Bottles I didn’t buy: Willett XCF Rye

Willett XCFI was in a liquor store today, and it happened to be at the same time that a distributor was bringing some things in. On the shelf, he had just placed a nice display of Willett XCF Rye, which I had heard of but never seen. The packaging is lovely – the stark white label and hand drawn illustrations are a nice change of pace amidst the typical text-heavy labels of other American whiskeys.

As for what’s inside – XCF stands for Exploratory Cask Finish, but it could just as well stand for “Extra Costs For (you).” Is that too harsh? I’m sorry. I just can’t see spending well north of $150+ on seven year old rye that was bought from MGP in Indiana and finished all of 90 days extra in a fancy used bourbon barrels that were also used in the making of Grand Marnier (or, as the label states, “finished in Curacao casks sourced from France”). The price at this store was actually quite a bit less than what I’ve read that others have paid – $130 vs. a more common $150-$200 elsewhere. Bargain? Not for me. I’ll happily pass on this and pick up 4 or 5 bottles of Rittenhouse Rye instead.

This particular Willett XCF is called out as version 1.0, meaning more are likely on the way. Is it delicious? I don’t doubt it. Orange (from the Grand Marnier casks) and rye go quite nicely together. (Read Sku’s review here.) Will it sell? Maybe so. The market has an apparently unquenchable thirst for anything rare and limited, so this fits the bill. Speaking of which… they had one bottle of Jefferson’s Ocean behind the counter. I didn’t even ask the price. I have better ways to spend my whiskey dollars than on gimmicks and hype.

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Dickel Hand Selected Single Barrel, 9 Year: Review and Tasting Notes

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky

So the folks at Dickel have been sending me stuff. First there was a video. Then came a box delivered via Fedex. And inside that cardboard box was a wooden box. And inside that wooden box was a glass bottle. And inside that bottle was whisky. “Hand selected,” single-barrel, 9 year old George Dickel Tennessee whisky. In fact, this bottle was selected by the chap in the aforementioned video, one Doug Kragel, Dickel brand ambassador

It’s important to point out that this Dickel is different than the “Barrel Select” version (which I’ve previously reviewed). Both come from the single Dickel mash bill. Both are charcoal and chill filtered. The differences are the proof, the age, and the fact that one is small-batch bottled and the other single-barrel bottled.

The Barrel Select comes in at 86 proof. The Hand Selected rocks a 103. Barrel Select is 10 to 12 years old, though no age statement. Hand Selected is stated 9 years old (there is also a 14 year old offering, which ups the proof to 106 to boot). Barrel Select is a small batch of approximately 10-12 barrels. Hand Selected is a true single barrel.  And, while Barrel Select can be found pretty widely, Hand Selected is only available at stores that choose to purchase a whole single barrel (bottled at 103 proof) for their customers.

Dickel started this program last year to a good bit of fanfare, and it seems they’re giving the hand selected barrel program another push now. It’s good to see parent company Diageo investing some time and effort in bringing Dickel back into the limelight, at least a little bit, since it’s been somewhat of a neglected brand amidst the whiskey boom. Anything else you need to know? Oh yeah, how does it taste?

Dickel Barrel Select WhiskyGeorge Dickel Hand Selected Barrel Sour Mash Whisky, Aged 9 Years
Barrel #137
103 Proof
Approx. $45 Retail
Tasting Dates: November 1-9, 2014

Lovely deep copper color. I’ve got to admit that I was turned off by the nose at first – neat, in a Glencairn glass (the little tulip shaped glasses that lots of whiskey drinkers prefer for sipping neat), I got a lot of toasty sawdust, and the alcohol seemed on the aggressive, petrol side. It came across as anything but Dickel’s trademark “mellow.” I switched to a rocks glass, still neat, and the extra air worked some wonders. Ahhh, there’s the brown sugar, there’s the caramel buttered popcorn , there’s the ripe fruit, there’s a roasted walnut note. The toasted oak is still there, but very much in the background now. So much better. And you thought the glass didn’t matter…. (or if you thought the glass mattered, you probably would have assumed that the Glencairn would be the better glass – I know I did).

Dickel GlencairnSipping neat, the 103 proof comes through well – plenty of vanilla and cinnamon (though not overly so), a firm backbone of dark wood with candied walnuts, and a long warm finish with a touch of astringency weaving in and out. I’m not wowed, especially with that blemish on the finish.

A bit of water though mellows out the nose, and mellows out the wood on the palate as well. I actually prefer this with the water, as the dilution delivers a bit more balance, more peachy fruit, more easy drinking in a good way (easy drinking is not often my preferred descriptor, but here it plays well).  Ditto with a cube of ice – which adds a more lush mouthful and brings out the butterscotch notes. I’m thinking ice is the way to go. Very nice.

