...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 19, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Great King Street New York Blend

Yesterday I reviewed my sample of Peat Monster from Compass Box's regular range.  Today, I'll take a look at Compass Box's Great King Street New York Blend.

The Great King Street appears to be a series now.  First there was the Artist's Blend, which is the version you'll find most readily and priced the lowest.  Then there was the limited bottling of the New York Blend, released in 2012.  Last year there were a pair of Experimental Blends released in Europe.  This year there's going to be a Glasgow Blend which appears to be a mix of peat and sherry.

This New York Blend is the only one released at 46% ABV, though I think all of them are non-chillfiltered.  While the Artist's Blend was released to a lot of fanfare and received a lot of rave reviews, I found it to be not much more than a mild acceptable high-malt blend, very drinkable and competitive in the $20-$30 bracket, but probably can't compete at the $40+ block at which it is priced.  The NY Blend was always of interest to me because it brought with it more malt, a higher ABV, and the peat which was absent from the Artist's Blend.  So, many thanks to Jordan from Chemistry of the Cocktail for this sample!

Company: Compass Box
Series: Great King Street
Type: Blended Whisky
Ingredients: 20% Lowland grain whisky, 80% malt whisky; as per Compass Box, "A quarter of the recipe is from heavy-peated single malts, mostly from Islay."
Age: ???
Maturation: "Mostly first-fill American oak casks combined with refill ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks for additional complexity," says the Compass Box site
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
Limited Bottling: 1,840
Here's the whisky's official fact sheet

The color is light gold.  The nose begins with minty creamy peat.  Probably some mint leaves and mint chip ice cream too.  A little bit of BBQ sauce, sand, and burnt paper.  Menthol and a little bit of US oak.  Less oak than on Peat Monster, but it still feels older.  The palate is gentle like most of Compass Box's regular range.  There's a pleasantly perfumed element in the fore which is met by a tart sharp bitter peat rumble in the back.  In between there's some caramel and butterscotch, burnt hay and lavender.  But it's the peat that lingers longest in the finish.  It's almost fizzy and effervescent.  There's a mentholated black coffee bitterness met by a little Bowmore-esque lavender (flowers, not soap).

From the nose, I would've guessed this was a Highland malt had I been trying it blindly.  Oranges and lemons and Pixy Stix hit first.  The peat retreats but not entirely.  Still has the BBQ and sand.  Some seaweed now, new carpet, and a hint of struck matches.  The light sugary palate has some roasted nuts, soft smoke, and the aforementioned floral note.  It's soft at the start but has a slight tart bite at the end.  That bite becomes a little more bitter (and bitier) in the finish, but not badly so.  Some sugar and soil.  Possibly a little soap too.

So what's in here?  Probably the usual Compass Box suspects like Clynelish and Ardmore.  I'm getting Caol Ila and Ledaig (again).  Jordan thinks there's Laphroaig, Ardbeg, peated BenRiach, and Ledaig (as well).  The lavender notes say Bowmore to me.  Looking at our guesses, you'll see all of these peated malts because it's the good peat that stands out.  But something unpeated makes up three-quarters of the rest of the malt recipe.  Maybe it's mostly Clynelish (which may or may not be unpeated) or there are some creamy but subtle Speysiders filling out the rest.

While still fitting into Compass Box's graceful style, the New York Blend has much more character and spark than the Artist's Blend.  It also can stand up to Peat Monster pretty well.  I'm torn over which one is "better".  I didn't test the Monster with water, but the New York Blend's palate doesn't hold up well with hydration.  The PM was farmier and more complex, but the New York Blend feels more mature and more whole.  While the PM feels like it's for a specific mood, the New York Blend can be enjoyed more broadly.  Ultimately, while I might actually like the Peat Monster better, to others I'd recommend the New York Blend first.

Because of its very limited release, New York Blend costs a little more than Peat Monster.  At least it does now.  When it was going for less than $60, it was a pretty good buy.  Now I'm looking forward to the Glasgow Blend.

Availability - Only a couple dozen retailers still have it
Pricing - $65-$80 (only Party Source still has the original low price)
Rating - 87

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NOT Single Malt Report: Compass Box Peat Monster

On Monday, I posted one round of my recent attempts at blending whiskies.  Next Monday, I'm going to (try to) post about some more of my blending activities.  Those two entries are being joined by four weeks of blended whisk(e)y reviews.  Or maybe three or five weeks, depending on my fortitude.

