Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Malted Straight Rye Whiskey (Batch no. 11G)

Color (5%): Medium thinning. Hay and faint copper. 4/5

Nose (10%): That does have that beautiful single malt nose that I missed from Red Brick. Awesome chocolatey notes over the freshly cooked barley. A bit of pepperiness from the rye comes around, but it's mainly chocolate-forward, which I love. The alcohol doesn't burn as much as expected from something so high-proof. There is a nice creaminess through it. 9/10

Palate (20%): Wow, that is a lot of chocolate and overproof. There are better ideas for the day's first sip, but I'll adjust. Nice light caramel sweetness. There is a great creamy body. This is well-refined. The barley is definitely taking over from the rye side of this. I wouldn't guess this was a rye if I tasted this blind. But I love American single malts. 18/20

Finish (10%): That burn hits you first and last, but in the middle, there is a sweet, creamy milk chocolate. I want to pair this with a salty dessert. That would really make this shine. There's a slight undertone of spice of cinnamon and pepper. Medium long duration. Nice and clean relative to the heat. 8/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is quality stuff. It's been very well distilled. There's a great flavor coming from quality grains. I'm not getting a ton of aged character, but it obviously hung out in some wood with a decent char level but reasonable. They didn't overage it, and it's young enough. They landed in the sweet spot. This works great as an end-of-the-night slow sipper with some salted caramel chocolates on the side. I will be drinking this again. I promise you that. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice really mutes the nose. The chocolate fades away, and some peppered honey pops out. The rye starts showing its face once those roasted flavors shrink. A lovely creamy finish is still mixed with soft milk chocolate, but that roasted bitter cocoa is gone. I want to try this on a big rock and watch it transform as I go. 23/25

Total Ranking: 89% Legendary, Amazing, Great, Good, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $74
Actual Price: $79

Conclusion: That 51:49 ratio confuses me. What's so important about being classified as a rye when you barely qualify. I can see a few rye elements coming through this whiskey, but it tastes like a single malt. It's quality stuff, misnamed. If you love porters, you will love this whiskey, so long as you can handle the strong stuff. I'm going to keep this bottle and share it with close friends. This is a special occasion sipper for me, and it likely merits discussion among enthusiasts. It's way better than the Uncut the Younger and arguably one of my favorite whiskeys I've tried so far this year. Definitely buy yourself a pour, or if you trust me, just grab a bottle. 

Fact Sheet:
51% Rye, 49% Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co
Bottled May 18, 2023
ABV: 57.92%

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey

Color (5%): Light amber and hay hues. Very low thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%): There's a nice rye spice and a big vanilla sweetness. That corn comes through in this rye. There's a bit of oak and cinnamon. Some orange peel comes in after some time. Nice and candy-like. Compared to the last few smoke wagons I've tried, the alcohol burn is all tolerable. 8/10

Palate (20%): The corn sweetness pops straight in there, a nice soft caramel. After all, corn is basically half the mashbill. I've tried the Small Batch, the standard Straight Bourbon, and the Uncut The Younger; this is the first rye in my portfolio. It's okay for a bonded rye. That menthol note pops in after a few sips but is less intense than other recent samples. The botanical notes are there but are milder: mint, pine, and green tea. Spice and oak are present but not dominant, with some faint cinnamon and allspice. 17/20

Finish (10%): The finish is smooth. There's minimal alcohol burn for the proof. There's a nice cake frosting sweetness. Medium duration. A bit of cinnamon hangs around. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): I'd like more oak here. This one's a bit young. Also, it's 2% away from not being rye whiskey at all. This would be called the sweetest and easiest if this was in a flight of rye whiskeys. It could be a stepping stone for someone to go from bourbon into the world of rye, but there are better examples of a typical rye. It's fine. I'm sure people will like it, but it has only one aspect that will make it anyone's favorite. If offered, I'll happily drink it, but I would pick something else if I want a rye whiskey. 22/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The sweetness from that corn really comes through when chilled down. A bit more allspice comes in. The mint gets milder but lingers a bit longer on the finish. Nothing elevated, but only a little was lost. 21/25

Total Ranking: 79% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $44
Actual Price: $65

Conclusion: Why pick this mash bill? 51% to 49%. There are many ways to stack flavors and layer in complexity and depth. Aging in Nevada heat is a new and experimental science, but this great distillery needs to do something to push the boundaries or excel at a price point that makes you wish they had dialed this in more. This whiskey is fine, but for $65, $70, even $80 in some markets, no. Smoke Wagon dipped its toe in the rye market, but they were not swimming with the champs here. I hope that they dial in a quality product, but this mash bill will never be the favorite of a rye lover, and at this price point, it won't be someone's new exploration at the bar, which brings in a new regular consumer. If you are offered this, try it. I don't need to spend the total price for a bottle or a glass. My favorite ryes are the ones that have been around for nearly a century or more, like Sazerac, or the ones that follow those roots but add a fun twist, like the Dad's Hat Port Finish. For the money, get something famous for their rye. 

