Monday, May 18, 2009

Blitz makes bourbon history..

....just a little bit. A while ago I went on the Knob Creek web site to take a look around. I had to register and become a member. One of the features was something called "Bernie Lubbers" label reading quiz. It was six questions related to contents of a bourbon label. I got one question wrong. The question was:
True or False: Kentucky is the only state allowed to put its name on a bourbon label.

I said False, but on the quiz explanations page it stated that: "Although bourbon can be made in any state, Kentucky is the only state allowed to put its name on a bourbon bottle." My contention was that this statement was not true. The bourbon "Virginia Gentleman" is an example. I emailed all of the "Whiskey Professors" at Jim Beam to ask for a legal reference to their claim. I was contacted by Knob Creek customer service and told that there was a problem with the web site. I said 'no, there's a problem with the question'. They continued to insist that it was a web site question and that they were looking into it. All the while, I posted the same question on a thread on the website. I will post a link to that thread at the end of this post. No skipping!! After a while, they just changed the true/false part of the quiz, but did not change the answer explanation. So, even if you got the question right, it gave you an explanation that contradicted the answer. I continued to email the company to get it fixed.

Eventually, one of the 'Whiskey professors' emailed me and admitted that the statement on the web site was false. They changed the quiz answer explanation finally, and sent me a complimentary "Knob Creek" aluminum drink mixer.

Bottom line, the giant Jim Beam Brands company had to change their "Whiskey Professors" website because of little old Blitz. Maybe I should be the next 'Whiskey Professor'.

Link to thread.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's been a while since I have posted. Hopefully I won't have another stretch like this again. Anyway, nothing major to discuss today. I will just catch you up on some small developments since I have last posted.

Knob Creek Bourbon-Blitz Special Edition

The folks at Knob Creek (Jim Beam) have a fun little feature available to fans of their bourbon. You can order a custom label from them to affix to your own bottle. I ordered one a few weeks ago and it arrived recently. I just got one for my personal use, but I can imagine there a many fun uses for this, such as groomsman gifts, reunions, golf trip commemorative, etc. Here is mine:

New Bourbon Acquisitions
I picked up a couple of bottles in the last two weeks. First I got a bottle of Old Grandad 114. Most people don't know this, but Old Grandad is a Jim Beam Product. I don't know the exact history, but it's a product they picked up in an acquisition sometime in the past. First of all, it's 114 proof, so a little ice or water is in order. I gotta tell you, I love this bourbon. It has quickly jumped to my top five, and when you add that this is only about $25 a bottle, it's an outstanding value. I already know that I have an affinity for the Jim Beam products, but this one is giving Knob Creek a run for its money. I really recommend this whiskey.

I also picked up a bottle of Weller 12. This is from Buffalo Trace distillery, which is my other favorite distillery with Jim Beam. It's a 'wheater', so it is smoother than some of the 'rye' type bourbons, which makes it a good choice for the newer bourbon drinker. It's also aged 12 years, which adds to it's smoothness. I have heard people refer to this as the 'ultimate' wheated bourbon, because it is aged longer than the more popular 'Makers Mark', but it doesn't have the price tag of the Pappy Van Winkle 15 or 20 year old bourbons. It's very good and I am sure I will enjoy this bottle, but I must say from sampling this bourbon, and other 'wheat' bourbons recently, that I have conlcuded that I am more of a 'rye' guy. I like to bite of 'rye' bourbons a little more than the smoothness of the 'wheated' bourbons.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"World of Whisky" tasting results

As mentioned in the previous post, I tried 14 different whiskeys at Binny's 'World of Whiskey' event. Below is a list of the ones I tried, along with a brief description of my impression of each pour. In some of the entries, I will write 'no impression'. Sometimes when I try a whiskey, the first taste is not representative of how it tastes on the second or third pour. However, when you are trying many different whiskeys in one night, if you don't get a good handle on one, you can't really afford to take another taste, so you just move on.

Ri (Jim Beam) - This is Beam's new rye whiskey with the hip packaging. It's pretty good. I am just starting to appreciate rye's, so I am no expert. It's expensive, so it might not do well on the value/taste scale.

Sazarac Rye 6 year - This is often called 'baby Saz' because it's a younger version of the 20 year old 'Saz' rye. This was also tasty, but 'sharper' than the Ri. I prefer to drink rye with ice, so maybe I would like it better that way.

Elijah Craig 18 (Heaven Hill) - This is one bourbon that I was really excited to try. The reason is that I have tried Elijah Craig 12 and hated it. A lot of people really love it. I thought that maybe I got a bad bottle, so this was my opportunity to try it's big brother. I didn't like the 18 either. Not at all. So then I tasted the 12 year and didn't like that. It's just not for me. That happens, and it's actually good news. If I liked everything, there wouldn't be much point to trying as many as possible.

