Tag Archives: whisky

Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof

rittenhouseryeThis is the first rye I’ve tasted for American Hooch.  Why Rittenhouse?  It’s a brand I’ve seen in many bars – a brand that’s constructed some of the finer mixed drinks I’ve tasted – so it seemed like a good place to start.

Stats:

– $15-20

– Made by Heaven Hill

– 100 proof

Presentation:

Rittenhouse Rye’s 100 proof line comes in the standard cheap-liquor bottle with the plastic cap, but its black label and well-known name makes it stand out from the crowd.  The label consists of familiar American whiskey motifs: the barrel, the flowing script, and the proud declaration of its bonded status to name a few.  There is no mistaking RR for anything else but a classic American rye.

Tasting:

Rittenhouse provides a nose full of lemon and mashmallow.  It is very sweet through all of this.  There are points when the alcohol sneaks through, but that’s probably because your nose is too close.

To the palate, RR displays the lemon certainly, but the dominant flavors are black pepper and licorice.  All this is front-loaded and dissipates quickly after the initial sensation, leaving a mild peppery finish.  That first wave of flavors, however, is suitably complex and pleasantly angular.

Over all:

I enjoyed the angularity and peppery beginning to Rittenhouse, but was let down by its quick dissipation and lacking finish.  So, I’m not sure where I come down on this one – it would make a fine mixed drink, but a lackluster sipping selection.  Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pour myself a second helping.

Jefferson’s Reserve

jeffersonsreserveJefferson’s Reserve is one of the three “Very Small Batch” offerings from McLain & Kyne (of Castle Brands).  It seems that by “Very Small Batch” they mean it’s the product of only eight to twelve barrels, but this is the only time I’ve seen the term used with the “very” modifier.

From what I’ve been able to glean from a few minuted of research, JR is (or was originally) produced at the same place as Willett’s, nearby Heaven Hill.  The pricing and name-checking of a particularly gentlemanly President demonstrate the producers’ intentions of placing this bourbon firmly in the super-premium category.

Stats:

– $45-55

– Made by McLain & Kyne

– 90.2 proof

Presentation:

Jefferson’s Reserve comes in a very simple, refined bottle, marked by its lack of a front or back paper label.  The front sports the brand name in a flowing script intended to mark the distinguished nature of the bourbon within and perhaps to conjure the former President’s spirit.  Below this is a small image of Monticello, again recalling Jefferson’s grand style of living to which we might aspire.  The only other text on the bottle is “Very Old / Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky / Very Small Batch.”

First of all note the use of “Very” to modify both “Old” and “Small” – as I mentioned earlier, “Very Small Batch” might be a brand-associative term for McLain & Kyne, but also applying it to “Old” just seem gauche in a way which Jefferson himself would never approve.  It also seems that Jefferson’s Reserve once did have a distinct age statement (15 years), but they’ve ditched that in recent years.  Likely they’re using barrels from a number of different year now to meet the flavor profile, but the average age is likely not far from 15 I would guess.

Secondly, note that they use “Whisky” instead of the more common spelling (for bourbon) “Whiskey”.  This seems to be another distinguishing mark meant to connect the bourbon to an older tradition than its competitors.  A subtle move; or as McL. & K. might put it, Very Subtle.

Tasting:

Jefferson’s Reserve has a quiet, but pleasant aroma to it.  I was able to pick out strains of raisins and dried summer grass.  This is not something that will jump out at you as soon as you open the bottle, but it comes in time.

On the palate, JR is equally quiet.  Starting with unsweet sensations of vanilla and grass, these quickly dissipate into a very clean finish, but not before a quick, sharp spark of tobacco comes and goes.

I’m surprised not to be tasting more wood, considering how old this is supposed to be.  That’s a commendable trait – often it seems that in a rush to compete with scotch, bourbons are over-aged and become too woody.

Over all:

If you’re looking for depth of flavor and complexity, Jefferson’s reserve is not for you.  If you’re looking for subtle flavors and the air of something Very Refined, have a go at it.  For this price point, make sure you’ve had a number of other bourbons first, however.  I think there are a few other options lower on the price scale that would fit into a similar tasting category.

Shine On Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey

While the rest of my borough is out partying, I’ve taken a break to bring a new whiskey into my arsenal.  Shine On Georgia Moon is something that’s caught my eye on the shelf every time I visit my local liquor store, so instead of venturing down to Red Hook to see my usual pushers at LeNell’s I opted to give SOGM a try.

Presentation:

Shine On Georgia Moon is bottled and positioned for one purpose and one purpose only: to hammer home the idea that it is moonshine.  From the name, to the mason jar, to the irregular typeface on the shopping-bag-paper label, this liquor is anything but subtle.  Thankfully they realize that they are so unapologetically forward in their visual presentation that they didn’t find the need to add a hokey little narrative about some old-timey man and his still out in the back woods of Georgia (or Kentucky as is the case here).