Fact Sheet:
51% Rye, 49% Corn, maybe 51% Rye, 45% Corn, 4% Barley. There is an issue with labeling specific batches.
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co
Aged at least 4 years
ABV: 50%

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Review: El Dorado 3 Year Old

Color (5%):  Totally clear, minimal legs. All color has been filtered away. I don't penalize for that when that is the intention, though 5/5

Nose (10%): Nice creamy coconut and vanilla. Dried fruits and cocoa. It's a nice, nuanced "white" rum. There's an aged character, but it's been muted to add complexity compared to unaged white rums. 9/10

Palate (20%): Oh, that is interesting when served neat. Banana peel and candy sugar notes. White to light brown sugars. A bit of menthol comes through. It's a light-bodied rum in terms of alcohol burn. There's a bit of viscosity, but it's neither syrupy nor oily. Baked Girl Scout coconut cookies come in. It stays dry and fruity. It would go great in rummy cocktails: mojitos and the like. 18/20

Finish (10%): Very smooth. Very quick finish. Very little alcohol sharpness. This is crazy clean for what is intended to be used as a white rum for mixing purposes. The filtration does the job very well to keep it approachable. 9/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is a complex "white" rum. Rum terminology regarding age statements, color, production region, spelling, and other variables must be clearer. This is an aged rum, but it's been filtered and thus has a clear hue, which could confuse some people. That said, compared to other white rums, this is a banger. Sipping a white rum neat is uncommon, but this isn't a struggle, and you can see how well it would work in cocktails. Mojitos would pop, as would daiquiris. I don't know how this would stand out in a complex tiki cocktail with other punchy flavors, but this can certainly shine, given the chance. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): That body still punches. This nuance will not fade in cocktails. Again, who sips white rum straight? But this is plenty good, with lots of complexity. Menthol pops out a bit more, and so does coconut. That herbaceous quality pops in a big way. The sugars were never that prominent, but they don't fade away or become overbearing.   22/25

Total Ranking: 90% LegendaryAmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $32
Actual Price: $18

Conclusion:  In my market, a 750 of Bacardi Superior costs about $15, with a 1.75 going for about $22. There's never an occasion to save that 3 dollars for that sacrifice of quality. If you are making jungle juice for a frat party. But even in a rum and coke, spend 3 bucks on this every time. I can't name a better white rum I've ever had, and this price point is more than reasonable. Buy it. That's it, buy it. 

Fact Sheet:
Distillery Location: Guyana
ABV: 40%

Friday, June 30, 2023

Tornado through the Haystacks

I've used this recipe for a few competitions, and it's always treated me well for preliminary rounds. This started with Diageo World Class but became a go-to at my regular summer gatherings. Most of my friends are whiskey drinkers, and in Texas, it's hard to drink whiskey outdoors in the summertime. You need to proof it down and make it a bit more refreshing. My drink is a lovely blend of oil, smoke, salt, and spice. That sounds like barbeque to me. Come over sometime. I'll make you a plate. 

1 oz. Talisker 10 Yr Scotch
0.5 oz. Cocchi Rosa
0.25 oz. Citric Acid Solution
2.5 oz. Sparkling Mineral Water (preferably Topo Chico)
Julienned Strips of Lemon Peel

Add the scotch, vermouth, and acid solution to a mixing beaker. Peel an entire medium lemon with a julienne peeler (or use a Y peeler, then julienne with a small knife). Add a third of the lemon peel strips to a highball glass. Fill the glass halfway with ice cubes (preferably transparent), then add another third of the lemon strips. Completely fill the glass up with ice cubes and top with the last of the lemon peel. Add ice to the mixing beaker and briefly stir to chill the ingredients. Strain the drink into the prepared highball glass and top it with sparkling mineral water. Add a straw and serve. The final presentation of the drink should have dozens of little strips of lemon peel floating in suspension around the glass.