This week I'll make it easy on all of us by downing a pair of Compass Box blends.  John Glaser (aka The Most Elegant Man in the Whisky Business) and his Compass Box whiskies do seem to have "most favoured nations status", to quote MAO, amongst whisky fans.  Nary a bad word gets blogged about the company and Glaser has been seen as somewhat of a hero after his run-in with the Scotch Whisky Association nine years ago.

Compass Box tends to focus on vatted malts (or blended malts) and often bottles them unfiltered at 46%abv or higher.  That's a good start for winning over the geeks.  In my opinion, their success has a lot to do with choosing good malts to begin with -- Clynelish, Ardmore, Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ledaig, etc.  They also know how to blend those elements better than you or I, and they experimented with different sorts of toasted oak before most other producers did so.

Ignoring my mancrush on Glaser for but a moment, I probably respect their company more than I actually adore their whiskies.  The only one of their regular range that's totally won me over is Spice Tree.  The rest aren't bad; they're all decent, but I'm not running out to buy bottles of them.  (On a side note, I do have two of their limited editions which look forward to opening during some decade soon.)  From the regular "Signature" range I've reviewed Hedonism, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Eleuthera so far, and today I'll report on Peat Monster.

From what I've gathered about Peat Monster there may have been at a least a couple of versions over the years.  Ardmore (yay!) has always been in the mix.  Ledaig is definitely in it now.  Laphroaig has been in it, though perhaps not always.  Caol Ila has been in there too, either in addition to Laphroaig or replacing it.  Let's try to figure out which version I'm tasting.

Company: Compass Box
Type: Blended Malt (formerly known as Vatted Malt)
Distilleries: Ardmore, Ledaig, Laphroaig (maybe), Caol Ila (maybe)
Age: ???
Maturation: Fact sheet says just refill American oak, Tasting video says "70% first fill American oak, 30% refill American oak"
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(sample was purchased from Master of Malt in 2013)

The color is bright amber.  The nose starts with Ledaig!  Farmy Ledaig.  Maybe not a monster, but may I suggest... Peat Cow?  That has a nice ring.  Anyway, then there's a blast of dense US oak, reading as spicy vanilla.  Then there are some herbs, mint and anise.  Moss wrapped in candied orange peel.  Seaweed and sea air.  With time, it grows mintier and orange-ier.  Smoked gouda and chimney evolve alongside stronger grassy notes.  The palate leads with charred bacon and hay.  A big swoop of smoke is followed by fresh sage and thyme.  Vanilla simple syrup in the center, with tart citrus around the edges; a bitter peat bite binding it together.  With time it simplifies down to sugar, smoke, and ginger notes.  The almost floral long finish gets a little sweeter. Maybe some limes and oranges.  Peat ash.  The bitterness holds the tongue in a good grip.

I have a bunch of thoughts buzzing around my head about this.  In no particular order:

--This is better than I thought it was going to be.
--It's much better than the first time I tried Peat Monster last year.  But that version was loaded with black licorice and had almost no peat character to it.
--I'm not finding much in the way of Laphroaig here, perhaps this version had Caol Ila instead?  Or at least more CI than Lp?
--There's nothing monstrous about this whisky.  There are enough peat monsters coming from Islay right now, many of them focused on the phenolics and not much else.  This has loads of softer elements complimenting the peat.  And the Ledaig-like farmy notes are much appreciated.
--Again, Peat Cow, anyone?  Imagine the label graphics that Marc Burckhardt could do.

This is my second favorite of Compass Box's signature range.  At $50 or less it would be of interest, though I think it's trending towards $60 or more in most places.  Once a whisky gets into the $60+ range, it has to be damned great before I buy it; at $50, merely great will do.  As we know, there are fewer and fewer great whiskies sitting at $50.  Thus, choices will need to be made.  This is very good, I recommend you try it before you buy it to see if the non-peat characteristics appeal to your palate.

Availability - Any hip self-respecting whisky retailer
Pricing - $48-$70
Rating - 87

Monday, September 15, 2014

Michael makes a solid number two

(alternate title: Adventures in Bourbon Blending!)