Beyond these obvious points, there is one message that seems particularly distictive to this brand – they proult declare that their product is “less than 30 days old” right on the front label.  This is a clear response to the often fetishistic focus on a whiskey’s age that we see in other brands.  SOGM seems to be trying to make the “freshness” of the product a selling point…not a crazy approach in the era of local food and farmers’ markets.

If you take the cheap bottling and quick time to market implied in the “less than 30 days old” tag line, and place these two qualities next to the $13+ price point, what you see is some damn shrewed marketing.  The Johnson Distilling Company has taken the market’s obsession with notions of “authenticity” and manufactured unpretentiousness and turned it into a cheap-to-make, mid-market brand.  Bravo.

Tasting:

Shine On Georgia Moon is no subtler to the nose than its bottling is to the eye.  Before even getting to the nose however, one must struggle to pour the whiskey out of the mason jar itself – not an easy task to complete neatly.  Once in the glass, SOGM definitely smells like whiskey, but very green whiskey.  The dominant scent is (naturally) corn, but it really smells like the mash itself, unaged, unmellowed.

On the palate, SOGM is equally young.  It moves quickly through its seasons: starting with a burst of corn, dropping into the sensation of boiled mash, then disappearing as quickly as it came leaving only a slight remembrance in the clean finish that something had passed this way.  There seem few better ways to describe it than simply as ‘fast’.

Over all:

I would probably never find myself settling down with a glass of neat Georgia Moon any day soon, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good uses for a green whiskey such as this.  For instance, I can imagine with a little simple syrup and mint this would make a fine julep; or perhaps replace the mint with a wedge of lime and the simple syrup for cane syrup for a variation on Ti’punch.  In fact, SOGM reminds me more of a rhum agricole than a bourbon or any other American whiskey – so it might be best to treat it as such.

Virginia Gentleman 90, small batch

Virginia Gentleman is perhaps the best known non-Kentucky bourbons, yet this distinction is only partly true since the Smith Bowman distillery takes new distillate from Buffalo Trace (in Kentucky) then distills it for a 3rd time at their Virginia location, where it is also barreled and aged. I suppose that’s good enough.

Presentation:

VG90 is the small batch, premium expression of the brand. The bottle is dominated by gold – in the waxed neck, the labels, and the text – but otherwise attempts to exude a subdued, genteel dignity. This is expressed with the spare descriptive text on the back and the prominent fox hunt painting that serves as the primary branding imagery on the front. The bottle itself is an attractive and simple shape that draws the eye toward the action in the label.

Tasting:

The most impressive elements of Virginia Gentleman 90 were the initial scent when opening the bottle and its impression on the nose after pouring. To the nose it has a strong yet smooth character. It is assertive in its presence, but not in its character, built with scents of kettle corn, sea-breeze, and wet grass. I really quite enjoyed this aspect which sets the table for the actual tasting.

On the palate VG90 is very smooth, yet a little boring. After an initial sweetness that vaguely hints at caramel and pineapple, comes a rather neutral warmth and a clean finish. I spent a good amount of time trying to chase down further depths but to no avail.

Over all:

Virginia Gentleman 90 made an impressive opening to the nose, but on the palate is was smooth yet dull. I have to admit that I enjoyed it though. This is an excellent bourbon to bring out for company and folks who aren’t going to be up for the intricacies of something more complex. True to its theme Virginia Gentleman manages to express a subdued, genteel dignity both in vision and character.

Bernheim Original

When it comes to wheat whiskey there’s usually one name that comes to mind above most others – Bernheim. So this week I finally took the plunge and gave it a serious look.

Presentation:

Bernheim does a great job with their bottle. It manages to be classic, classy, and simple all at once. IT doesn’t strive for some false American-whiskey past that other do. It seems to say, “we let out whiskey do the talking.”

The bottle is less than two inches in depth and uses minimal labeling. One side sports a faux-aged sticker with some text, but this is blissfully out of the way. Otherwise the main descriptive elements are the heavy copper-colored name plaque in the center of the bottle front, and the design of the bottle which lets light pass pleasingly through the yellow-amber colored liquid.

Focus here is on the drink and its attractive qualities rather than any semi-truthful origin stories. That’s the way it should be.

Tasting:

The nose is mostly mild, with hints of honey, dry grass, and hazelnut coming through. The honey is very much what I expected – the hazelnut is a bit of a surprise.

To the palate Bernheim absolutely screams “wheat!” when you first take it in. This quickly transforms into notes of unexpected spice, nuts, and green apples. Really quite complex, but not slow at all in its development. The flavors themselves may not be to aggressive, but they develop as though chased by hellhounds.

This turns into a lingering, pleasing spiciness.

Over all:

Bernheim is definitely not what I expected it to be. I was thinking I’d find a mild honey-driven whiskey, but instead was confronted by a hyper-active, but no less interesting drink with some surprising spice.

One thing that I found a little odd was how at points it reminded me of Glenfiddich – mostly at the height of its green-appley moments.

Quite a fine whiskey.