Browsed by
Tag: whisky

Drinking the 2016 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

Drinking the 2016 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

FOMO-OSAD was in full effect this past weekend at the AFWF. That would be “fear of missing out -on some amazing drinks” at the “Atlanta Food and Wine Festival.” For those not familiar with the event, the highlights usually come in the numerous learning seminars on Friday and Saturday, where industry savants share wisdom on all manner of topics related to food and drink. The cool thing is, they don’t limit the topics purely to the American South – so things like sotol and raicilla and West Indies rhum agricole easily find their way in to the sessions.

I did my best to hop around in order to squeeze in as much goodness as possible, but I also know I missed quite a bit. That said, here are the 10 most excellent spirits I tasted during the event – spanning Mexico, Kentucky, and South Carolina, with a touch of Alabama thrown in for good measure:

Clayton Szczech mezcal sotol

I first met Clayton Szczech (that’s Spanish for “educated gringo,” I think) of Experience Tequila during judging for the IWSC Spirits of the Americas competition. To say he knows his stuff is putting it very mildly, and I’m always eager to see what rarities he might have in his bag. This time, it was a trio of artisanal spirits from Mexico – a bacanora, a sotol, and a raicilla, all of which are variations on mezcal, and all of which will play havoc with your spellcheck. Sotol Clande, Marques de Sonora Bacanora, and Don Chalio Raicilla are not likely to be found in the states at all, but they are a good reminder that exploring lesser known Mexican agave spirits is a worthy endeavor. Clayton was nice enough to provide details on each on his tasting mats (below), and I just love all the detail on the Sotol Clande bottle seen above (Grinding………. Axe; Oven………Underground Conical). Without fail, these were nuanced, far-too-drinkable spirits – the Clande sotol being earthy and green, reminiscent of desert brush; the bacanora being incredibly complex, with hints of caramel and white pepper; the raicilla full of intricate spice notes. Love it.

Mezcal

The awesome folks at High Wire Distilling hosted a party in conjunction with BevCon Charleston, at which Atlanta bartender extraordinaire Jerry Slater was pouring a drink including High Wire’s wonderful Southern Amaro. The cocktail was great (of course), but I must admit to enjoying sipping the amaro all by itself even more. Made with regional ingredients like Charleston black tea, foraged yaupon holly, Dancy tangerine, and mint, this amaro is spicy and deep, yet still bright.

High Wire Amaro

I ponied up $100 to attend the “master class” led by chef Sean Brock and featuring Drew Kulsveen of Willett Whiskey fame and Preston Van Winkle of, well, Van Winkle fame. The topic was rare bourbon and rare country ham, so you know it was going to be good – and the $100 entry fee ended up being a bargain. The bourbon lineup included Willett’s new four year old bourbon – bottle 223 of 235 bottles from 4 year old Willett Family Estate Barrel 651, 111 proof –  and one of the rare 23 year old bourbons they’ve been safeguarding for the past eight years. This was bottle 80 of a mere 81 bottles filled from Willett Family Estate “Barrel B60” – that means this 23 year old bourbon had yielded about 70% of its nectar to the angels over the years, since a new bourbon barrel holds about 266 bottles worth. Yes, it was heavenly stuff, especially at the 132 proof barrel strength. And Willett seekers beware, Drew said there are only TEN barrels left of this ultra-aged stock they purchased eight years ago. As for the four year old, this is Willett-distilled, and our bottle came from just the eighth barrel released thus far (all only sold at Willett’s gift shop in Kentucky). It’s impressive for a younger spirit, with a cherry cola profile and a cinnamon-amaro finish.

Willet Single Barrel Bourbon

If you know anything about Sean Brock, you know he loves Pappy Van Winkle and the Stitzel-Weller lineage. Preston Van Winkle poured us the 10 year old Old Rip Van Winkle, the 12 year old Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B, and the 15 year old Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve. These are all wonderful bourbons, and having them all side by side was a good reminder that the seldom seen Lot B remains a knockout bourbon that doesn’t command quite the same stratospheric fanaticism of its older brethren. It’s exactly what a bourbon should be, without the fireworks of its older brothers. The 15 year old? Still one of my favorite bourbons of all time.

