Category Archives: whiskey

Whiskey reviews page 6

Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review (homepage)
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Prohibition and the American Jewish community

The Prohibition, in the United States, was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages, from 1920 to 1933. But there were a variety of legal loopholes that allowed religious communities to use wine.  See Jews and whiskey during prohibition

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Chemistry of Whiskey

Whisky is one of the world’s most popular spirits, and comes in many different classes and types. The character and flavour of these differing types vary widely; this, of course, comes down to their varying chemical composition. Here,  chemistry teacher Andy Brunning looks at where these compounds come from, and what they contribute: Phenols, the whisky lactones, aldehydes, esters, and other organic compounds.

chemistry-of-whisky

The Chemistry of Whisky: Compound Interest

Many people notice that adding some water improves the taste; adding water is said to “open up” the whiskey. But what is the science behind this? When one mixes alcohol and water, a minor exothermic reaction occurs, releasing a tiny amount of heat. This could allow more volatile aromatic compounds to escape. Adam Whisnant writes:

What other heat sources besides enthalpy of mixture are at play in the mixture, given the following: solutions of equal temperature to the environment, minimal transfer of heat from your hand to the glass in the seconds after pouring, and relatively small concentrations of other compounds including aromatics and methanol (as is required to be potable)?

The heat release is actually quite significant when diluting alcohol with water. Assuming an 80 proof whisky, 40% ethanol in water would be a molar fraction of roughly 0.21. Diluting the just surface with a splash of water, or the entire dram with a lot of water to say 20% ethanol, would give a molar fraction of roughly 0.077 (remember pure room-temperature water is roughly 55.6M). Ignoring -which I admit is improper- the changes in entropy, the enthalpy change alone is on the scale of kJ/mol.

Raoult’s law refers to vapor pressures of a mixture equaling the molar fractions of the solution, but of course ethanol/water solutions are known to not be ideal mixtures due to the nature of inter-molecular interactions. Henry’s law is much more relevant given the small concentrations of compounds we actually sense – but both laws follow the same principles. In regards to the relevant volatile organic compounds that are more hydrophobic, reducing the ethanol concentration would indeed make them less soluble, but forcing compounds from liquid to gaseous states in the short timescale after dilution cannot be explained without an input of heat minimally equal to the respective enthalpies of vaporization. Otherwise they would precipitate or form another liquid phase separated by density.

As water has a considerable heat capacity, the overall temperature increase isn’t going to seem large to your 37°C hands without a calorimeter. However, our olfactory and gustatory neurons can detect some compounds at just a few parts per billion. I welcome correction or clarification.

Enthalpies of mixture of ethanol and water, by Boyne and Williamson

Endothermicity or exothermicity of water/alcohol mixtures, By Peeters and Huyskens

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Bruichladdich

At an amazing Scotch Whisky tasting event from the Bruichladdich Distillery, from the isle of Islay in Scotland. Hosted by Darren & George of the North Shore Whisky Club, with Thomas Carrara from SoHo Experiential.

bruichladdich-north-shore-whisky-club

We all had an amazing array set up for us:

Bruichladdich – Islay Barley – Rockside Farm 2007 – Heavy, peaty, salty. Notes of leather, some at the tasting called it medicinal – and to my surprise, the Scotch drinkers in attendance considered it desirable for whiskey to be leathery, medicinal and smoky.  I’ve been trying Scotches for a couple of years now, and to be honest, I don’t get it. I think that Scotch drinkers are convincing themselves that whiskey is better when the grain mash is dried over burning peat – but history shows us that the Scots didn’t do this in order to make better whiskey. They did it because peat was simply the cheapest thing to burn, and over centuries they got used to that flavor.

Port Charlotte – Scottish Barley – Open up with a few drops of water. Right off the bat, we’re not in Kansas anymore – this is nothing like bourbon. A bit of dark caramel, slight fruit sensation – pear? – and a ton of spiciness when it hit my back palate. Non-chill filtered. All the barley comes from mainland Scotland. This is a multi-vintage blend. Contains a blend of 8-12 year old malts.

Port Charlotte – Islay Barley – Very peaty, 40 ppm. Non-chill filtered.  There is a gentle, alluring nose – not warning me of what’s to come. Tasting it, and me not used to non-peated whiskies, all I am getting is the peat. I’m reminded why Americans create whiskey our way instead of buy burning old peat moss.  Eventually I detected a subtle sweet background, but the smoke overpowers it.

2009 Islay Barley – Islay Barley – 2009 – The barley comes from 4 farms Quite a fruity nose. A hint of heather, birch. A bit earthy.

Octomore 07.1 Cask strength. The smoke and peat are overwhelming. A brush fire must have gone through the distillery while they were making this batch? The only way to taste any whiskey flavor was to add enough water to bring the proof down by 20%.

Octomore 07.3 Islay Barley Peated single malt. Finally – a hint of butterscotch. Less peated than the previous Octomore.  More floral. Their website notes that “25% of it was aged entirely in virgin oak casks, while 75% of it spent 3 years in first fill bourbon casks, followed by 2 years in virgin oak casks and then 2 more years in first fill bourbon casks.” Yup – and that’s why it was good.  I would have been willing to buy a bottle, but not at $160!

Octomore 7.4 Virgin Oak. Not much is available here, most is sold to Germany. It’s a bit more like a cognac. The nose is fruity yet also medicinal. Very sweet on the front palate.

Bruichladdich – The Botanist Gin – Made from a mix of 22 botanicals. Not aged, this is the only gin made on Islay. Limited production, as the still for this is only run twice a year.  Gin isn’t my thing – at all – and since I find gin repulsive, I’m not going to review it. But perhaps gin lovers would give it a go.

bruichladdich-tasting

Quite a display of Bruichladdich – heritage on display!

bruichladdich-bottles

From our friends at the North Shore Whisky Club

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Working on my first infinity bottle!

It currently has 2 parts Larceny 92 proof
1 part Baker’s Aged 7 Years, 107 proof and 1 part Old Forester Signature 100 proof.