To make citric acid solution: 
Mix 94g filtered water with 6g citric acid and mix until the acid is dissolved and the liquid becomes clear.

I recently moved to Texas, and you know the first thing I did with my brother-in-law? We cooked brisket and drank some scotch. That's what you do down here. But barbeque takes a long time, and you can only continuously drink whiskey for some hours to smoke a good chunk of meat. Low and no-alcohol cocktails are a great way to keep cool while you're out in the Texas heat standing over a hot smoker. I love pairing whiskey with meat, especially a whiskey with a nice note of saline. Talisker has a beautiful flavor of the sea and the Isle of Skye. Talisker also has a pleasant oiliness that still comes through in this drink. It stacks with all the oil in the lemon peel gets accentuated by the saltiness, and gets carried throughout the glass via carbonation. The highball, like barbeque, started off incredibly simple in concept. Many people regard highball as a broad category, but historically, it's Scotch and Soda. Barbeque is just meat, smoke, and seasoning. Using the finest ingredients with the most straightforward techniques is how you make excellent cuisine. Barbeque needs to be low and slow to get to that fall-apart tender quality all the way through. A highball must be as cold as possible to keep its carbonation and not become overly diluted.  

Fun Fact: We would not have seltzer or soda water were it not for the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The man accredited with popularizing slices of meat between bread was the backer of chemist Joseph Priestly. The Earl commissioned Priestly to create a method of forcing carbonation into water. He thought it might work as a cure for scurvy. Priestly succeeded in impregnating water with air and is credited as the father of the fizzy drink.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Review: Bank Note 5 Year Blended Scotch

Color (5%):  For a five-year whisky, this is quite light. Light golden hay. Quite a bit of thinning on the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%): Very bready and crackery. Notes of lemon peel with grass and hay. Light caramel toffee sweetness. 7/10

Palate (20%): Sort of a root beer quality. Very thin body, no oiliness or syrupiness. Lemon, nougat, black tea, some mild nuttiness, hazelnut. Inoffensive. There is no noticeable smoke to speak of, mild oak. Low to mild burn for 43%. Not unpleasant, but not exciting. 17/20

Finish (10%): A pretty soft finish, very crackery and grainy. Lemon and black tea come through. That's an Arnold Palmer. a little bit of bitterness. Pool weather whiskey, eh? 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is boring and basic. It's not offensive, but won't make anybody's top 10. Vanilla, lemon peel, caramel, and bread. Okay, that's basically every whiskey, but with no individuality. There's nothing offensive, harsh, or intrusive, but why bother with average. Yes, it's cheap, but you deserve something with flavor. I'll give it to my houseguests I don't love, but I would only restock it occasionally. 18/30

Retry on Ice (25%): More or less the same. The bitterness comes through a bit more. Sweet bread and brioche notes. No improvement. Nothing is lost unless it gets over-diluted. 16/25

Total Ranking: 69% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $17
Actual Price: $21

Conclusion: This is well whiskey in a divey bar. There's no need to have this on your shelf. It'll impress no one and satisfy some. I'd be upset if someone offered me a scotch, and I got this. Yes, that sentiment is pretentious, but scotch is supposed to be a treat. My wife drinks vodka drinks, and I primarily drink whiskies. I spend much more money than her, but I've accepted that. I want to enjoy the flavors and experience. Nuance and character are essential when drinking spirits. This is fine for $20, but when you weigh it against all the scotch you see on the average back bar, this has no place outside the well. 

Fact Sheet:
ABV: 43%
Blended and bottled for Stanley Morrison & Sons Ltd. 
40% single malts to 60% scotch grain whisky

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Review: Roxor Artisan Gin

Color (5%): Water clear, no legs, no oils. 4/5

Nose (10%): Lovely grapefruit notes. The bitter pith and the citrus oils balance quite nicely. There is some spice coming from the juniper. This is 90-proof, but it doesn't come off as hot. Slight tannic tea notes do appear on the back end. 9/10

Palate (20%): Very clean. Nice and dry. There is almost no sweetness whatsoever on the tip of the tongue. Reflective of starting with grain-neutral spirit. It takes a second, but the citrus oil and spice start dancing in. They make themselves known without being overpowering and offensive. It's a delicate spice for a gin compared to the styles from across the pond. 17/20