Funny enough, I actually prefer the Barrel Select to this particular Hand Selected Barrel, despite the lower proof on the Barrel Select. Here, at the higher proof, I think it needs a bit of ice or water to fully coax out the flavors. Of course, with a single barrel offering, every barrel will differ somewhat. Talk to your local bottle shop and ask them what they were going for in their hand selected barrel. If it sounds good, take a shot – this is nice whisky at a nice price. My verdict? *Good Stuff.

With that, I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures of Dickel in (and next to) a box – handmade the hard way:

Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky Dickel Barrel Select Whisky


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck
Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Dickel.
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The coffee stand at Star Provisions

Star Provisions Coffee

A cold and cloudy Saturday morning, 9:47AM, and I was looking for duck fat. The main shop at Star Provisions hadn’t yet opened, so I was left out in the cold. Luckily, the little coffee stand tucked off in the corner opens at 8, so I ducked in to grab a cortado. The guy behind the counter, in the vest and the apron and the jaunty cap (is that twill?) said good morning with some sort of foreign accent. Maybe Italy. Maybe not.*

No matter, he made me a perfect cortado, beans roasted by Jittery Joe’s from Athens. I couldn’t help but snap some photos with my iPhone – those Star Provisions folks know how to dress up a place, something like Southern Martha Stewart if Martha Stewart were a whole lot nicer. Bless her heart.

Did I mention it was a damn good cortado?

* UPDATE: It is confirmed. The barista is Enrico. And he is Italian. Grazie Star Provisions.

Star Provisions Atlanta CoffeeStar Provisions Atlanta CoffeeStar Provisions Atlanta CoffeeStar Provisions Atlanta Coffee Star Provisions Atlanta Coffee Star Provisions Atlanta Coffee Star Provisions Atlanta Coffee

Star Provisions Coffee
1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, GA
Hours: 8am – 6pm Monday – Thursday, 8am – 8pm Friday & Saturday

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The Bourbon that Beat Pappy Van Winkle

the bourbon that beat pappy van winkleIt seems like almost every week I get an email with an offer for “the bourbon that beat Pappy Van Winkle!!!” Sure, there have been plenty of spirits competitions out there where one bourbon has “beaten” another. And, sure, there are plenty of “scores” out there that place bourbons in a particular pecking order. But the truth is, the comparison is absurd, and not at all helpful in choosing which bourbon to buy. We’re blessed with plenty of great American whiskey – go to your favorite local store, pick up a bottle, and chances are you’ll be happy.

Here are five facts about Pappy Van Winkle:

1. It’s true – their bourbon is good (OK, their bourbons are often very good).

2. Their bourbon is overhyped (OK, their bourbons are ridiculously overhyped).

3. The demand for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon greatly outweighs the supply, which was set in place 15 to 23 years ago, well before the current bourbon boom began. Deal with it.

4. The combination of facts one and two and three means that Pappy Van Winkle bourbons are practically impossible to buy at retail, especially at any price in the neighborhood, or city, or county, or state, of anything within reason.

5. The mash bill of all three Pappy Van Winkle bourbons is the exact same as that of the W. L. Weller bourbons (both are distilled and bottled by Buffalo Trace – they are simply different barrels, at different ages, from different locations in the rickhouse, of the same whiskey). There is no magic Pappy fairy dust. Just mystique. And blind belief.

So, what does that mean for you, dear reader, who are probably hoping and praying to secure a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? I’d suggest that you should give up your search, go to your local liquor store, and try something else. There are countless good whiskeys out there. If you can’t catch sight of a unicorn, do you stop looking for good views? I’m here to tell you, the view is grand whether Pappy is in your sights or not.

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George Dickel sent Thirsty South a video!

So George Dickel sent me a personal video. OK, maybe it wasn’t Mr. Dickel, himself. But someone at Dickel sent me a video! And it’s personalized just for Thirsty South! I’m absolutely blushing. Maybe it’s because I’m from Tennessee. Maybe it’s the glowing review I gave their Barrel Select whisky in the past. Or maybe it’s because millions (give or take a few million) of people read Thirsty South every day and will be more likely to go out and pick up a few bottles of Dickel as soon as they see this video. I don’t care. I’m just happy to have my video.

The video features Dickel’s handsome brand ambassador, Doug Kragel, who welcomes us (by name!) to the distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I’ve been there before, but maybe he forgot. In any case, he shares a bit about how Dickel distills their Tennessee whisky, and their recently expanded single barrel program. Click the photo below to see the video if you’re interested in learning more about Dickel’s approach.

Now excuse me while I go see if I can get a video chat going with Mr. Kragel. Do you think he really likes me? I think he likes me. But… what if they sent personalized videos to other whiskey writers, too?? Nahhh. I think Dickel only has eyes for me.

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