I was sitting on (figuratively) about about eight fluid ounces of Balcones True Blue Cask Strength, a high ABV all-corn whiskey which smelled nice but didn't taste like much.  With no desire to ever drink it again, I wondered if there was a drinkable bourbon to be made from it.  Perhaps applying some good rye would fix things.  I had plenty of Rittenhouse Bottled-In-Bond on hand, so I began to tinker.

Here are the three bourbons I blended:

#1 - 50% True Blue Cask Strength / 50% Rittenhouse BIB.

Approximate resulting mashbill: 71/24/5 (corn/rye/malted barley)
Approximate ABV: 53.6%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 11 days

Nose -- Very nutty, specifically hazelnuts and almonds.  Then caramel sauce, halvah, Heath bar, sawdust, and maple syrup.
Palate -- Very hot and tannic.  It's nutty here too, maybe walnuts?  Something fibrous and grainy in there.  A little bitterness and very light on the sweets.
Finish -- Wood smoke and coffee

Verdict:  Smells yummy but tastes so-so.  Too hot and woody for me.  Have no interest to drink it again.

#2 - Goal: Design a high-rye (~35%) bourbon.  Result: Due to the two whiskies' mashbills it became an "ultra-high-rye" bourbon.

Approximate resulting mashbill: 51/40/9
Approximate ABV: 51.4%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 18 days

Nose -- A bit hot at first, but it eases down with a little air.  At first sniffs there's corn meal, molasses, sugar & spice.  Then a lightly perfumed foundation powder, sawdust, caramel, vanilla, kettle corn, and mint.  And oh so much rye.  Rye candy!
Palate -- Bourbony cough medicine, salt, and pipe tobacco.  An orange peel note develops into tart cherries and blackberries.  Very tingly with a soft bitterness underneath.
Finish -- Cough medicine, salt, and an herbal r(h)um. Mellow tartness and a mild herbal bitterness.

Verdict:  It's almost all rye on the nose, while the palate is thick and rich.  It tastes very good.  I wanted more as soon as I finished my sample.

#3 - Goal: Design a high-corn (~79%) bourbon.  Result: Easily doable with with these whiskies.

Approximate resulting mashbill: 79/17/4
Approximate ABV: 54.6%
Quantity made: 30mL
Resting time: 18 days

Nose -- Less hot than #2 (though the ABV is higher).  LOADS of caramel.  Saltwater taffy, butter, caramel apples by the ocean, maple candy, and raisins.
Palate -- Here it's much hotter, though quiet flavor-wise.  Corn stuff, but not sweet.  Some rye spices lift it up.  A hint of wood smoke.  Grows a little sweeter with time.
Finish -- Cigar mouth, sugar, some tartness.  Long, but mild in content.

Verdict:  The nose was good again, though the buttery element became weirdly strong.  Yet as vibrant as the nose showed itself to be, the palate went the opposite direction.  The corn and rye didn't merge and almost no secondary flavors appeared.

Without a doubt, my favorite was #2.  While all three blends smelled nice, #1 and #3 didn't taste great.  I enjoyed the second one so much that I sacrificed the rest of my Rittenhouse bottle to fix up 600mL of this solid number two.
After giving it two weeks in the bottle to marry, I just tried it again last night and it's still very lush.  Sometimes it tastes like a bourbon, sometimes like a rye.  It's almost too big for the 90+ degree September heat, so I'll probably use it to fix up mint juleps and sazeracs.  If I can remember to do it, I'll save a sample for a proper review when the weather cools off.

Next week, I'll post about bourbons #4 and #5, which I built from three American whiskies...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Notes from a tasting: Peatin' Meetin' Whiskies at Home, Part 4

The Peatin' Meetin' sample journey continues.  This is technically Part Four.  If you're looking for Part Three it was the Schlenkerla post.

Anyway, here's the intro again.  Though I attended Peatin' Meetin' this year, I did not drink during the event.  Instead I picked up a baker's dozen samples, all of which I will be (and have been) tasting in the controlled environment of my home.

The stash, at the start
Since the samples tend to be smaller than my usual reviewed samples, I probably won't be providing numerical grades.  Instead, I'll be giving each one a letter grade range.

This week, I chose two samples that are well known but dissimilar in style.  The Port Askaig 19 year old and Ardbeg SUPERNOVA SN2010.

