Monday, March 27, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Uncut the Younger Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Color (5%):  Faint amber, dark honey, hay hues. Lots of thinning at the edges. 3/5

Nose (10%):  Powdered sugar candy sweetness. Dried apricot, light sweet cinnamon. Rye spice reminds me of that dense Christmas fruitcake or panettone. Alcohol is very present, naturally. 8/10

Palate (20%): That is a complex, hot whiskey. A delicate honey sweetness starts you off, which gets a bit darker. Lots of cooked fruit, roasted apples, and pears. There's only a few oak compared to the other smoke wagons I've tried, the Small Batch and the standard Straight Bourbon. There's a fair bit of botanical flavor filling that oaky void. There's a mint characteristic to it. Very nice thick texture. 18/20

Finish (10%): The alcohol is there, but you get used to it. The relatively high rye content gives a subdued sweetness and mild cinnamon spice. The roasted, toasted oak usually gets brought out, but we don't have that oak here, so the spice stays relatively mild compared to other bourbons in this category. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This took some time, but I do properly like it. It's complex and shifts on you as you acclimate to it. The booze hits hard, but you slowly pick out loads of different flavors from everywhere. A minty whiskey is interesting to me. I want to try this in a dry or perfect variation in Manhattan. Honestly, I don't love over-oaked bourbons, and this certainly doesn't fall into that pitfall. The alcohol is undeniable. Have water on hand.   27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): The botanical finish comes out even more, reinforcing my desire to try this in a spirit-forward cocktail. The sweetness remains mild, possibly even less mild, which is unusual. The rye spices fade to mild from their medium intensity before. Honestly, it's a bit bland after trying it neat. 21/25

Total Ranking: 84% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $52
Actual Price: $42

Conclusion: Smoke Wagon admits to sourcing most, if not all, of its whiskey from MGP. Unfortunately, Smoke Wagon was too successful for its own good, and the demand has overtaken the supply. The juice that is Smoke Wagon's mash bill is starting to become scarce. So, they've started putting out a younger product under their banner to meet the market. This is a tasty whiskey that they should be proud of, but if you ordered something called Smoke Wagon and got this, you'd be upset. I understand this is their younger version, but if this was your first experience with the brand, you'd need clarification. If you got this in a flight, this would be an exciting component and likely a few people's favorite. This is an excellent deal for an over-proof whiskey at this price point. If you are a smoke and oak lover, this isn't for you but for me. I'm not sure I'd sip this neat regularly as a part of my rotation, but it's worth sampling.

Fact Sheet: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co
Aged a minimum of 39 months
ABV: 58.11%

Friday, March 24, 2023

Review: Smoke Wagon Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Color (5%):  Dark amber, faint copper. Quite a bit of thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%):  nice sweet vanilla caramel notes, somewhat creamy, reminds me of a cow tail or one of those Gotze's caramel cream candies. Alcohol is certainly more present than their standard straight bourbon. There's a faint peppery spice if you look for it, but the sweetness is much more noticeable. 7/10

Palate (20%): Not much initial sweetness, but it does come through in the mid-palate. Very roasted back end, with notes of dark coffee. Heavy rye spice for a bourbon. Intense peppercorn, manageable but intense. Certainly not for beginners, but good for someone with a little experience. 17/20

Finish (10%): This starts mild and slowly builds and builds. Dry oak and leather start us off before that rye spice takes over. That's a lot of rye heat. The flavor is there even for a 100-proof bourbon. There's a bit of sweetness poking its head through, but it is a big wall of spice. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is an intense, bonded whiskey. I typically don't care for overproof high rye whiskeys. But there is a soft sweetness layered through this spirit. I typically wouldn't pair this with most foods, maybe a robust cigar. It's over-spiced by my standards, likely due to the rapid aging in the Nevada heat. This style of rapid aging has become increasingly common, with many Texas distilleries taking similar approaches. As any Scotsman will tell you, "There is no substitute for time." I prefer their softer version; it has a bit more evolution on the tongue. 22/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice again brings out the sweetness on the nose and mutes those boozy notes. I do think that ice helps the drinkability of this one. With ice, this could pair with a steak au poivre or a lamb curry. Ice mutes the flavor to a level of intensity I prefer. The finish smoothes to a softer bell curve of intensity rather than a harsh spike. 22/25