Old Rip Van Winkle Pappy

Number 10 on my list? Another one you’re not going to find in a store – which is really the great thing about a festival like the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. This was a “Ham Fat Whisky” from chef David Bancroft of restaurant Acre in Auburn, Alabama. I’m pretty sure it was plain old Maker’s Mark with some 2 year old ham fat thrown in, from that 2 year old Alabama prosciutto in the background, but really it was the combination of 2 year old ham, ham fat whisky, and the remarkable Poirier’s pure cane syrup that proved to be one of the best bites/sips of the festival. Awesome stuff – sweet, salty, fatty, powerful stuff.

Pork Fat Whiskey

There was plenty more – especially all the wonderful cocktails from Nick Detrich of Cane & Table, Paul Calvert of Ticonderoga Club, Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve, Kellie Thorn of Empire State South, Miles Macquarrie of Kimball House, and the gentlemen from Cure in New Orleans. Plus too much to even remember in the festival’s tasting tents. And I just know that I missed out on just as much amazing stuff – like David Wondrich making Chatham Artillery Punch. Dang. Anyway, in case you’re hungry, here are two more of my favorite pork porn photos from Sean Brock’s session, with a lagniappe of pork cracklin from New Orleans chef Isaac Toups thrown in for good measure:

IMG_0391

Sean Brock Ham

Cracklins

 

Crown Royal? Yes, Crown Royal. Northern Harvest Rye and Monarch Whisky

Crown Royal? Yes, Crown Royal. Northern Harvest Rye and Monarch Whisky

Crown Royal Rye and Monarch

I’ll admit it. I wrote off Crown Royal long ago. I wouldn’t quite turn the stuff down, but seek it out? No chance. That cheesy purple velvet bag? That ostentatious golden crown? The fact that they have a “Regal Apple” apple flavored whisky? The fact that they’re from Canada!? But I also have to admit… Jim Murray’s absurd proclamation caught my eye.

What proclamation you may ask? (unless you’re a hardcore whisky geek, in which case you already know where this is going.) Well, Jim Murray is pretty widely regarded as a leading expert in the world of whisky. He is also well-known for making attention-mongering proclamations. And this year, it was his surely-intentionally-shocking singling out of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as “World Whisky of the Year” that mongered attention. That’s right. A Canadian rye. From Crown Royal. World Whisky of the Year. Beating out Scotland and America and every other country that is not the home of poutine. Now, I had no expectation that this particular Canadian whisky was really the world’s best anything, but I was intrigued enough that I had to try it. Jim Murray’s shenanigans got my attention.

Being Crown Royal, the Northern Harvest Rye is widely available, and if not quite jumping off the shelves, selling at a pretty good clip thanks to the publicity. Its understated beige velvet bag is a nicely subdued alternative to the regal purple found wrapping up regular Crown Royal. And Murray’s proclamation wasn’t totally undeserved based on other industry insiders’ reviews – the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye also recently earned a Gold Medal and an Award of Excellence (no idea what that means) at the Canadian Whisky Awards. (The competition’s overall winner was Lot 40 Rye Whisky, of which I’m a fan.)

I also started digging a bit more into what Crown Royal was up to, and – amid the furor over Murray’s news – found several folks in-the-know singling out Crown Royal’s limited 75th Anniversary release called Monarch as an even better whisky. Sure enough, come December (yes, I’m behind on writing this up), Whisky Advocate named the Crown Royal Monarch as their Canadian Whisky of the Year. The Monarch, which actually first came out back in 2014, also won a Gold Medal at that year’s Canadian Whisky Awards. The only problem was – the Monarch (unlike the Northern Harvest Rye) was in very low supply and hard to track down. Luckily, I stumbled upon some bottles while I was on vacation – at a bargain price ($40) to boot.

So, how are they? Is the Northern Harvest Rye really a world-beater? Is the Monarch enough to change your perceptions of Crown Royal forever? On to the review and tasting notes…

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, Blended Canadian Whisky
90 Proof, Approx. $30 Retail (though I’ve seen everything from $25 – $50)
Tasting Dates: Dec. 2015 – Jan. 20, 2016
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff 

OK, Jim Murray. This is a fine rye. A fine example of Canadian rye. But “World Whiskey of the Year”? Give me a break.