I haven’t let it mix for long, just a few minutes – and am trying it out now.
Surprisingly not bad – and better than the Larceny on it’s own!

My family owns a couple of beautiful crystal decanters from the 1970’s, but I don’t trust that they are lead-free. Tests show that older decanters leach significant amounts of lead into their contents if stored for more than a month, so using those older decanters is a no go. Instead, I’m using the Larceny bottle itself.

Given the ingredients, it is a bit strong for my tastes (wine is just 12-14% alcohol, while whiskey is generally 80% – but this mix is higher proof!) so I added an ice cube and a splash of water.

Update: I added another ounce from a different whiskey…let it set for a week, but I hated the result. That’s Ok. So I then added yet another ounce from yet another different whiskey, but a week later it was still pretty bad. Continued this for 2 more attempts, but nothing really great developed. At best the result was tolerable, but nothing was as good as a straight bottle of whiskey. I ended up giving up on this.

Aaron Goldfarb writes about Infinity Bottles:

“…Whenever I had a few ounces left in a bottle and wanted to clear shelf space, I’d pour it into the decanter. I was, it turns out, inadvertently creating my very own “infinity bottle”—a personal history blend that’s become all the rage among whiskey nerds. The infinity bottle seems to have first entered prominence courtesy of a 2012 video by popular whiskey YouTuber Ralfy Mitchell. He asks “How can you create something which is 100 percent uniquely yours? That is part of your whiskey or spirit drinking history? That becomes, in fact, a family heirloom in time?” His answer is what he calls a “solera bottle,” likening his experiment to the world of sherry, in which casks are fractionally blended over time via the solera system in order to create consistency. Using an empty bottle from WhiskyBlender, Mitchell affixed a label to the back in order to keep a running tally of each new whiskey he added, and when. An infinity bottle, he says, can create “a taste that you just can’t buy,” one worth far more than what he paid for the component whiskeys.”

How the Infinity Bottle Became a Whiskey Nerd Obsession

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Old Grand Dad, Bottled-in-bond

old-grand-dad-bonded

It’s no secret that the bottom shelf Old Grand-Dad 80 proof has become one of my favorite bourbons. It just goes to show that there’s little relationship between price and one’s favorite flavor profile. I also enjoy Basil Hayden’s, which is simply an extra aged version of Old Grand-Dad. What we have here to compare it with is Old Grand-Dad bonded, a 100 Proof, bottled in bond version of Old Grand-dad. It’s aged for at least two more years than the standard version, but perhaps somewhat less than the Basil Hayden’s. Also the bonded version is 100 Proof, which packs a much more powerful punch.

People studying the distillery report that both Basil Hayden, Old Grand Dad, and Old Grand Dad Bonded, all share the same yeast, same mash bill, same barrels, and the same warehouse.

I’m enjoying both, and I find the bonded version to be deeper and richer in flavor. Unlike a lot of other serious whiskey drinkers however, I haven’t acquired a taste for the extremely high proof alcohol. So I find a better comparison is to add a splash of water, to compare the whiskies at equal proof. When the ice cube in the bonded melted, I could detect more of the flavors, and I do find it a bit more flavorful. This is definitely a winner. And much more affordable per liter than Basil Hayden’s. Highly recommended.

There’s a great history of Basil Hayden’s and Old Grand Dad here, discussing the difference between Hayden’s and OGD.  Old Grand Dad 80 proof vs. Basil Hayden’s: From The Whisk(e)y Room

Cheers from New England! (Blizzard of February ’17)

whiskey-during-blizzard

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Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve
15 yr, 107 proof, $99.99 msrp

107 proof. Distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company, Buffalo Trace Distillery, in Frankfort, Kentucky

pappy-van-winkle-1

Went into Boston, and enjoyed my first taste of one of the most sought after bourbons in the world, Pappy Van Winkle. And did so in the elegant and historical The Last Hurrah, a bar in the historic Omni Parker House, Boston.

My understanding is that the contents of Pappy were originally the same as the contents of Weller 12, made in huge amounts and stored in a vast warehouse. Only those particular barrels which developed in a certain way we’re set aside to become Pappy. The rest had a slightly different flavor, and became perfectly good in other Weller products.

Van Winkle has a mash bill of corn, wheat, and malted barley, aged in charred new oak barrels. As such, this is a “wheater.”

Normally I disregard the distiller’s own remarks (found on their website and advertisements), but in this rare case I’d have to actually agree:

“See a hazy, copper color. Taste a rich, supple entry, leading to a decadent, huge, full-bodied palate with intense caramel, toffee and peppery brown spice flavors. Then, enjoy a finish with an extreme, long, complex, evolving fade of spice and wood notes. Experts deem it a seductive, exotic and virtually flawless bourbon.”

pappy-van-winkle-2

Any Van Winkle is hard enough to find as it is; this line of bourbons has become one of the most sought after whiskies in the world. One can’t even normally buy it in a store, as stores generally only get a handful of bottles which sell out almost instantly. One needs to win a chance to buy it in a lottery, or otherwise obtain it on the secondary market, where the 15 year sells for over $1000. This year, though, the new release is even harder to find, as explained in their press release:

The long anticipated annual release of the Van Winkle bourbons is nearly here, but unfortunately some of the angels were extra greedy over the past two decades, leaving us less bourbon than in previous years. “When bourbon ages over 15 years, much is lost to the angel’s share. Many of the 53 gallon oak barrels often yield less than 20 gallons,” said Kris Comstock, bourbon marketing director. “Unfortunately this year we experienced poor yields on the older Van Winkle whiskeys. Furthermore, we have strict quality standards here at Buffalo Trace and several of the older Van Winkle barrels did not meet those standards. This makes a drastic difference in volume, considering we have very few barrels as it is. The result is less 15 year-old Pappy Van Winkle than usual, and far less 20 year-old and 23 year-old. Frankly, about half as much as last year.”