Canadian Club Special 12 year old - I'm not a big fan of the Canadian blended products. Usually they are too sweet for me. They are good in cocktails. However, the 12 year old is a good whiskey for the money. It's a blend of whiskey aged in used and new barrels. It's less than $20 at Binny's, and thats cheap for that age. I think it would be a good addition to any bar.

Candadian Club 'Sherry Cask' - This is their special product aged in used 'Sherry' casks. It's really a woman's whiskey. It's sweet and has a fruity flavor, to no surprise. I would never buy this, but I enjoyed my taste. It was kinda fun.

Parkers Heritage 12 year - No impression.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed - No impression.

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey-Boy, I really wanted to like this whiskey. I love the story, George Stranahan seems like a really good guy. The whiskey is just okay. I think it's too young. I am used to more aged products. Hopefully he is keeping some in barrels to produce an older version.

Russell's Reserve (Wild Turkey) - This was my favorite whiskey that I tried that night. It's the namesake of longtime master distiller Jimmy Russell. It's a lower proof, 86 I think, and it's very smooth. It's mid-priced, so a very good bourbon on the value/taste scale.

Wild Turkey Honey - I can only assume it's called Honey because it is infused with, well, honey. Again, I am not into infused anything. I prefer primary, not compound flavors. However, it was delicious. Again, I would not buy this product for myself, but I bet a lot of people who won't drink whiskey would be less offended by this. The Wild Turkey rep said it is very popular with the ladies.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Binny's 'World of Whiskey'

I recently spent the evening at Binnys south loop (Chicago) store for their 'World of Whiskey' event. This was the day before "Whiskyfest", which takes place in the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago, and is an annual gathering of the whiskey industry hosted by Malt Advocate magazine. Basically, since everyone in the industry is already in town, Binnys conducts a mini version of "Whiskyfest" in their store. First of all, the Binnys south loop store is a ridiculous liquor store. It has bar in the store! A really nice bar, with large windows in the background to view the Chicago skyline. Anyway, it was a really fun evening. I got to try about 14 different whiskeys that I had never tried before. Also, I got to meet some whiskey industry celebrities. Below is a picture of me and John Hansell, Editor of Malt Advocate Magazine, and founder of 'Whiskyfest'.

I also had the privilege of meeting Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller for Wild Turkey. Jimmy is a legend in the industry, and the namesake for Russell's Reserve bourbon, a very fine whiskey.

Additionally, I spent some quality time with Dan Tullio and Tish Harcus of Canadian Club. They were both featured prominently in the television show "Modern Marvels" on the History Channel. It's always odd to meet someone after you have seen them on TV, but they were very fun, and Tish was kind enough to take a picture of me and John Hansell when I shoved my camera at her.
I also spent some time with George Stranahan, founder of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. I got to ask some questions about barrel aging with a guy who actually makes and ages whiskey. That was very cool.

I have told my story about 'World of Whiskey' to several people, and the accounting is similar to how I have told it in this blog entry. Usually by this point someone says:

"Wait a minute, you drank 14 whiskeys?"

Yes, and I drove home. But it's not like it sounds. First, these were small portions, half-shots in most cases. For the ones I didn't like, I didn't even finish the half-shot. Also, I used the full three hours of the event and spaced my tasting as far apart a possible, just visiting with people and walking around between drinks. Additionally, I had plenty of water, crackers and cheese between pours. I promise that I was not a menace to myself or anyone else.

In my next post, I will provide my notes for the whiskeys I tasted that night. See you then!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How do I drink it?

The most common question I get is in regards to how I actually drink whiskey. Generally I drink it neat (straight), or with one small ice cube. I will rarely drink it in a cocktail. I suppose the most popular whiskey cocktail would be "Jack and Coke". I don't really care for that. It's interesting, there are several well known whiskey based cocktails, such as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Whiskey Sour, but these are not very popular to the general drinking public. It seems that 90% of cocktails made these days are vodka based. My theory on this is that whiskey is already the most complex spirit in the world, with tremendous depth and variety in its flavor profile. Mixing it with soda or sweet bar mixes just doesn't work. People make cocktails with vodka because you have to do something to give the vodka some flavor. Think about it, who drinks vodka straight?

Anyway, like I said, the most I usually put in my whiskey is a little water. However, people assume that 'neat' is the way real whiskey 'connoisseurs' drink it. In fact, some of the machismo surrounding the issue can be annoying. Here is an interesting article addressing this topic. The truth is, the proper way to drink whiskey is whichever way tastes best for you. Most whiskey enthusiasts start out drinking it in cocktails, or in my case, with a tumbler full of ice. Gradually, as the palette develops, the desire for additional ingredients will naturally fade.