Yes, SUPERNOVA.  Relevant!  If you've made the mistake of regularly reading whisky news (pronounced: ad-ver-tahy-zing) as I sometimes do, you've been getting socked in the ear with the trumpets preceding this (or next?) week's release of the new Supernova.  My review is not of the new 2014 version.  It is of the 2010 version.  I'm classic like that.

I actually do hope the new version kicks ass.  And if it does, I hope to get a wee sippy of it because I won't be hauling out the $150-$250 it'll probably cost.  The 2010 version is bracing, but more on that below.

Here's the Peatin' Meetin' Scorecard so far...
-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%) - Grade Range: B
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: B+/A-
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) - Grade Range B/B+
-- Schlenkera Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Port Askaig 19 year old (Specialty Drinks, 50.4% ABV)
-- Ardbeg Supernova SN2010 (OB, 60.1% ABV)
-- ???
-- ???
-- ???

Normally the younger whisky goes first in a tasting, but Supernova is a scorcher and I'd like to have my taste buds present to try the Port Askaig.

Port Askaig 19 year old (Specialty Drinks, 50.4% ABV)
Unofficially, this is Caol Ila. It isn't sold in the US, so I'm glad I was able to sneak a 20mL pour.
Color -- Pinot grigio
Nose -- Very beachy and sandy.  A candy shop in the summer heat.  Lots of lemons and honeydew, maybe some subtle mango.  Smaller notes of mustard and peppercorns.
Palate -- The peat rolls in here, mostly as smoke and embers.  Vanilla cupcakes and roses.  Sea air and sea salt.
Finish -- A snuffed bonfire that lingers and lingers.  Rose petals.

Grade Range: A-
Terrific.  Lovely.  Now I want my own bottle.  It's too bad that UK shipping costs as much as an additional single malt bottle.  Anyway, enough bitching.  This graceful whisky topped my expectations.

Ardbeg Supernova SN2010 (OB, 60.1% ABV)
Distilled from barley that was peated to 100pm at its malting, this whisky was bottled in 2010, back when Bill Lumsden had the confidence in his malt to release an all non-rejuvinated bourbon cask whisky. Look at me with the sassy talk.
Color -- Very light amber
Nose -- Dingy stinky peat.  Baked fruit breads.  Sprite and black licorice.  Yeasty and slightly cheesy.  This is really young.  Makes Kilchoman Machir Bay look like Dalmore Sirius (agewise).
Palate -- Massive inky mossy dirty peat.  Toasty malt and cinnamon buns.  Salty and bitter.
Finish -- Peat.  Maybe some cinnamon candy.  Peat.  Slight bitterness.  Peat.  Ashtray.  Peat.

Grade Range: B/B+
In the graphic-novel-sounding Octomore versus Supernova battle, Octo is more complex and has more depth.  Supernova has more raw power.  It does one thing and does it completely.  This is my second time trying Supernova 2010 and this new tasting has clarified how I see it.  Imagine Ardbeg Ten infused with peat moss, parched dirt, and Marlboro** ashes at its inception, but then bottled the moment it reaches the legal 3 years.  Octomore wins the war, but Supernova is good if you want to char your tongue with peat concentrate.

** - the man, not the cigarettes

This was an entertaining duo.  Port Askaig was a layered late-night indulgence, while Supernova punched me in the mouth.  The not-so-secretly-Caol-Ila Askaig tops the group so far, becoming the second of the ten samples that I would consider tracking down if I could.

In Part Five: The Final Chapter, I'll be tasting the last three samples, none of which are actually from Islay...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ancient Age Straight Bourbon Whiskey (current bottling)

Last Thursday, I reviewed my bottle of an odd but enjoyable early '80s bottling of Ancient Age.  Three days later, I spied some bottles of the current version of Ancient Age.  So I bought a 200mL.  For $2.99.  That price could have had me setting my expectations low, but I bought the dusty version in 750mL form for $9.69 and that one was fun.  So I lined up one Ancient next to the other for a tasting last night.

I'm not sure if my dusty version of Ancient Age was bottled before or after Schenley sold the brand to Age International, but it was definitely distilled before the changeover so I don't know what its mashbill was.  The current version of Ancient Age uses Sazerac / Buffalo Trace's high(er) rye mashbill.  The dusty bottle was 86 proof.  The new one is 80 proof.