Press release: Van Winkle Bourbon Available Soon Barrels yield less 15, 20 and 23 Year Old Bourbon than usual

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Baker’s Bourbon

From Jim Beam (Beam Suntory), Small Batch Bourbon Collection. Beam describes this as a line of “of ultra-premium bourbon whiskies handcrafted in limited quantities from unique recipes, some dating back two centuries. They are carefully matured for exceptional quality.” Ultra-premium is, of course, a salesperson’s purely nonsensical justification for selling a particular line of whiskey at a much higher than average cost.  No true whiskey aficionado would ever allow themselves to be swayed by ad copy. We only care about the product, not the hype. So let’s discover Baker’s Bourbon!

bakers

107 Proof. Aged 7 years. Mash bill: corn, and a high rye content. 77% Corn, 13% Rye, 10% Malted barley. Gorgeous deep red color. Very gentle nose, not as intense as I would have hoped. But the flavor on the front palate is much more intense.

When taken straight, the alcohol burn is a bit much (80 proof being standard, this 107 proof); I much prefer this with ice and splash of water, which actually helps bring out the flavors.

On the front palate Baker’s is obviously a Jim Beam whiskey, with some of that characteristic taste. Reminds me a bit of Knob Creek. A bit of a toasted nut tone, peppery bite, and on the rear palate one can taste the corn and characteristic yeast tones.

Very silky mouth feel. I see this being sold for $40 to 55, but it’s not better than the $30 whiskies that I would regularly drink, so I wouldn’t spend too much extra for this, unless you find it a favorite.

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Had a great time at a whiskey tasting from Buffalo Trace Distillery. We tried four whiskies and two ryes at Redstone Liquors, in Stoneham, MA.

buffalo-trace-tasting

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

90 proof, No age statement (pegged at between 8 to 10 years.)

Nose: Nothing fun or exciting. Some other reviewer claimed that they smelled “caramel, honey, orange, and vanilla” – really? I honestly got none of that. Sometimes I think that reviewers write reviews to agree with each other, and based on expectations. I’ve developed some skill in this area, and all I can say is that although I have detected those aromas in other whiskeys, I got nothing much enjoyable here.

Palate: Sharp, tangy, but not as enjoyable as some of the others. I’ve seen others claim to taste “brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee” – but although I often find those in other bourbons (hello Woodford Reserve or Michter’s Bourbon!) I again found none of that here. The taste of Buffalo Trace – from 2 different bottles I tried – was dry, peppery, a bit of a flavor I can only call “buzzing”, and perhaps slightly oaky. The Master-of-Malt website claims that it  tastes like”espresso beans, a touch of chocolate-covered raisins and toasty wood,” which I find complete nonsense. That’s the most unrealistic bourbon review I have ever read yet. Overall – Hey, if you like this, that’s great. Everyone has a different palate but this wouldn’t work for me except as a bottom shelf mixer.

Old Weller Antique, 107 proof, Bourbon.

Reviewed here on my blog previously, this is simply my favorite! Always buy a bottle when I can find one. Almost fruity, perhaps a hint of vanilla. You can taste the oak. Smooth & easy to drink, with very little burn. And I am sensing a sweetness that I don’t get with a lot of whiskeys, which I am attributing this to being a wheater.

Eagle Rare

Now this bourbon is quite nice on the front palate, yet I’m not much enjoying the back palate. A bit disappointing, but perhaps this just isn’t for me.

Sazerac Rye

Wow, this has a nice rye flavor. Similar tastes on the front and back palate – THIS is something that I can see myself buying! This is generally six years old, although there is no age statement.

Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon

I’ve reviewed this previously, and I stand by my assessment that this is one of the best whiskies out there! Sweet, smooth, delicious. Color: Reddish amber. Palate: Full and smooth, sweet, with tones of caramel and orange. Mash bill: Corn, rye and malted barley. Aged approximately 9 years, no age statement, in American white oak barrels, #4 char.

And now for the Colonel E. H. Taylor Straight Rye, Bottled in Bond. What a terrible disappointment – an overpowering alcohol nose, and very sharp. I much preferred the Sazerac Rye, or from an earlier evening, Knob Creek Rye. Not just my opinion, a few other people at the tasting also didn’t like this at all.

buffalo-trace-tasting-choices

Here is an amazing find – one of the few whiskies legally sold for medicinal purposes during the prohibition. Spiritus frumenti (spirits of grain), commonly known as whiskey. No – we didn’t get to try it, we just got to hand it around 🙂

taylor-old-buffalo-trace-prohibition

A close up of the back of the bottle: from the parent company of Buffalo Trace.

taylor-prohibition-buffalo-trace

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Two Stars Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Available from Total Wine, Clear Springs Distilling Company, 86 proof, $17

I always enjoy Total Wine; they have an amazing array of spirits and any other alcoholic beverages that you can think of, and it’s on my home to see family & friends on Boston’s North Shore.

two-stars-total-wine

The last time I was there I picked up a bottle of Old Weller Antique, and chatted with a few people. One of the things that I like about them is that they have staff on the floor to answer questions: one must appreciate a store that is still properly staffed – such a rarity in this day and age. He led me to a manager who a had a shopping cart full of open spirits available for tastings. Fantastic!

Two Stars is one of the house brands at Total Wine. On their website, it averaged 4/5 stars, with 29 reviews, so on that basis one would imagine that it’s a solid bet. Another reason for confidence is that the Clear Springs Distilling Company is a part of Buffalo Trace, owned by the Sazerac Company!

ttbonline.gov Dept of the Treasury : Document showing ownership Buffalo Trace

Unfortunately, I was disappointed: I wasn’t expecting much for $17, but this not good. Amber hue. Young, harsh, and with a noticeable ethanol taste. No nose to speak of. What really bothered me wasn’t the low quality, but the questionable reviews on the Total Wine website: There were a suspicious number of 4 or 5 star reviews for this terrible whiskey, including a 5 star review which read

“On the nose vanilla and honey, on the tounge apricots and vanilla, and finishes smooth with lasting vanilla and a hint of oak. Lots of mystery, definitely low or no rye. Taste a little young until the finish. Very similar to W.L. Weller.”

