Tag Archives: whisky

Jim Beam Distillers Series

JB_distillersIt looks like I’m about a year late on this one particular bottle.  Announced and released around this time last year, Jim Beam’s Distillers Series was supposedly available only through January 2009, but I managed to pick up a bottle at Astor place just last week.  I was intrigued by the friendly price point right around $20 and since I’ve enjoyed most other Beam releases I’ve tried – Jim Beam Black being one of the better bangs for your buck.  Then again, maybe there’s a reason this “limited” release is still on shelves a year after it hit them.

Stats:

– $20ish

– Jim Beam Distilling Co.

– 90 proof

Presentation:

JB Distillers Series comes in the classic Beam bottle, but has done away with the classic paper label.  Along the sides are six of the past distillers for Jim Beam: from Jacob Beam on the top left to Booker Noe at the bottom right.  Right up front is the current distiller Fred Noe.  Beside each miniature portrait is a brief, nostalgia laced biography.

Other than these portraits and biographies, there isn’t much.  No description of the whiskey beyond the age.  No old-timey flourishes.  Nothing much but the clear glass bottle.  One hopes that this is because they believe the contents need no introduction beyond sight, but really it seems they’re so singularly focused on their genealogy that they may have lost sight of what these men were actually making.

Tasting:

This is definitely a Jim Beam on the nose, but in a richer, sweeter way.  I’m getting sap and honey in there with some dry oak.

On the tongue, this is much smoother than I’d expected and than most other Beam releases.  There’s definitely that dry oak flavor to it and a sweet, warm finish.  Up front there’s also a bit of hay or dry grass.  I do get the sense that this is a little thin for all its smoothness, however.

Over all:

This is not something that is particularly interesting or exciting, but it is quite good for its simplicity and smoothness.  The best way to describe Jim Beam Distillers Series would be ‘austere’.  The ultimate test for whether I like something is if I pour myself a second tasting as I finish the review, and this one certainly passes.

Death’s Door Whisky

deathsdoorwhiskyThe more I look into it online, the more I’m thinking I’m lucky to have got my hands on a bottle of Death’s Door Whisky.  First of all, the spirit isn’t mentioned at all on the company website and second, according to their blog it seems they have little distribution beyond the Midwest.  Well, I thank Astor Wines & Spirits for getting it in stock!  That said, the reason I’ve been frequenting Astor of late is because my usual go-to shop, LeNell’s, had been on something of a hiatus.  To my great disappointment, that hiatus became permanent not too long ago.  We’ll all miss you, LeNell, come back to Brooklyn any time!  …and Astor better start stocking some more new and interesting stuff like this Death’s Door because I’ve just about had everything there.

Back to the subject at hand.  What makes DDW stand out above all else is the fact that it’s clear.  Its description at the store says it has been aged in steel drums, then for a day or two in oak casks, but nothing more.  This has me expecting something only slightly less harsh than the fresh-off-the-still taste of something like Georgia Moon.  Where it could differ though is in the fact that it’s made with a 100% wheat mash, which I could see softening some of the sharper edges you’d see in a fresh corn whiskey – but still-fresh is still-fresh no matter what the mash.  We’ll see.

Stats:

– in the $40-50 range

– Made by Death’s Door Distillery

– 80 proof

Presentation:

Ah, beautiful simplicity.  If you’ve read a few of my past entries, you’ll know that one of my frequent complaints about whiskeys are their over-done label design.  Death’s Door takes the radically opposite approach with their clear bottle, clear label sticker, and absolutely minimal use of text.  The only adornment is their double D logo.  Otherwise the vessel serves only to tell the whiskey aisle shopper that its contents is indeed clear and still a whiskey.

In certain contexts this minimalism could be interpreted as pretense, but sitting on the table in my apartment, it just looks clean and serious.

Tasting:

Yep, as you might expect, this smells like fresh distillate.  The harshness is a little muted from what its peak no doubt was, but I don’t know whether to chalk that up to bringing it down to 80 proof, the brief aging period, or both.  Difficult to make out anything particularly wheaty like you might whiff in something like Bernheim.  Generally a pleasant nose though.

