Monthly Archives: April 2009

On Wine vs. Whiskey & Russell’s Reserve Rye

russellsreserveryeIf you missed me last week, that’s because I was traveling about France, doing very little in the way of tasting American liquors – bourbon especially.  In fact, I managed only one type of liquor over there: a single Calvados whose name I don’t even recall.  Instead, I did what I could to get a taste of the wine world, and in particular, I delved into the world of Burgundies.  Thanks, in large part to David and Lynne.

Naturally, there is quite a bit different between the philosophies of distillers and vintners, but at times I was surprised at the gap between the two.  For instance, the concept of a “single barrel” wine is simply not in the picture for vintners – and this really points to the larger issue at hand: everything that occurs after the harvest of the grapes is important to do correctly, but largely inconsequential to the end product.  With whiskeys on the other hand, where and how the grain is grown bears little importance in the final product and the artistry lies in the post-harvest crafting.  Very interesting to think about, and one would imagine the two worlds might have a bit to learn from each other.

Now that I’m back in my dear States United, however, I’m good and ready to dive back into the good stuff – built from grain, aged in oak.

And what better welcome back into the country than a bit of Russell’s Reserve Rye?  I met Jimmy Russell himself at a tasting at the Brandy Library a few months ago, where he poured me a few of the “Russell” branded Wild Turkey offerings including this very one – though the drink’s subtleties were probably lost in Jimmy’s charming conversation.

So with that, I’m going to give this one a proper American Hooch eye and see what it has to offer.


– $30-35

– 90 proof

– Mady by Austin, Nichols (Wild Turkey)


Russell’s Reserve Rye comes in what can only be described as a straight-forward bottle.  Everywhere you look it has clean edges, straight lines, and bold lettering.  The label is an aporximately one-inch thick, four-inch high, vertical strip at the bottom of the bottle declaring the basic information that what you have before you is “Small Batch 6 Year Old Kentuck Straight Rye Whiskey,” with a small monochrome photo of a barrel beneath a window.  Above that, printed on the bottle is the product name and a raised glass signature, and the bottle is topped off with a pale wooden cap that is adorned only in its modest height and simplicity.

The text on the back does bring a bit of out-of-place adornment, praising Jimmy and his son Eddie as “America’s premier whiskey makers” and awarding their own product as “the perfect 6 year old rye.”  There’s nothing wrong with pride in many circumstances, but here it belies the classy no-nonsense approach to the design of the rest of the bottle.


RRR has a very attractive and surprisingly deep scent to it.  It starts with fresh-baked bread and moves into a fruit-sweet, fresh-cut grass tainted by charcoal note.  This very much reminds me of warmer weather and Sunday afternoons.

It is not nearly as smooth on the tongue however, with all the elements of rye (and its high proof) bursting through right away.  Along with the initial brightness though, there’s a creamy, almond flavor to it.  As this fades into the fairly sweet finish, the almond aspect develop into a dominant note with touches of the rye-driven bitterness creeping in on the sides.

There’s a lot going on here.

Over all:

This is a very well crafted whiskey.  It hits all the points that I usually enjoy, especially the sweet/bitter contrast that plays so nicely.  I could also see this making an excellent Old Fashioned – as long as you kept the recipe as simple as possible so as to take advantage of the bright almond notes in Russell’s Reserve Rye.

Very well done.


Clear Creek’s Eau de Vie de Pomme

eaudeviedepommeI’m off to France for the next week, so that means two things for this blog: first, it means there won’t be an entry next week – unless I’m able to find a worthy American liquor over there and get into the blogging spirit, I suppose; and second, it means that in my anticipatory mood I’ve picked up a bottle of Clear Creek’s Calvados-inspired apple brandy to write about.

I first found out about Clear Creek’s apple brandy in the (perhaps not defunct?) New York Times blog Proof, where CC’s Steve McCarthy contributed a few pieces.  I was never able to really get into that blog, which seemed to at once celebrate, nostalgize, and demonize alcohol – a confused premise at best.  However, Steve’s pieces gave me a glimpse into the motivations and processes behind a respected American distiller, especially his emphasis on leveraging a region’s local produce in production.

Now let’s get down to some tasting.


– $30-40

– Made by Clear Creek

– 80 proof


Clear Creek’s Eau de Vie de Pomme makes no apologies for its Francophilia.  Everything from the shape of the bottle, to the label coloring, to the script imitates the Calvados style.  With that in mind, I enjoy the crisp lines and simple alignment of the text and border on the label, allowing the flowing script of the French title to stand out without cluttering.

There is not too much information on the bottle itself except the age statement (8 years) and that it has been aged in French oak.


EdVdP is light brown in color – a testament to its eight year aging – but is not as dark as what you might expect from some brandies (though certainly darker than the last apple brandy I wrote about here).  The scent is strongly of cider and quite sweet.  There might be a touch of the wood to the nose as well, but it was hard to pick out from the cidery notes.

On tasting, EdVdP is bright and apply and lingers on the tongue with a tingling citrus and a bit of that French oak.  Despite the apple and citrus, this was not as sweet as the scent would have you believe.

Over all:

Perhaps I’m not as adept at navigating the complexities of brandies just yet, or perhaps I simply shouldn’t expect as much from them in that manner as I should from bourbon.  Either way, while Clear Creek’s Eau de Vie de Pomme is thoroughly enjoyable and I will visit the bottle again, I wasn’t able to draw as much character out of it as I would normally look for.

What I can say, however, is that through the lens of my admittedly limited experience with brandy and Calvados in particular, Clear Creek seems to have done a good job in imitating the qualities of the French liquor.  In the end, it could cetainly stand on its own legs without the comparison.

Cabin Still

cabinstillApologies for the poor picture-quality, I still can’t find the charger for my camera battery.

I made a trip to Astor Place this weekend to pick up my next few bottles.  Catching my eye down there at the bottom shelf was Cabin Still with its bright yellow label and trying-too-hard name, so I put it in the basket along with my other selections and hoped for the best.  At $10.99, that’s not hard to do.

Further investigation revealed that Cabin Still is a Heaven Hill product, which bodes well.  Let’s see how this goes.


– $10-12

– Made by Heaven Hill

– 80 proof


That yellow label is the most distinctive element of the Cabin Still bottle.  The centerpiece is a print of a copper pot still framed by the phrases “Hand Made” and “Sour Mash”.  The main text of “Cabin Still” is in a font that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, but it – along with the decorative swirls around the edges – highlights the almost goofy character of the design.  It has taken the idea of the bourbon bottle and taken it to cartoonish lengths.

As much as I get fed up with the over-reliance on nostalgia in American whiskey packaging, I find myself more amused than frustrated.  I especially like after thought of a red stripe in the top red corner.


To the nose Cabin Still is sweet, medicinal, and a bit of new car smell.  On the palate, CS is barely there.  It starts off with a watery grain and under-aged sort of profile then drops into a faint char and a slight pepper on the finish.

Over all:

Cabin Still is nothing to write home about.  I’ve had worse as parts of bourbon & cokes before, but I don’t think I’ll be sipping this on its own any time soon.