Really? This is the most unbelievable review that I’ve come across. It’s almost like someone was trying to drum up business for one of their house brands. As such, I might caution people to take the reviews there with a grain of salt.

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Larcency

Larceny is basically the next level up from Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald. From Heaven Hill, Kentucky (they acquired the classic Old Fitzgerald franchise in 1999.)  Mash Bill: Details unknown, but it’s more than 51% Corn, and the next most common grain is wheat, then perhaps rye. 46% ABV/92 Proof. No age statement: Other reviewers who have spoken to people at Heaven Hill hold that it is between 6 to 12 years old.

How was it? When I first tried Larceny, I wasn’t overly impressed, but that may be because I tried it soon after two of my favorites: Blanton’s, and Old Weller Antique. So I have been trying Larceny a couple more times over the last two weeks.  Now my opinion of it has increased.

Color: Deep caramel. Nose – perhaps a hint of brown sugar, cherry and oak. Very pleasant, just the right strength. Palate: Just a hint of oak, corn and citrus.  This is really quite good for an inexpensive whiskey!

I did want to try an experiment. On rare occasion I’ve had a bourbon with cocoa notes, but that’s rather rare to find. So I wanted to see if I could recreate the experience. I took 50 ml of Larceny, and added just a drop of Creme de Cacao (Arrow), then let it sit for a couple of days.  I certainly didn’t add much – I’m not a fan of flavored/sweetened whiskies. Just wanted to see if a hint of cocoa would develop. Upon trying I discovered that the infused bourbon lost Larceny’s crisp, clean palate. It didn’t, at all, deliver the cocoa notes that I had been hoping for. Rather, the infusion simply muddled the original flavors, without adding much worthy of note.

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

Whiskey reviews page 5

Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review (homepage)
Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review Logo

Dunville Distillery, Belfast National Library of Ireland on The Commons

Dunville Distillery, Belfast | by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, Circa 1900.

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These whiskies are made by Irish Distillers, at the New Midleton Distillery, in County Cork, Ireland.

Midleton Very Rare. Combines both pot still and grain whiskeys, no age statement, but the individual contents are generally at least 12 years old, with some much more than that. Aged in ex-bourbon American Oak barrels.  So – what is it like? Well, if you think that you enjoy Irish whiskey because you like Jameson then you’re in for a surprise – most Irish whiskeys are nothing like it! Midleton Very Rare was perhaps the lightest of what I tasted today. I didn’t enjoy it at first, yet enjoyed it a lot more when I circled back to it at the end of the tasting.

Green Spot. Brighter note on the nose. Very different from the 1st, better.
not bad. 7 to 10 year old, non chill filtered. Crisp apple or pear notes. Notes of vanilla, honey. Bourbon casks. Creamy mouth feel. Circling back, still not a favorite.
Redbreast aged 12 years. Nose is bitter compared to bourbons. Single pot still whiskey. First fill Bourbon, then Sherry casks. Nowadays there are no guidelines for what a sherry cask is. 500 liters. Sherry aged for a minimum of 2 years. Has Autumn notes.

Redbreast Lustau. Made to pay homage to the sherry industry. Dryer. Start in 2nd fill casks. Less influence from the casks initial spirit. More tannic, spice notes. Then oloroso sherry casks for another year of aging. Non aged statement. 10 to 13 years old total. 92 proof. The Irish call this Christmas cake spice flavor 🙂 that’s an Irish term. Dry at first, but it seemed to sweeten up greatly when I circled back around. Amazing how increasing levels of alcohol in the blood can change one’s perception.

Powers John’s Lane Release.
Big, bold, non chill filtered. I don’t like the nose at all, smells like rubbing alcohol. Flavors are baking spice, honey notes. More of a malted barley flavor. Circling around, I still don’t enjoy this one.

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Irish whiskey tasting event at Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits,
in Medford, Massachusets.

The word “whiskey” is an Anglicisation of the first word in the Gaelic phrase, uisce betha, meaning “water of life.” This is a translation of the Latin term aqua vitae, which was commonly used to describe distilled spirits during the Middle Ages. Peat is rarely used in the malting process, so that Irish whiskey has a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy overtones common to some Scotches. There are notable exceptions to these rules in both countries. Although traditionally spelled with an ‘e’, Irish whiskey may be marketed as “Irish whisky”

There are legal standards that must be met for something to be sold as Irish Whiskey. It must be distilled on the island of Ireland from a mash of malted cereals , and which has been: saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein; fermented by the action of yeast; distilled at less than 94.8% abv; aged for at least three years in wooden casks, such as oak; only water and plain caramel colouring may be added (E150a); have a minimum alcoholic by volume content of 40%, all done on the island of Ireland itself.

– adapted from Wikipedia, “Irish Whiskey”

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Glendalough Poutin Sherry Cask $38- A mash bill of malted barley and sugar beet, so it technically isn’t a whiskey. Aged in oak casks. Very nice, but not special. More expensive that the Double Barrel, so it again shows me that I don’t always favor the more expensive forms.

Glendalough Double Barrel $27.99. distilled in a Coffey still. Aged in ex-bourbon and finished for six months in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. Really quite good!

Glendalough Single Malt, aged 7 years. $44.99. Just like a Scotch! Non-chill filtered, made in a copper pot still. Slightly smoky, yet not peaty.  Sweet, perhaps a hint of citrus. Since I hate strong peat, I was able to enjoy the subtle smoky tint. I could get used to this 🙂

Glendalough Single Malt, aged 13 years. $79.99.  Also smoky, a bit dark for me. Hints of spice and vanilla.

Glendalough Poitin – Made with barley and beets, so it technically isn’t a whiskey. This is traditionally a common form of Irish moonshine. Not much nose to it. vegetal.  It was easy to drink, no burn, but there’s no real flavor there. Seems like moonshine or whiskey; not sure that it has much purpose other than as a mixer, or as a vehicle to get drunk.