They are definitely not the same whiskey.  Not too long ago, I thought Buffalo Trace could do no wrong.  I was wrong.

First, the dusty...

Owner: Ancient Age Distillers (either Schenley Industries or Age International)
Brand: Ancient Age
Distillery: Leestown Distillery
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: damfino
Age: Ancient
Bottle year: early 1980s
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

(For more detailed notes, see last week's post)
Color -- Dark bronze
Nose -- Vibrant.  TONS of caramel.  Maple, corn syrup, earthy molasses, anise, a bit of a green herbal kick, and a definite malty note.
Palate -- Salt and caramel, met with plenty of rye spices.  SunMaid raisins.  Kinda painty.  The chemical and medicinal notes are still present but in the background.
Finish -- Caramel and salt water meet up with the medicinal note and some herbal bitterness.

Not bad.  Still a little zany.  The caramel notes keep growing as oxidation settles in more and more.

Then there was...

Owner: Sazerac and Age International
Brand: Ancient Age
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery (technically the same distillery)
Location: Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill: Buffalo Trace #2 (higher-rye; about 15%)
Age: at least two years, but probably not more than that
Bottle code: CA131831559B (perhaps 2013?)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Color -- Light gold
Nose -- Vague.  Woody: pulp, bark, and pine sap.  Hazelnuts and marzipan.  Pretzels, cheap plastic toys, and "plastic banana" (that sorta makes sense, right?).
Palate -- Again, not much.  Sweet to bitter.  Very corny, maybe some vanilla and caramel and black pepper.  Uh oh, going downhill quickly...  Grows bitterer.  Tastes like burning.  Burning perfume and burning bubblegum.
Finish -- Woody bitterness.  Bland barrel char.  Also begins to grow off-putting with an ever expanding acrid aftertaste.

At first, I wondered if I'd accidentally bought Ancient Age Preferred, their blended whiskey, because there seemed to be so little whiskey in the whiskey.  But, nope, it was their straight bourbon.  Slowly, the scent and flavor arrived.  Then slowly, things went sour.

The two are distinctly dissimilar.  The new version has a lower ABV, but it's only a three point difference.  So the gap comes from a marked disparity between the quality of the barrels going into each bottling.  The dense Age bottled in the early '80s shouts out, announcing its presence, whether one likes it or not.  The Age bottled in 2013 barely ekes out a whimper before soiling itself.  I'm pretty certain they have different mashbills, but that doesn't matter if Sazerac is scraping bottom to pull together the current Ancient Age.

I'm going to bring this to a quick close because the whiskey isn't worth many additional words.  This is unquestionably the worst whisk(e)y I've reviewed this year.  Will a challenger arise?

ANCIENT AGE 86 PROOF (bottled early '80s)
Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - $9.69 is how I found it
Rating - 81

ANCIENT AGE (current bottling)
Availability - On a lower shelf at a retailer near you
Pricing - $10-$14 (Buffalo Trace is only twice the price but eleventy times better)
Rating - 63

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Pair of Dickels, Classic No. 8 and Rye Whisky

When it comes to Tennessee Whisk(e)y many of you know more about it than I.  This I blame on Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, one of America's worst exports, worse than nuclear weapons and Jerry Lewis.  I've never understood why people choose to get drunk off of Jack.  Yes, they want the rock star cliché but, goddamn it, rock stars have gotten drunk off of everything.  Go huff gasoline fumes rather than drinking Jack from the bottle; the lights will be brighter and you'll pass out quicker.  Mmmmm, gasoline.

I first heard of George Dickel in the film Wonder Boys, in which a double Dickel on the rocks was Grady Tripp's drink of choice.  The Dickel didn't hit my lips until last year, when Florin (a prince) donated most of a 375mL bottle of Dickel's No. 8 to the Diving for Pearls Laboratories.

Dickel's bourbon-esque mashbill is very high in corn, around 84%.  They use the Lincoln County Process, which is now legally required in order to label a booze "Tennessee Whiskey" (except for Prichard's).  In a small shriveled nutshell, the Lincoln County Process is a method wherein the spirit is filtered through or soaked in charcoal chips, chunks, or slabs before being poured into barrels.  The benefit of this filtration is something forever debated between Kentucky and Tennessee whiskey fans. (For more and better info see The Chuck Cowdery Blog.)