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

Estimated Fair Price: $60
Actual Price: $52

Conclusion: This is a delicious medium-tier bourbon. That $45-70 range has fierce contenders like Four Roses and Elijah Craig. This holds up as a rye-forward bourbon. It's certainly worth sampling, and I'm sure it'll make a few people's top ten lists, just not mine. High spice and alcohol bite aren't my go-to sippers, but it was excellent over ice. As I said before, it's an irony that this brand is sought after by hoarders and collectors. Its slogan, "Bibamus Moriendum Est," means "Drink, for we must die." Yet, so many bottles from this award-winning distillery will gather dust on some collector's shelf. If you find this bottle, open it, try it, and share it with friends. If you like it, get it again; if not, let someone else give it a chance. 

Fact Sheet: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co.
ABV: 50%

Review: Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Color (5%):  light caramel to golden hay hues. Medium thinning at the edges. 4/5

Nose (10%): Nice toasted aroma. Lovely punchy oak, light sweetness, not too much alcohol burn in the nose. It feels like a heavy age statement, though going off the color, it's relatively young. 8/10

Palate (20%): Toffee caramel sugars immediately hit the tip of the tongue and wash over, bringing warm spices and soft vanilla. Much less toasted oak than comes through on the nose. Mild warming baking spices, nutmeg. Very clean mouthfeel, not quite creamy, but certainly not thin. It's not oily despite being non-chill filtered, but there's certainly a viscosity. Complex and elegant, I like it. 19/20

Finish (10%): The finish is quite mild. As it passes down the throat, a swift punch of spice fades quickly and lingers for quite a long duration. It must be that nice rye content. 8/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): This is a very layered and nuanced whiskey. The flavor changes in the mouth from beginning to end. You can see why it has earned so many accolades and is sought after in the whiskey-collecting community. The other bourbons in the Smoke Wagon's portfolio are higher proof, but this does not come off as muted or over-diluted. This is an excellent sipping whiskey. I first had this at a lunch over Texas barbeque, which was exquisite. Given the scarcity of the product, I may have had some rose-tinted glasses on, but my family agreed on its quality without any background information. 27/30

Retry on Ice (25%): Ice brings out the sweetness on the nose and masks many of the roasted flavors I was getting on my initial impression. Ice mutes the flavor a little bit, but not by much. It didn't really need softening any particular harsh edges. The finish stays punchy. 23/25

Total Ranking: 89% Legendary, AmazingGreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $48
Actual Price: $30

Conclusion: This is an excellent bourbon for the price point. By my standards, it beats out common brands at similar price points, like Bulleit. An irony of this brand is that it's sought after by hoarders and collectors. Its slogan, "Bibamus Moriendum Est," means "Drink, for we must die." Yet, so many bottles from this award-winning distillery will gather dust on some collector's shelf. Drink this whiskey. Consider that an order.

Fact Sheet: 60% Corn, 36% Rye, 4% Malted Barley
Distillery Location: Las Vegas, Nevada H&C Distilling Co.
ABV: 46.25%

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Jager Bomb with a Hammer

This was a trick I decided to adapt for a small party I was throwing. These days, every cocktail enthusiast and their grandfather has a spherical ice mold. I saw a trend for hollowing them out and serving a cocktail inside the ice sphere. I just did my own variation.

You only need a little equipment for this. You'll need a freezer, naturally. You'll also need a heat source and a metal point to heat, though a soldering iron does the job brilliantly, provided it's clean. You'll also need a small funnel, though a syringe or meat injector works a bit faster, and when dealing with ice, speed is critical. Lastly, you'll need a spherical ice ball mold that you can flip upside down and remain stable. I prefer the style pictured. The only other things required are the liquids, Jagermeister, and Red Bull. 

The basic premise is that ice freezes from the outside in. The trick is just stopping it before it freezes too much. Fill your ice ball mold with water, add the top half, and put it in the freezer. After an hour and a half, flip the mold over. This allows the ball to freeze evenly as different parts of the freezers have different temperatures. Also, any air bubbles and impurities would float or sink, throwing off the thermal conductivity. Otherwise, slices of the ball would be fragile and others very thick. After another hour and a half, remove the partially frozen ice ball. Bear in mind that these times are relative to what I find to be the average home freezer. You may need to extend the time.