Glendalough

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Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey- Their standard, younger whiskey was okay. It was light and bright, easy to drink. Similar to some other Irish whiskies that I have tried. However, didn’t seem like anything special. Not planning on buying this.

Tullamore Dew, Aged 12 Years, Triple Distilled. Now this was different. Darker, with a richer flavor. Really stands up to other good whiskies out there. Irish whiskey aficionados might like to try this. It’s not hitting my favored flavor profiles, but it was nice to try.

Tullamore Dew

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Flaming Leprechaun Irish Whiskey

Made by Malcolm Brown Ltd. (Dundalk, Ireland.) The distiller says “Flaming Leprechaun Irish Whiskey is an original blend that is naturally golden in colour, with a slightly sweet smell and taste coming from the unique wood character of each hand picked cask. To keep the taste authentic, honest and true to the rich heritage of previous generations of distillers we ensure that no flavours, sweetness or allergens are added to the whiskey during the blending process.”

I was told that this aged for 4 years, and is advertised as being part of a line of “premium distilled spirits.” Yeah, okay 😉 You can just taste a hint of smokiness from the sherry casks that it was aged in. It was … nice? No burn, not a strong nose. Just nothing special here to recommend it.

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Jameson Irish Whiskey, from Jameson Distillery, now owned by Pernod Ricard, a French liquor production corporation. 80 Proof. Aged in sherry casks, and then in bourbon casks, aged for 7 years. An amazingly smooth and delicious spirit. From Smithfield Village, Dublin, Ireland.

Jameson Caskmates – Well! This was hard to review… but it’s basically stout beer barrels used to age whiskey. I couldn’t stand the taste of this at all, it’s just not whisky. There was even a hint of cocoa – which normally makes a whiskey a real winner for me, but I couldn’t get around the beer flavors. But for those people who like to mix beer and whiskey? This might be for you.

Jameson Black Barrel – Extra aged in charred barrels – and as expected, it added a beautiful hint of smokiness (yet without the peat flavor) Darn good

Jameson Irish

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Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey

My friend Craig and I engaging in purely scientific research, again. From their website: “Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey combines a high amount of malt whiskey matured in former Oloroso Sherry casks, with a sweet, batch-distilled grain whiskey.”

Black Bush, a blend of whiskies from 7 to 11 years old. 80 proof. Aged in Oloroso Sherry casks, and in ex-bourbon casks. Distilled in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The Old Bushmills Distillery is now owned by Jose Cuervo. A far better drink that Dewar’s, and it has an audience, but I’m not a fan. Gentle sherry nose. A thin palate, although you can definitely taste the sherry influence.

Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey

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Redbreast Single Pot Still, Lustau Edition

From their website “As are all Redbreast whiskies, Lustau Edition is crafted from a marriage of malted and unmalted barley, which are milled and mashed before being triple-distilled through traditional copper-pot stills. The inclusions of unmalted barley in the whiskey’s mashbill, along with the tradition of triple distillation, are uniquely Irish approaches to producing whiskey.”

Finished in first-fill oloroso-sherry butts . This had a floral nose yet almost a peaty flavor. Decent, but not worth $70.

Redbreast

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

Kosher for Passover Whiskey

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In the Jewish faith, one does not drink whiskey on Pesach (פֶּסַח, Passover.) Whiskey is made from a distilled grain mash, and the halakhah (הֲלָכָה‎, laws) of Pesach forbids Jewish people from consuming any products made from chametz (חָמֵץ ) during this time:

Chametz is any food made from wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye that is either leavened – or even left moist long enough to theoretically become leavened on it’s own.  This rules out the grain mash of almost every whiskey. Among Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) there is a further minhag (מנהג‎‎, custom) to refrain from corn during Pesach, which would rule out even pure corn whiskey.

Food Restrictions on Passover Explained: Chametz and Kitniyot

However, there is growing acceptance among at least some Ashkenazim to accept foods made from corn and other kitniyot ( קִטְנִיּוֹת) on Pesach. So a pure corn whiskey could be kosher l’Pesach. In the United States several are available.

One of these is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey, aged 3 years. Aging is the difference between whiskey and whitedog. When one distills whiskey, the initial product is alcohol, water, and in tiny amounts, nonvolatile organic compounds.  This does not actually become whiskey until it has aged in a charred wood barrel: this lets whiskey react with the wood, creating the molecules characteristic of a good whiskey.  Without the aging, the distilled spirit is just a moonshine called “white dog.”  Since many corn-based products are unaged, finding something aged for 3 years is special.

corn-whiskey-passover

To create a kosher-for-Pesach whiskey the mash bill would have to be chametz free: Either 100% corn – or corn and some other acceptable product, e.g. rice or quinoa. So I began my investigation: Is Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey kosher for Pesach?

In the USA, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) defines Corn whiskey as any “Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn and if stored in oak containers stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in used or uncharred new oak containers and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood .”

Now, questions arise which could only be clarified by contacting the manufactuer, the master distiller, and rabbis with a detailed knowledge of the halakhot of kashrut ( כַּשְׁרוּת‎) (“laws of keeping kosher.)  The questions were:

  1. Most “corn whiskies” are not completely corn-based. For instance, “Mellow Corn” is 90% corn, and 10% chametz. Coppersea New York Corn is 80% corn, and 20% chametz. Under Federal labeling laws from the American TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) , “corn whiskey” can be 80% corn, and 20% other grains (incl. wheat, barley and rye). So for this whiskey, is there any wheat, rye, barley or oats, at all? Or is it truly all corn?
  2. What type of barrels was it aged in? Some barrel staves are held together with a glue that uses wheat. Such whiskey would be generally kosher for year round use of course, but it may not be considered as such for Passover
  3. Since this corn whiskey has been aged for 3 years in used barrels, what did these barrels hold previously? Wine, bourbon? And if so, would that matter?