Finish (10%): That is dry on the back end. Lots of punch on that first sip, especially. Though I don't often drink gin neat. A few of those cocoa nibs show their face as those fumes dissipate. Some of the tannic hibiscus notes pop up as well. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): It's been a while since I sipped gin neat. This is quite enjoyable. I'd love to try this with a citrus-forward tonic like Fentiman's. This also would do well in a Collins cocktail. It's easy to see the application of this gin in cocktails across the board. How would it work in a martini with some super botanical vermouth or bitters? But with some acid, this plays extremely well with others. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The tea comes out a lot with a bit of ice. The citrus tempers out, and some of those earthy notes spring forth. You get the pecan nuttiness. This has helped me reevaluate my thoughts on cocktail applications. Which flavors do I want to compliment my drink design? The citrus was huge on the nose and tasted neat, but that switches to earth when well chilled. Interesting nuance and evolution. Nice. 23/25

Total Ranking: 87% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $29
Actual Price: $32

Conclusion:  This is a fun little gin I got to try on a United States Bartender's Guild trip. The New Artisan Distillery is in a cute industrial district with charming staff. The head distiller, Robert del Grande, is a James Beard-awarded chef based out of Houston despite the distillery being just outside Dallas. The flavor profile is fresh and vibrant. They openly advertise using fresh, natural ingredients in their gin and other products rather than relying on chemical extracts and concentrates. The sense of art and design showcased at the distillery and in the bottle design is truly impressive. The skyline building by Frank Lloyd Wright was a clear influence on the bottle design. In terms of the juice, it's pretty good. There's a very "American gin" vibe, being very citrus-forward and not overly spiced with juniper. This does exceptionally well for its category and is not excessively expensive. The advertisement of real plants seems unnecessary. As far as I'm aware, most small distilleries I tour use raw natural materials, though I may be a victim of marketing, I guess. This reminds me of Bluecoat and a few other American gin brands. If you're a gin drinker, I definitely recommend sampling this. Once the bottle is gone, I'm not sure if I'll restock, but I in no way regret my purchase. I'm wary of overly unique packaging as I know that cost is passed on to me. I like simple unless it's from a brand turning out high volumes of bottles they can buy in bulk. Knock the price down a few dollars, and I'd keep this in my rotation of gins. The juice is good. 

Fact Sheet:
Distillery location: Dallas, Texas
ABV: 45%

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Review: Grand Old Parr 12 Year

Color (5%):  Beautiful amber and copper hues. Medium thinning.  4/5

Nose (10%): Honeyed bread predominantly. There are some medicinal oily notes and nice dry oak at the end. 8/10

Palate (20%): Lots of honey sugars coming through. Medium full-bodied. Nice dried fruits and cooked fruits and orange notes. Some baking spices and lots of Christmas cake flavors coming through. Yummy sherry cask finish notes. Only a little, if any, peat but lots of oak heat. 17/20

Finish (10%): Arid, oaky finish compared to the sweet palate. There is a bit of a bite to this. 6/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is an oaky whiskey for the price. Possibly too oaky for some, but I like it. There's some nice complexity to this blend. Honey, cooked fruit, and oak spice. There's a nice evolution as it goes through the mouth. It's not boring, and one note, but it's not the craziest thing ever. It is a blend, but this has more character than any budget scotch in the well. 24/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Quite nice actually. The oak shrinks down a little bit, making it softer and easier. The honey strays throughout. The dried fruit gets a little muted, but it's still there. This is easy drinking for me. It's not too abrasive at all. 20/25

Total Ranking: 79% Legendary, Amazing, Great, Good, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $24
Actual Price: $27

Conclusion: This product has been around since 1909. It's owned by Diageo, and while it gets less marketing publicity than Johnnie Walker, this is a quality whiskey with quite a few loyal followers. It's widely popular in the U.S. and in Latin America, as well as some fans in Japan. I first heard about this whiskey from the anime/manga "Bartender." It's a delicious whiskey for the price. I'm curious to try the 18-year-old. Given this has so much oak, I'm curious what six more years in the wood does to it. The oak makes it a bit acrid, so I can only see it getting a little use in cocktails. A good drink would have to mute that oak character a bit, defeating the point of using this. But as a sipping whiskey, this certainly beats out a lot of other blended whiskies at this price point. Give it a go; it's worth the money. I was one point away from calling this amazing, but it's great. 

Fact Sheet:
ABV: 40%
A blend of several distilleries (predominantly Cragganmore), blended and bottled in Leven, Fife