When drinking, the first sensation is sweet and dry: raspberries and the smell of sun-bleached driftwood.  There’s a good deal of warmth on the palate for something this young and it’s surprisingly smooth.  The berry/driftwood sense continues throughout, then fades into a slightly bitter, short-lived finish.

Over all:

This is a good one.  Definitely a change of pace from your usual  line-up of brown liquors and surprisingly different from the Georgia Moons of the world.  As for how to drink it, putting it on the rocks might mute the more delicate flavors beyond repair, but adding a drop or two of simple syrup and some mint might not be a bad idea to compliment DDW’s strengths.  It’s not an all time favorite, but I have to say I’m impressed what they’ve done to make an enjoyable white whiskey and it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s cabinet if they’re looking for something that’s a change of pace.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky

wasmundsI picked up Wasmund’s at Astor Place last week because it is a non-bourbon American whiskey that I’ve never heard of before.  That intrigues me.  I’m always looking for people who are innovating and trying new things in the spirits industry here in the US, even if that means attempting to recreate another nation’s approach, as the “single malt” moniker implies.

Another intriguing element of Wasmund’s is its age of…wait for it…four months.  Four months!  There I was, looking at a bottle filled with brown whiskey that’s four months old?  At the very least, this would be an experience similar to Georgia Moon or perhaps last week’s brandy, both young spirits.  At best, the creator had worked some distillation magic and produced a fine, but extremely young drink.  Either way, it would be interesting.

Stats:

$30-40

– Made by Copper Fox Distillery

– 96 proof

Presentation:

Wasmund’s label is nothing special.  It displays its name in bold red letters at its curved top, below which are depicted an axe & chopping block (having recently chopped some wood chips), a copper pot still, and a trio of casks.  In no fewer than four more fonts, the label describes where it’s from, that it’s non chill-filtered, that it’s a single malt whisky (no ‘e’), and that it’s falvored and colored with applewood, cherrywood, and oak.  In the background there’s a stylized fox.

There are too many fonts to allow me to enjoy this label.  The color scheme (red, black, tan) is attractive enough, and – individually – the graphic elements are passable, but over all it comes across as cluttered and unfocused.  They would be better off focusing on the fox logo as a central element and cutting down the font-madness.

I have seen worse, however.

On the back label, creator Rick Wasmund makes the case for his whisky.  He describes following a traditional Scottish method, except replacing peat with fruit woods: interesting.  He also says that the spirit is aged in casks along with wood chips: that explains the mere four months of aging!

Aging with wood chips is a common practice amon home-distillers who lack access to proper casks to mature their product, but I can’t recall any other commercial brand that uses this practice.  In theory it makes a lot of sense: whiskeys reach maturity as a result of its contact with the wood, therefore if you increase the exposed surface area of wood, you wll reach maturity faster.  Having been founded only in 2000, Copper Fox is a young operation, and most likely saw this method as a way to bring the product to the market in a shorter time frame – namely, four months.

Clever.  Whether or not this turns out well, I applaud Mr. Wasmund for his willingness to experiment and question orthodoxies in the American whiskey industry.  We need more people trying more methods in order to stay relevant and to push our industry further.

Tasting:

To the nose, Wasmund’s is largely made up of smoke, rubber, wood, and alcohol.  The wood scent is not the familiar oak; this must be the apple and cherry woods described.  Yet, the youth of this whiskey comes through in the harsh alcohol scent that accompanies it.

On tasting, the prominent sensation is something like salt cod, beyond which lies that non-oak wood, a bit of smoke, and a general impression of the ocean.  The finish is long, hot, and peppery.

This is surpisingly mature for a four (!) month old whiskey, but still clearly young.  The flavors come and go with a speed and clarity that belies their variety and its heat, if nothing else, betrays its youth.

It is also definitely in the Scotch style.  That oceanic sensation is a reflection of this, perhaps owing to the smoking of the barley before fermentation.

Over all:

This is not my favorite whiskey.  It is, however, a good effort at breaking the accepted practices of whiskey making in America.  We should judge practices like aging with wood chips by the spirits they produce, rather than by the processes we are familiar with. In that light, though they are far from where they could be, I encourage Mr. Wasmun in his efforts, and hope to see other varieties from Copper Fox soon.

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.