I sent a detailed inquiry to Platte Valley Moonshine, and quickly heard back from them. The representative contacted the master distiller, and let me know the following:

The barrels that it was stored in did not have any wheat in the glue mix.  It is a pure corn whiskey has been aged for three years – in barrels that had previously held kosher certified bourbon! That bourbon liquid itself contains no wheat or gluten, but was distilled from a grain mash of more than 51 percent corn. Now, there was some amount of rye or barley in the grain mash for the original bourbon – none of which makes it through the distilling process itself:

So our pure corn whiskey entered barrels which one held kosher bourbon, that had some chametz as a source.  The next question is, does that matter?  No chametz enters the corn whiskey whatsoever.  Is the presence of residual bourbon in the barrels annulled?

I ran this by several people, including Elie Avitan, who studied at Yeshivat Reishit/Yeshivat Bais Yisroel/Yeshivat Mir.  He then spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia (who received his Semicha in 1991 from Israeli Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, after studying rabbinics at the Shehebar Sephardic Center.) The result. Elie Avitan reports:

I spoke to Rav Haim Ovadia. He said that 100% Corn whiskey that is purchased *before Pesach* is ok to drink on Pesach. This is true even if it was stored in bourbon casks because the flavor transferred from the barrel (as opposed to actual food hametz) is considered to be Halakhically nullified when its source is the same material – bourbon in this case.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first kosher l’Pesach whiskey!  Granted, this is not officially certified as such: as always, on important issues consult with your local rabbi.

Given this, perhas any 100% corn, or 100% seed-based whiskey would be kosher for Passover, which would include:

Corn whiskeys
13th Colony Southern Corn Whiskey
Balcones True Blue 100 Proof, 100% corn whiskey
Balcones True Blue Cask Strength, 100% corn whiskey
Fitch’s Goat 100% Corn Whiskey
Glen Thunder American Corn Whiskey, 100% New York Corn (80% Corn 20% Malted Corn)
Hudson Baby bourbon (look for the 100% corn label)
Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey
Raymond B. 100% Corn Whiskey
Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey
Sipp’n Corn Bourbon, Coppercraft Distillery
Stillhouse Clear Corn Whiskey

Millet whiskey
Koval Single Barrel Millet Whiskey

My evaluation is that this whiskey is kosher Passover, for Jewish people who consume kitniyot on Pesach. But as always, consult your local rav.

Halakhic details

Daniel Sayani explains the halakhah on this issue:

Following the Ashkenazi tradition, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision. Why? In other areas of kashrut, it takes normally a proportion of 1.6% (roughly 1/60) or higher of a non-kosher element (usually additives) to render the whole product non-kosher. For example: a marmalade that contains a non-kosher element in a proportion higher than 1.6% is not kosher. But, if the presence of that element is less than 1.6% of the whole product, then the product is kosher.

On Pesah, however, the rules are stricter. Even the smallest amount of hametz is enough to render the whole food prohibited. Both Sephardim and Ashkenazim agree that the presence of a non-hametz ingredient in a food renders the whole product unfit for Pesah consumption, even if the proportion of that ingredient is as small as 0.001% of the total product.

Sephardic tradition holds, however, that if a hametz ingredient is mixed, accidentally or deliberately, into that food-product before Pesah begins, it will only render the final product as unfit for Pesah if that hametz ingredient is present in a proportion of or above 1.6%.

In other words, if a food made before Pesah contains a hametz element which is less than 1.6% of the total, that food will be kosher for Pesah.

Why? Because before Pesah, we apply the standard kashrut laws of 1.6%, and not the Pesah laws of 0.001%. And once a hametz element smaller than 1.6% is considered neutralized, it never “revives” again. According to the Ashkenazi tradition, however, if a 0.001% hametz element is present, it renders the whole food-product non-suitable for Pesah, regardless of when the food was prepared.

To explain in practical terms: Usually, in the food industry, an element found in a proportion of 1.6% or higher is one of the ingredients of that food-product, most probably an additive. On the other hand, an element present in a proportion of 0.001% is probably a consequence of an accident or a cross-contamination.

Outside kashrut, the presence of a 0.001% element might probably be the case of an allergen, like peanuts-residue, gluten, etc. Therefore, while identify the presence of a 1.6% ingredient is relatively easy, making sure that a 0.001% element is not present is virtually impossible – unless we completely clean and sterilize the factory, restrict the access of any unauthorized person or product; in other words, we make a special kosher for Passover supervision. In that case, the whole area where the food is produced, the machinery, etc., must be sterilized, and a supervisor should be present in the premises to avoid any accidental access of a hametz element, etc. Following the 0.001% rule, any food to be consumed during Pesah, even foods that do not contain a hametz ingredient, must be prepared or manufactured under special rabbinical supervision.

Now we understand why Sephardic Jews are in general more lenient with non-hametz foods, provided the food-product was bought before Pesah. Based on the above mentioned principle, Rabbi Obadia Yosef writes that according to the Sephardic tradition if a food, for example a marmalade, was produced before Pesah, and we know that it does not contain any hametz ingredient in a proportion of 1.6% or above, it will be permitted for Pesah even if it did not have any special supervision for Pesah.

Note: Does this apply to Ashkenazi Jews? In Israel, the custom is for Ashkenazi Jews to follow Sephardic dietary customs when there is an Ashkenazi-Sephardic marriage. Therefore, this includes a large and growing number of religious Jews there. Outside Israel, many Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews – even those who do not eat kitniyot – allow foods with kitniyot derivatives. And internationally, the rabbinical councils of the Conservative/Masorti Jewish movements have officially ruled that Ashkenazim may eat kitniyot on Pesach.

Further reading

“A Teshuvah Permitting Ashkenazim to Eat Kitniyot on Pesah”, by Amy Levin and Avram Israel Reisner, CJLS (Committee on Jewish Law and Standards) November 2015
Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesah, Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, David Golinkin, Vol. 3, pp. 35-56
Nathan Jeffay (1 April 2009). “Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New, Permissive Ruling”
Efrat Rabbi Tilts Against Passover Food Restrictions for Ashkenazi Jews
The Kitniyot Dilemma May Ashkenazim eat rice and legumes on Pesach?
TTB whiskey definitions

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Old Weller Antique Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

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Today I am pleased to review Old Weller Antique, distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, in Kentucky, this is perhaps the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States. Owned by the Sazerac Company. Aged for 7 years, sold at 107 proof, this bourbon comes from the same distillery, barrels, warehouse, and mash bill as the famed and elusive Pappy Old Rip Van Winkle, which sells for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market! Thus, Old Weller Antique is a great value as it is commonly sold for under $25. I picked up mine at Kappy’s, in Medford, MA, which was noted as a store chosen, single barrel selection.

