat.

Basil Hayden 9 YO, 123° -- There's a big hit of rye spice in the nose; it's weirdly delicate without being shy. "The Basil has twice the rye of Knob," Freddie points out, "but younger Basil has less rye aroma. And this barrel proof Basil is so different from the Basil Hayden bottling." And it is. There's a big wall of sweetness around the inside of my mouth, almost like a firebox lining, with all that spice and oak heat kept inside. "I like to have a bit of a 'Kentucky hug,'" Freddie said. "I like it to squeeze me back." Weird to taste big boy Basil Hayden, but welcome.

Baker's 12 YO, 126.6° -- I'm a huge Baker's fan, and was excited to taste this overproof version at five extra years of age. (This was before I knew about the new single barrel Baker's and the 13 YO version...separate post to come on that!). You can smell and taste the extra age: a lot of barrel char here, and the corn is like a roasted cornmeal cornbread (like Brinser's Best, the roasted cornmeal my family has used for at least three generations). It's just a darker, deeper version of a bourbon that's already dark and deep. The corn and oak cling and grip to the palate, exemplifying how the barrel changes and, really, transmogrifies the simplicity of corn spirit. Baker's is a master class in itself.

Booker's 11 YO, 129.2° -- I got a few other Booker's samples out (I get samples of most of the releases, which is an embarrassment of riches, and I'll be sharing more of those now that the blog's back up) and compared them to this one. I was very surprised with how fresh and vital this whiskey smelled at almost twice the average age of the others. Hot caramel, lively spicy oak, and prickly blackberry fly right into your nose on this one. All that, in spades, on the tongue, but now you get that big sweetness wrapping it all up. The finish is long, with a good tannic grip. Booker's at 11 years old is quite a bird.

And finally...the whiskey we came to taste:

Little Book Chapter 3: The Road Home, 122.6° -- So Beam, so Booker: Full-bore bourbon, hot corn, polished oak, vanilla, Red Hots, and dried cherries. Two-stepper on the tongue: the first hit is all hot, sweet corn and spicy, firm oak (can't help thinking of my favorite Parker Beam quote here: "I put corn in my bourbon, and I age it in oak, and when I drink it, that's what I taste: corn, and oak!"), but then it's like the pressure lifts and a big shot of dried fruit comes through, bright and almost juicy, with baking spices. As it fades into the finish, the oak and vanilla come back, and float you off.

Can I taste the component bourbons? Well, yes, and no. Yes, in that I taste that big vanilla from the Knob, the grip of the Baker's, the sweetness of the Basil, and that long Booker's finish. No, in that I don't really taste them that way; I taste a bourbon that has all those things, and more. That distinct two-step palate; the dried fruit, the subdued baking spice. Like Knob, but smoother; like Baker's, but not as dark; like Basil, but richer; like Booker's, but even more drinkable at the full proof. A damned good blend.

And so, overall? Chapter 1 is a new blender, having fun, making a tasty, sweet bourbon out of pieces (Lego Bourbon?). Chapter 2 works with new components, quite different ones (40 year old corn-built Canadian!), and creates something completely new from them. The aptly-named Chapter 3, "The Road Home," is an epiphany, where the blender takes known whiskeys, at full proof, and makes something more out of them, when it would have been easy to screw up, and make something that wasn't really as good as any of them alone. Chapter 3 is a blender coming into his own. Chapter 3 is leveled-up from Chapter 1. 

This was a lot of fun, and a learning experience. I continue to gain respect for the work of blending, and I'm glad to see distillers working with more imaginative blends. Did the whole thing start with High West's Rendezvous Rye, a young and old MGP rye blended together? No, but maybe the modern era of American blending did.

I'm just not that excited to see some blenders jumping the gun entirely and blending completely different spirits together -- bourbon and rum, cognac and tequila, gin and mezcal -- when there's so much to be explored without stunts like these. Am I an old fart? Sure. And things like that don't excite me. But neither do CBD drinks or hard seltzers or juniperless gins. Traditions aren't prisons; they're playgrounds, sandboxes. Play within the rules, and see what you can do that others haven't. That's exciting.