First off – what exactly is this? Crown Royal says it is 90% rye. Canadian winter rye at that. The same rye that is a blending component in regular Crown Royal. How long is it aged? I have no idea. They’re not saying.

Now to the nose – which has a touch of wood, a bit of trademark rye sharpness, a touch of minty wintergreen, a bit of clove, and then a very prominent fruity note that reminds me of strawberries that have been sitting in balsamic – both bright and deep. In a similar vein, hints of Beaujolais-like notes pop in and out – fruity, juicy stuff. This is definitely not bourbon, and definitely not a typical (MGP) American rye, either.

On the palate – this Crown Royal stands apart from the regular stuff, though it does carry a similar thick and smooth mouthfeel. As some Canadian ryes tend to be, it is quite fruity, though the wood and cinnamon notes are more pronounced now than they were on the nose, as the mint fades to the background. The finish, to me, is a bit shorter and sharper than I’d like to see, especially given the Crown Royal pedigree. That said, it doesn’t feel either too young or too old, managing to convey a good bit of depth without going overboard.

A touch of water does nicely, bringing out some caramel and pulling the disjointed sharpness back into check. Ice makes it smoother and sweeter still, though interestingly brings out some dill notes on the nose, too, that some may find bothersome. Personally, I’d skip the ice – as it manages to call out the sharpness in the finish in an unpleasant way, and amps up that balsamic sweetness at the same time.

As for its use in cocktails, I find the Northern Harvest Rye to be a bit too… peculiar, in a distracting way. The fruitiness in particular detracts in a Manhattan, though I’m sure a good bartender could figure out a better use for this Canadian rye. And, if you can find this for $30, I do think it’s worth giving a shot to experience an interesting (if not world’s-best) Canadian rye.

Crown Royal MonarchCrown Royal Monarch, 75th Anniversary Blended Canadian Whiskey
80 Proof, Approx. $60 Retail (though I’ve seen everything from $40 – $70)
Tasting Dates: Jan. 1 – Jan. 20, 2016
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent

This limited release was meant to harken back to some of the early versions of Crown Royal. Crown Royal pulled from their stocks of aged whisky – “including a special whisky from the historic Coffey rye still, residing in Gimli, Manitoba.”

Again, no age statement or particulars. So it’s up to the tasting. On the nose, this is clearly an older, more elegant expression of what Crown Royal can be. There’s a bit of dark oak, and a prominent nutty character mixed with baking spaces – think pecan and nutmeg -with a hint of burnt orange peel. Lovely stuff.

On the palate, now this is getting really good – layers and layers of flavor, rolling over and over on the tongue. The nutty notes are dialed down from the nose, the dark brown sugar is there but very much in the background, and a toasty grain character (less rye than barley or even wheat to me) comes through, especially in the warm, long finish. There’s certainly rye in there, but it pops up in spots rather than dominating the taste. And there’s a dark berry fruitiness as well, but not nearly as prominent as in the Northern Harvest Rye. This is blended whisky done right.

Water? No. Doesn’t need it. Ice? Well, now this is interesting. Add a cube or two of ice and this starts to really loosen up, reminiscent of an orange blossom sweet tea on a hot day – smooth and refreshing. If you want to be contemplative, stick with a neat pour. If you want something deeply enjoyable, add some ice to make for a guilty pleasure. This is, to my tastes, leagues above that “world whisky of the year” – so if you can find a bottle, grab it. I wish I had taken more than the one bottle I did. But I bet Crown Royal will continue to offer some similarly interesting expressions over the years to come. I’ll be watching.

*******************************

* 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 of the Northern Harvest Rye was provided by Crown Royal.

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

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.
George Dickel sent Thirsty South a video!