Appearance: dark auburn color. Nose – caramel, perhaps a hint of orange?
Palate – this is one full and rich bourbon. Almost fruity, perhaps a hint of vanilla. You can taste the oak. Smooth & easy to drink, with very little burn. And I am sensing a sweetness that I don’t get with a lot of whiskeys, which I am attributing this to being a wheater (a bourbon where wheat is the second largest grain in the mash bill, after corn.) Definitely going to pick up another bottle of this fine product.

The following spirits are produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery. Old Weller Antique – known to bourbon aficionados simply as OWA – is included under W. L. Weller , all of which are wheated Bourbons. The four versions of W. L. Weller are

W. L. Weller Special Reserve, 90 proof.
Old Weller Antique, 107 proof, which is what I am reviewing today.
W. L. Weller 12 Year, 90 proof.
William LaRue Weller (proof varies year-to-year)

buffalo-trace-distilery

“Buffalo Trace Distillery.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Nov. 2016

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Spirit of Boston New World Tripel
Spirit of Boston Thirteenth Hour
Spirit of Boston Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout

I was fortunate to have a tasting at Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits – Route 1 (Malden, Mass.) They offered me a chance to sample three new whiskeys… well, whiskey-related spirits, from Boston Harbor Distillery. This is the Spirit of Boston – Limited Release, a set of three whiskey-related spirits based on the mash bill of ” distilled from three distinct Samuel Adams beers – New World Tripel, Thirteenth Hour, and Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout.” This set of three 375 ml whiskies has a list price of $120. To reveal my bias, I’m not a fan of beer – never found one that I enjoyed. A bit ironic, since I am a whiskey drinker, and whiskey may be considered a highly distilled (and then aged) beer. So although none of these three whiskies struck me as terrific, a fan of these styles of beer may enjoy them very much.

“It’s not whiskey because it’s flavored, but it’s not a flavored whiskey…we don’t even know what to call it,” says Couchot of the holiday spirits that have been distilled from three Sam Adams craft brews. Hence the name “whiskies” in quotation marks.”Bevspot: Holiday Gift Spotlight: Boston Harbor Distillery

13th Hour Stout, the one that tasted most like a traditional whiskey, has a wheat, beer-like finish. Based on the mashbill of Samuel Adams’s “Latitude 48 Deconstructed IPA – Hallertau Mittelfrueh” You can read here more about Hallertauer Mittelfrüh Hops.

New World Belgian Tripel, too spicy for my tastes, perhaps from the hops. The mash bill includes what Samuel Adams calls “Kosmic Mother Funk”, which means that it is “fermented with multiple micro-organisms including Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and other wild critters found in the environment of our Barrel Room.” Samuel Adams: Kosmic Mother Funk, Grand Cru.

Merrymaker Gingerbread Stout, floral, gingerbread notes. Interesting, and I would like to try this again. The mash bill includes oats, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger, and East Kent Golding Hops.

Chilledmagazine article on this product
Boston Harbor Distillery: Spirit of Boston
You Can Now Drink Whiskey at the Boston Harbor Distillery – BostInno Streetwise

boston-harbor-distillery

The backs of the bottles provide details.

boston-harbor-distillery-b

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What is Scotch whisky?

By law, any whiskey made in Scotland – usually spelled whiksy– must follow certain rules; these rules demand that the product be labeled as “Scotch”; it is illegal to produce whiskey made in Scotland that doesn’t conform to the definition of Scotch. Scotch must be made and labelled according to the rules stated below. It must be aged in oak casks for no less than three years, and have an ABV less than 94.8%. No whiskey may be labeled Scotch unless it was completely made in Scotland.

Scotch Whisky Association: Scotch Whisky Categories

Single, Malt Scotch Whisky
A Scotch whisky distilled at a single distillery (i) from water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals, and (ii) by batch distillation in pot stills. From 23 November 2012, Single Malt Scotch Whisky must be bottled in Scotland.
100% malted barley only. Many people think of this as the classic Scotch.

Single, Grain Scotch Whisky
A Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery (i) from water and malted barley with or without whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals, and (ii) which does not comply with the definition of Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
So this is not just malted barley! The mash bill may include any of the following: un-malted barley, wheat (this is the most common non-barley grain used in Scotch), and it could even include corn, rye, triticale or spelt. However, this would generally contain at least 5% malted barley, to begin the chemical process of saccharification [producing fermentable sugars.] One could also use malted corn or rye, but process is more complicated.

Blended Scotch Whisky
A blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies WITH one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies.
So this would have to include a whiskey with a mash bill of something other than malted barley.

Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
A blend of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
The mash bill thus would consist of malted barley only.

Blended Grain Scotch Whisky
A blend of Single Grain Scotch Whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.
In this case, all of the source scotches had ingredients other than just barley. In fact, the sources could contain almost no barley, and be an almost pure rye, corn or wheat base scotch, although that would be rare indeed to find.

Definitions from http://www.scotch-whisky.org.uk/understanding-scotch/scotch-whisky-categories/

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New Year’s eve 2016/17

Macallan 12, Double Cask
Dewar’s White Label, Blended Scotch Whisky
Bushmill’s Black Bush Irish Whisky

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Dewar’s: Pale yellow color. 80 proof. I have no idea how this has become the number one selling Scotch in the USA. This is the third time I’ve tried Dewar’s blended Scotch whiskey, White Label. Just doesn’t appeal to my tastes. I’m not getting much in the way of pleasant flavor. It’s just shockingly sweet. Whatever complexity others may taste, I’m not getting it after this acrid sugary blast.