Even though I prefer my whiskey straight, there are occasions where it would be nice to drink it in a cocktail, so I have been trying different cocktails to see which one is right for me. I haven't had much luck in this search until recently when I tried bourbon and ginger-ale. My first attempt was 'Canada Dry and Jim Beam Black'. This was pretty good, but I didn't care for the aftertaste. My next attempt was 'Schweppes and Wild Turkey 101'. This was very good and without the funny aftertaste. My third attempt was 'Seagram's Ginger Ale and Very Old Barton bourbon'. This combination tasted like the first, including the aftertaste. I have concluded that this will require a more scientific approach, and I will begin to collect different Ginger Ales until I have enough to conduct a documented testing session. Stay tuned.

While we are on the subject of tasting, below is a pretty good video on the basics of whiskey tasting:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Getting my Irish up

St. Patricks is upon us. I'm German and Swedish, but in and around the Chicago area, everybody is Irish on St. Patty's day. I remember hearing that Chicago has the most Irish citizens of any city in the world, except Dublin. It's a big deal around here. Ireland is one of the great Whiskey producing countries in the world. At this particular time, when I venture away from bourbon, it's usually to have some Irish Whiskey. It has a lightness and smoothness that is a nice change of pace from bourbon.
I have a couple of Irish whiskeys in stock right now, Jameson and Tullamore Dew 12. The regular Jameson might be the most accessible whiskey on the market, which would account for the growth in recent years. When I drink bourbon, it's usually neat or with a small chunk of ice. With Jameson, I fill a tumbler with ice and pour a full glass of whiskey. When it gets diluted by the ice, its even lighter and more refreshing, almost like iced tea! It's just light and smooth with a very understated whiskey flavor. The Tullamore Dew 12 year old is more of a classic expression, with more aged taste and pronounced flavor. It's more of a sipping whiskey. Click here for a review of Tullamore Dew.

To get us started, check out this link for nice review of Irish Whiskeys. Also, In case you missed it when it originally broadcasted on St. Patrick’s day last year, the History Channel’s Modern Marvel’s series “Whiskey” show will be rebroadcasted on March 17, 2009 at 10 AM and 4 PM. As mentioned in some earlier posts, this show is an excellent primer for the budding Whiskey enthusiast.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Delilah's in Chicago

Well, ever since I got into Bourbon, I have been trying to find a local place to sample different kinds. Through some research, I found that there are several bars in the city of Chicago that have a large whiskey selection. One in particular, Delilah's, is universally chosen as the best, and actually has a national reputation and one of the great whiskey bars. My brother-in-law recently invited me to spend an evening in the city, followed by Blackhawks hockey game the next day. This was a great opportunity to finally visit Delilah's. The short version of my visit is that tasting several new whiskeys was a lot of fun, but the overall experience was a bit of a disappointment.

Delilah's is small, very dark bar in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The decor is punk rock meets Elvis. There is really nothing special about the place physically, but I didn't care, I was there for the bourbon. And they do have a lot of bourbon. Two things, however, kinda put a damper on the experience. First, the bartender that night was a real drip. I tried to engage him in talk about whiskey and bourbon, but he didn't bite. All he wanted to know is what I was ordering next. He was actually rude to my brother in law. This is a small place, when your bartender is a killjoy, it affects the entire atmosphere. The second thing that tempered my experience is that I was the only whiskey drinker in the bar! My brother-in-law and his buddy are not whiskey drinkers, and neither was anybody else when I was there. I had anticipated that I would be talking bourbon with somebody that night, but it just was not meant to be.

As mention earlier, the tastings of the different whiskeys was very fun. I tried four that night. After about four or five whiskey tastings, you taste buds are about shot. Here's what I tried:
  • Old Commonwealth - I tried this on the recommendation of a member of the message board. This was tasty, but a little 'hot' for my liking. It's 100 proof, and I don't mind high proof bourbon, but the alcohol was a little too pronounced. This is a hard to find bourbon though, so I was really happy to try it.
  • Delilah's House Brand (Wheater) - This is created by the folks who make Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, known for their 'wheat' based mash bill. I have tried the Pappy Van Winkle 15 year and 20 year. This bourbon was about the same, except it is aged 10 years. It was just a little 'thinner' and less complex than the older version. Very nice.
  • Delilah's House Brand Rye Whiskey - I couldn't get much info on this one, but it was the best whiskey I tasted that night. Nice rye spiciness and excellent balance.
  • Jameson's 18 year old - Jameson's regular whiskey is usually my first choice when I venture away from bourbon. I really enjoy it. I have been wanting to try the 18 year old, but it's $80 a bottle, so this was the perfect opportunity to try it economically. I was disappointed. It didn't taste that much different from the regular Jameson. It was a little smoother, but for the price, not that much better. I am hoping that since this was my fourth whiskey of the night, that my taste buds were dulled. I will give it another try sometime in the future.
In conclusion, I'm glad I went to Delilah's, even though I was a little disappointed with the visit. Next time I'll make sure I go there with some whiskey enthusiasts and hope that I have a different bartender. By the way, the 'Hawks' won 4-2.