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.

https://taylorstrategy.app.box.com/s/c3heiim2zcvu44podug9

The Youngster and the Elder: Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1 and Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

The Youngster and the Elder: Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1 and Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

Dickel White Corn Whisky

One is young and clear as glass. One is old(er) and soft tan leather. Both are Dickel Whisky. When the fine folks from George Dickel offered to share a sample of their new “White No. 1 Corn Whisky,” I asked that they (please) also send along a sample of their roughly ten year old Dickel Barrel Select so I could compare the two side by side. I’ve long been a fan of Dickel – especially after visiting their bucolic distillery in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee. And I like the fact that they tend to do things a little differently than most others out there – like calling their whiskey “whisky,” or actually doing something unique (charcoal filtering) with the sourced rye from Indiana that so many others are just bottling and branding as their own.

Like the Dickel rye, the Dickel White No. 1 also gets the Dickel charcoal treatment, setting it apart from other white whiskeys (AKA moonshine), at least in some small way. And the Dickel White No. 1 is the exact same stuff that ends up in Dickel No. 8 and Dickel No. 12 and the Dickel Barrel Select. There’s one whisky mashbill being made in Cascade Hollow – 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% barley – and that’s what ends up in all the Dickel bottles except for that “Dickel” rye. (In case you weren’t counting, that’s nine Dickels so far in this paragraph. Make that ten.)

You know what else is different about the Dickel White No. 1? It’s 91 proof, vs. the  80 proof that shows up in other big brand white whiskey (see Jim Beam’s Jacob’s Ghost). Also, it’s priced rather well at $22, vs. other ridiculously premium-priced unaged whiskey  out there (see Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye – $50!???) .

So, how does the Dickel White No. 1 taste? Can you actually see the family resemblance between this youngster and its elder, the Barrel Select? On with the tasting notes and review.

Dickel White Whisky

George Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1
91 Proof
Approx. $22 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff*

Like I said, this stuff is clear as glass, though clearly thicker than water. The nose is clean, but packs a ton of grain – you get the popcorn first, then a Sugar Smacks cereal rush, with a toasty malt depth in the background and an elusive bit of green corn silk and husk. It’s actually quite nice, though a far departure from the sweet heat that this will turn to after years in a barrel.

Sipping neat, the corn/grain character continues, with some alcohol heat building through a long, lip-tingly finish. It makes for pleasant sipping, though I think it may be better served as the basis for creative cocktail making. Ice brings out some lush thickness in the whisky, but also seems to bring out a bit of that charcoal effect. It’s darn good for a white whiskey, and if I were more of a fan of white whiskey in general, I’d probably rate this higher – I just prefer the older stuff.

Dickel Barrel SelectGeorge Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky
86 Proof
Approx. $40 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

Dickel’s Barrel Select is a small batch of 10-12 barrels at a time, and 10-12 years old (though not with an age statement on the bottle). The nose here is beautiful, mellow, and balanced – you may get a tiny bit of that corn grain, but it’s well overshadowed (nicely so) by light brown sugar and lush tropical fruit and warm leather and toasty light wood. There’s so much textbook American whiskey stuff going on here, without any overbearing oak, I’m sorry I haven’t been drinking more of this over the years.

Sipping neat, the first thing that stands out is the fruity character – ripe peach, simmering in a skillet with butter and brown sugar. It’s rich and full, and cinnamon spice starts to come out after a few seconds, along with warm vanilla. There’s a bit of green woodiness in the middle that knocks it down a tiny notch in my book, but the finish is long and pleasantly cinnamon hot. Damn good stuff, very nice for the price, worthy of a go for any bourbon fan.

A cube of ice brings out the fruitiness on the nose even more, but also some syrupy sweetness. It dials down the green wood in the middle, but also slightly dulls the warm spice and vanilla. Again, I’d go neat rather than subject this one to ice, but that’s just personal preference.

Do I see the family resemblance? Not so much, to tell you the truth. One is young and corn focused, the other achieves a beautiful balance of grain and oak and time. I appreciate that both the young Dickel and the elder Dickel have a smoothness to them that doesn’t detract from the flavor – so maybe that’s the Dickel profile, the impact of the charcoal mellowing. In any case, both are Tennessee goodness in a bottle. After all, Dickel’s for drinking.

*******************************

* 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: Both tasting samples were provided by George Dickel.