My thanks to Freddie Noe and the folks who put us together.

(All whiskeys tasted were samples, delivered by Beam to me. I'll always tell you where they came from.) 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


And that's as political as we're gonna get here.
(It's a joke, BTW.)
Boy, it's dusty in here. 

Hard to believe I used to post every day, for four years. That passed, and then I tried to start it up again in 2016, but blessedly, I got busy, and the blog came in dead last in my priorities.

Things change. I have a book to support, and free rein to do that, so I'm starting up the Inferno, sorry, wrong reference. I'm going to start blogging again.

It's going to be a bit more whiskey-focused this time, since there's that book I'll be flogging. But there's still going to be beer, and food, and travel, and probably pictures of my dog. And I'll be sticking to the original principles of the blog, explained in full here; briefly, though, I'll be writing criticism, not snark, and recognizing that none of us know everything. So whiskey reviews, and industry overviews, and personal profiles will be written with care, with charity. That doesn't mean "I love everything" reviews, it just means that the negative reviews will try to understand what happened, and I probably won't review the real train wrecks. If you want to revel in deliciously cruel reviews of the whiskeys you love to hate...look elsewhere.

There are going to be regular whiskey reviews, and some other spirits, and beers, but mostly whiskey. Part of that's the book support, but some of it is that I found that I missed writing the reviews I was doing for Whisky Advocate. (Yeah, no link. It's the least I can do). And since no one else is really paying for whiskey reviews, I'll do them for myself.

The first new post -- after this one, natch -- is going to be a chat with Beam Suntory's Freddie Noe and a review of all three of his Little Book chapters, the blended whiskeys from Beam that shook things up a bit. The idea that Beam had some aged malt whiskey*, that Beam was going to admit that they had stocks of Canadian whisky, or that there was 12 year old Baker's...well, I found that all pretty exciting. So when the Beam people asked me if I'd like to talk to Freddie about it, I thought, 'Hey! That would be a great first post for the revived blog.' So that's what I did. That's going to be coming soon, couple of days.

All I can show you for now. Note: no ice in the glass. Fought hard for that, because I know you care. 

Anyway, about the book. It's titled Whiskey Master Class, and it's about the creation of aroma and flavor in whisk/ey. (I promise, I'm not going to make a habit of that 'whisk/ey' construction.) From traditional formulations and the grains in them through malting, milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation, barrel construction and selection, aging, blending, proofing, filtering, bottling, and all the intangible stuff that's so hard to measure...I've tried really hard to cover everything that makes whiskey what it is.

The book was inspired by something that renowned blender and Scotch whisky innovator Dr. Bill Lumsden said to me one time. “If the barrel gives a whisky 50% of its flavor...that just means that the other 50% doesn't come from the barrel.” To really understand a whiskey then, you have to know where every bit of that 100% comes from, and how it's different from another whiskey. That's what the book is all about. I'm very pleased to say that Dr. Bill agreed to write the foreword.

Pippin's only 10 months old...
but his ears are full-grown!
It's due out on February 18 but you can pre-order now: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local independent bookstore (assuming someone asked them to order it...I'm looking at you). You can be sure the blog will run at least that long, and probably up through the 2020 Christmas book-buying season. And I'll probably be fully in the habit by then, and we'll just keep going. My publicist tells me that the blog's good, but I'm going to have to back it up with Instagram (and Twitter, and Facebook), so I'll be there as well, hashtagging like a champ.

I've made a fair number of promises here. I intend to keep them. This stuff is fun. of my dog. Promise that, too. Here, take a look at Pippin. 

Little Book is coming soon. And then it's off to the races.

*I have a really annoying habit of mistyping "whiskey" as "shiskey," so if you see that...I was typing so fast I missed it. I almost did here. Just letting you know.