In 2012, Dickel released a rye.  Using MGP spirit (95% rye), they give it a pass through charcoal before barreling it in order to Tennessee-up its Indiananess.

While Dickel has other products -- such as the No. 12, No. 1, and Barrel Select -- today I'm reporting on the "Classic No. 8" and the rye.

Brand: George Dickel
Product: Classic No. 8
Owner: Diageo :(
Distillery: Cascade Hollow
Location: Normandy, Tennessee, USA
Type: Tennessee Whiskey
Mash Bill: 84% corn, 8% rye, 8% malted barley
Barrel Char: #4 on the barrel, #2 on the heads
Age: used to be 4 to 6 years, probably closer to 4 years now
Bottle code: L00192P00109:48 (2000 or 2010?)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
(Thank you to Florin for the sample!)

The color is light gold.  The nose is bright and brown sugary.  Something smoky lingers, whether from the barrel or the charcoal.  There are notes of oatmeal and baby spit-up, along with peppery rye.  The butyric note grows with time.  The palate is full of yeast, barley, and burnt corn.  Smaller notes of fennel seeds and tree bark float around.  There's also a strong vegetal note throughout, sometimes it's asparagus, sometimes black kale, sometimes brussels sprouts.  The vegetal thing continues into the very drying finish, joined by oak pulp and bark, burnt corn, and (perhaps) urine.

More on this below.  Onto the rye.

Brand: George Dickel
Product: Rye
Owner: Diageo :(
Distillery: Midwest Grain Products
Location: Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA
Type: Rye Whiskey
Mash Bill: 95% rye, 5% malted barley
Barrel Char: #4 on the barrel, #2 on the heads
Age: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 45%
(Thank you to Florin for the sample!)

The color is a much redder gold than the No. 8.  In the nose there's a load of the MGP-style rye herbal spices, trending peppery.  It's also floral and very sugary (lollipops, caramel, and cotton candy).  I'm also finding some papaya and raspberry jam amongst a bit of charred oak.  The palate is the mildest MGP rye I've had: a heavily watered down Willett mixed with simple syrup.  There's cherry lollipops, rosewater, lots of peppercorns, and a hint of berry syrup.  It gets drier in the finish.  More oak rumbles in.  Sweet caramel and black pepper.

The rye is rounder and bolder than the No. 8.  But keep in mind, I'm biased towards MGP's rye.  The noses are the best parts of both whiskies.  The veggie note in the No. 8 isn't as big as my notes may make it seem, but it is definitely present.  When I drank the No. 8 last summer, I usually did it on the rocks and found it pleasant enough.  So, I recommend doing it Grady Tripp-style.  Hitting it with ice cuts the veggie notes out completely.  The rye doesn't need ice.  I also think it didn't deserve any charcoal filtering, as that was likely responsible for domesticating the MGP beast.

While the No. 8 is the weaker whisky, it is still a step or two above Jack Daniel's Old No. 7.  But then again, so are hemorrhoids.

Availability - At most major retailers
Pricing - $15-$20
Rating - 75

Availability - At most major retailers
Pricing - $20-$26
Rating - 82

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier and Spirit (Peatin' Meetin' Pt. 3)

The last time anyone had heard from me on Twitter, I was ears deep in Schlenkerla:

I'm here to say I survived, free from ruin.  It's no longer my habit to consume a liter of beer unless I'm in Ireland.  So I consumed probably 80% of those beers over two hours, along with the sample of spirit I'd obtained from Peatin' Meetin' 2014.

Okay, let me take a step back.  Schlenkerla is a pub in Bamberg, Germany that has become well known for the rauchbier (or Smoked Beer) that they brew onsite.  Rauchbiers get their smoky character from malted barley dried over open flames.  The damp barleycorns absorb some of the characteristics from the resulting smoke......which may sound a little familiar to peated whisky fans.  And the good news is, Schlenkerla has started to experiment with distilling their smoky beers.

After escaping with a sample of the Rauchbier spirit last month, I wasn't sure what to expect from the stuff, nor what should accompany it.  With some quick research I discovered that a few of Schlenkerla's rauchbiers have made their way to the US.  So I bought the two that I found at a local store so that I could match them up with the spirit.