Rinse the outside of the mold with warm water, not hot, or you may crack the ice. Now, we need to hollow out the mold. Heat an ice pick or use a soldering iron to poke a hole in the top of the ice ball. Draining can be a tricky part. You can flip the ball over and drain it out, but it will take ages because of the lack of airflow. Using a meat injector seems to be the fastest way of sucking out most of the liquid. You can also use a straw and blow sharply into the ball to eject a good portion of the ball's water while it's upside down to drain it much faster. However, this technique isn't suited to a bar environment. 

Next, using a funnel or the meat injector, fill the ball with Jagermeister. Plug the hole with something that allows the ball to stay upright. A cherry with a pick through it works well, as could a coiled citrus twist. Add the ball to a large rocks glass and fill the glass with Red Bull. Serve with a small hammer to let the guest smash the ball open.

Good Artists Imitate

My cocktail is designed to pair with Mediterranean cuisine, primarily with a robust Italian basis. My aperitif is designed to pair with a lovely prosciutto appetizer with fig, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. 

1 oz Tanqueray no. TEN Gin
0.125 oz Poire Williams
0.25 oz Elderflower Liqueur
2.5 oz Sparkling Mineral Water (preferably San Pellegrino)
2 small Sprigs of Rosemary
12 julienned Strips of Grapefruit Peel

Place the gin, elderflower liqueur, and Poire Williams into a wine glass. Add enough ice to fill the glass about a third. Add the rosemary and julienned grapefruit peel and give a quick stir. Fill the glass with ice and add the sparkling mineral water. Stir again to distribute all the ingredients evenly and beautifully. Add a straw and serve

To make julienned grapefruit peel, carve off a couple swaths of grapefruit peel with a y peeler about 3 inches long. Then, use a knife to cut the swathes into thin strips. Conversely, you may use a julienne peeler, but they have a habit of getting jammed. 

One of my favorite flavor pairings is grapefruit with rosemary. Rosemary pairs incredibly well with pork and oily flavors, and I wanted to start with a dry cocktail to contrast the more decadent tastes of this first course. The extra citrus kick of Tanqueray no. TEN is a natural choice for an aperitif, given its botanical profile. The citric acid and carbonic acid of the sparkling mineral water help cut through the richness and help to stimulate the palate for the upcoming meal. Pear and fig are natural complimenting flavors that go with pork and have a mild floral component that pairs with elderflower and chamomile. I enjoy complimenting flavors with contrasting sweetness regarding food and drink pairing.

Review: Whistlepig Piggyback 100% Rye

Color (5%):  Faint light caramel to golden hay hues. Doesn't really thin out at the edges at all. 5/5

Nose (10%):  nice roasted aroma. Rye, baking spice, tobacco, peppercorn, heather honey. Fairly light on the aroma for the proof. Lightness is alright, but I expected more punch. 8/10

Palate (20%): starts with light brown sugar sweetness. Dry oak, leather. It's a nice sweet and spicy whiskey, a good oaky note given the 6 years in a colder environment. Good for mixing in cocktails. Decent on its own. 14/20

Finish (10%): A swift hit of spice that fades into a light, mild finish. Medium length. It's not a rough alcohol burn at all. 7/10

Overall Impression and Harmony (30%): It's not my favorite whiskey for sipping neat, but it seems perfectly good for sours or other cocktails. It's a balanced rye all around, but nothing exceptional in any direction. It's clearly made by a professional and doesn't have that harsh ethanol burn many whiskeys have had for me lately when I sip them neatly. It's very similar to other Canadian ryes I've had. 17/30

Retry on Ice (25%): This makes it better. Things really start to come out in terms of spices. Much more bite and punch. It's still very clean, but the flavor is more pronounced. 22/25

Total Ranking: 73% Legendary, Amazing, GreatGood, Fair, Average, Tolerable, Swill

Estimated Fair Price: $28
Actual Price: $50

Conclusion: Dave Pickerell designed this whiskey for cocktails, and it is more budget-friendly than the more expensive Whistlepig options. I have extreme respect for the late Dave Pickerell. The thing is, it's still a pricey rye. I see how certain bars could use this for signature menu cocktail options as a promotion. In fact, my current place of employment uses this for one of their drinks at the $16 price mark. I wouldn't buy this at MSRP. It's okay, though there are better options for sipping at that price and cheaper options for cocktail purposes. 

Fact Sheet: 100% Rye
Distillery Location: Vermont, source from Canada unknown
ABV: 48.28%
Age Statement: 6 years in American oak barrels