Here's the Twitter pic again, cleaned up.

In the back are the beers, Urbock (6.5%abv) and Marzen (5.1%abv).  Up front is the spirit (40%abv).  I'm not a beer connoisseur, but I do like beer a lot.  The fact that these two aren't pushing 9% or 10% abv (as many American craft beers have been doing lately) is also much appreciated.  The Urbock and Marzen do not need a higher alcohol content since their flavors are quite potent already.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbeir URBOCK (6.5% ABV)
Color -- Cassis juice. Almost black with hints of red.
Nose -- Massively bacony and hammy. Lots of barley. Coffee brewing and dark chocolate melting.  Old sweaty gym clothes.
Palate -- Caol Ila of beers.  Actually Caol Ila with some extra charred bacon thrown in.  Moderate sweetness and bitterness.  A bit ashy and savory.
Finish -- Huge (pronounced: yooooooge).  Ashy, charred things; very similar to peat smoke.  Pre-lit matchsticks and manure.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchier MARZEN (5.1% ABV)
Color -- Similar to the Urbock.
Nose -- Mesquite chips, pre- and post-barbecue. Stout-ish. Some coffee and dirty hay notes. After some time there's a full note of vegetable oil burning in the fryer.
Palate -- Grainier than the Urbock. Very refreshing actually, with a mild sweetness, roasted coffee, and honey. Occasionally feels like a very low ABV bourbon cask Ardbeg.
Finish -- Here's the bacon, alongside a little bit of coffee and hops.

Verdict: Winners, both.  Urbock is darker in nature, perhaps a bit too much of a wallop for a summertime beverage, but probably a killer on a rainy night.  Marzen is lighter and could work during all seasons.  They each run about $5-$6 per half liter bottle.  I will be buying them again.

Next up is the spirit distilled from the smoked beer.  There's not a lot of info about it online and Schlenkerla's site doesn't reference it at all.  Some sites say that it is aged in Michel Couvreur casks for a few to several months.  Their distributor in New Jersey says it is "matured in M. Couvreur whiskey barrels for 24 months. They then add freshly smoked barley malt to the barrels, and age for an additional 12 months."  So now you know as much as I do.

Aecht Schlenkerla Smokemalt Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV)
Color -- Medium gold, with quite a bit of unfiltered schmutz floating around.
Nose -- Very big and bright considering its alcohol content.  Black licorice, cinnamon candy, oatmeal, and baked raisins.
Palate -- Intensely herbal, like a hoppy eau-de-vie. That's followed by apple and cinnamon with lots of pepper and clove. Sweet anise candy. Sometimes seems like a second cousin to a good rye spirit.
Finish -- Caramel apples with cloves. A hint of smoke and bacon.

Grade Range: B-/B
I really liked this, but I'm not comfortable grading it higher until I have a larger sample to reference.  It's mostly a raw eau-de-vie style spirit.  The refill whisky barrels give it some color but rarely interject.  There's much less smoke here than in the beers, but the palate and nose are just as aggressive in their own way.

The price on the Smokemalt Spirit will scare away most customers; $110 for a 750mL bottle.  Most of us are not in the habit of paying that sort of money for a three-year-old whisky.  But it's not whisky.  This is a different creature, one not frequently available in this part of the world.  As always, I recommend you try before you buy it, if that is humanly possible with this thing.  And, perhaps, if you do some googling you may find half bottles for $55...

The Peatin' Meetin' Scorecard so far...
-- Balvenie 17 year old Islay Cask (OB, 43% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Loch Lomond Peated, green label (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: D+/C-
-- Bowmore 16 year old 1990 Sherry Cask (OB, 53.8% ABV) - Grade Range: B-
-- Laphroaig 13 year old 1994 (Cadenhead, 54.7% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
-- Bladnoch Lightly Peated 11 year old 2002 K&L exclusive (OB, 51.5%) - Grade Range: B
-- Longrow 10 year old Sherrywood (OB, 46% ABV) - Grade Range: B+/A-
-- Laphroaig 15 year old 1998 K&L exclusive (Signatory, 61% ABV) - Grade Range B/B+
-- Schlenkera Rauchbier Spirit (40% ABV) - Grade Range: B-/B
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