Black Bush, a blend of whiskies from 7 to 11 years old. 80 proof. Aged in Oloroso Sherry casks, and in ex-bourbon casks. Distilled in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The Old Bushmills Distillery is now owned by Jose Cuervo. A far better drink that Dewar’s, and it has an audience, but I’m not a fan. Gentle sherry nose. A thin palate, although you can definitely taste the sherry influence.

The Macallan 12 Year. 86 proof. Mash bill 100% malted barley. The distillery is in Craigellachie, Moray, northeast Scotland. Macallan Distillers L is owned by the Edrington Group. Aged in oak sherry casks from Jerez, Spain. Color: Copper/Amber. Nose: Sherry, amaretto. Palate: Sweet, sherry, plums, has a round mouthfeel. Definitely some smokiness, although this isn’t a peated whiskey. By far, my favorite of the three whiskies that I tried this evening.

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Blanton’s single barrel bourbon whiskey

From the Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky. Launched in 1984 by distiller Elmer T. Lee. Perhaps the first single barrel bourbon product. Thanks for introducing me to this, Albert. This is the real deal!

Color: Reddish amber.
Palate: Full and smooth, sweet, with tones of caramel and orange.
Mash bill: Corn, rye and malted barley.
Aged approximately 9 years, no age statement, in American white oak barrels, #4 char.

Blanton’s is a single barrel bourbon, which means each bottle has spirit from only one particular aging barrel – no mixing. Update December 2016 – I just tried Blanton’s again for the first time in almost a year. I was impressed at how much more I liked it this time. I did enjoy it last time, but this time it almost seemed to have a series of honey-like notes. It wasn’t the gold, or the straight from the barrel, or anything special. Just your standard Blanton’s. Amazed at how smooth it was. I guess that’s what a year of tasting various types of whiskeys can do to you. Really open your palate to the amazing array of flavors that can be discovered within.

blantons-bourbon

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Chanukah Sameakh! חנוכה שמח

I built a whiskey-bottle-menorah 🙂

Chanukah is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. Known as the Festival of Lights, it is observed by the kindling of a nine-branched menorah (called a Chanukiah), one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The extra light, with which the others are lit, is called a shamash (שמש‎‎, “attendant”). The ancient menorahs were made with wicks in olive oil; today some menorahs are still oil based, but most use candles. Other Hanukkah festivities include playing dreidel and eating oil-based foods such as doughnuts and latkes. (- adapted from the Wikipedia article.)

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Old Forester Signature 100

This is a hell of a good straight bourbon whiskey- and a steal at just $22. Old Forester Signature 100 was recommended to me by one of the guys who works at one of the New Hampshire state liquor stores. Some history:

It is officially the longest running Bourbon on the market today (approximately 144 years as of 2015), and was the first bourbon sold exclusively in sealed bottles. It was first bottled and marketed in 1870 by the former pharmaceutical salesman turned bourbon-merchant George Garvin Brown – the founder of the Brown-Forman Corporation (whose descendants still manage the company). During the Prohibition period from 1920 to 1933, it was one of only 10 brands authorized for lawful production (for medicinal purposes).
Old Forester. (2016, November 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Mash Bill: 72% Corn, 18% Rye, 10% Barley Malt. No age statement; as a straight bourbon it’s been aged at least 2 years in new charred oak barrels, but likely four or more years older. Warm, powerful, at 100 proof it packs a wallop, so I prefer to have it with a few ice cubes. After it sits for a minute, the ice melts, the proof lowers, and then the flavors come out. Has some decadent chocolate or coffee notes, oak and vanilla notes to it.

Would be great to get a chance to compare this with the recent special release, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, 2015 – but that runs well over $200, and the reviews for it don’t appear spectacularly better than this $22 bottle. I wonder if bourbons that cost ten times as much are truly three times better? Or perhaps they are just slightly different, and I’m quite happy with this one!

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My bar this December 2016

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Winchester bourbon whiskey
Winchester rye whiskey
Black Powder Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Jim Beam Black Extra Aged

Sitting down to compare these samples I picked up at Total Wine. Two come from Terressentia Corporation, a distillery in North Charleston, South Carolina. They have created a buzz with their so-called TerrePURE technology. According to their website they specialize “in contract production of distilled spirits. We produce spirits for large retail chains, individual brand owners, and other distilleries or exporters.” Instead of aging whiskey, they use chemistry to accelerate chemical reactions, would normally would in whiskey over a period of years.

The Winchester bourbon whiskey tastes young, but not terrible. The label says aged a minimum of 6 months in New Oak. Produced and bottled by TerrePURE Spirits. For something so young it’s surprisingly not terrible. The Winchester rye whiskey has the same description, and a completely different flavor. It tastes young, thin, and is markedly inferior to its bourbon whiskey cousin. Compared to a good rye whiskey like Pendleton 1910 or Knob Creek Rye, I’m afraid that the Winchester Rye isn’t very good. In fact, if I may be so blunt, it’s absolutely terrible.

Black Powder Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – There were some decent reviews of this on the TotalWines website, and often I agree with crowd-sourced reviews more than professional ones, so I took a chance on this. But who makes it? The bottle says LeVecke, but their website vaguely says that it “develops, bottles and markets products in each spirit segment for any corporate brand product line-up.” Translation: They buy generic whiskey, and bottle it under other names. The result, for this label? No great nose, no great impression on the front or rear palate. Utterly forgettable. I sipped it slowly over ten minutes, and dumped the other half of the 50 ml bottle down the drain.

Jim Beam Black Extra Aged – 86 proof, aged in white oak charred barrels. A step-up in product from Jim Beam base product, white label. No age statement. I believe that their original black label was aged 8 years, but this product has since dropped it’s age statement. Chuck Cowdery estimates that the product, which has now lost its age statement, is still likely to be between 4 to 9 years old.

When tasting this, I compared it to Knob Creek, aged 9 years, and Weller Special Reserve. This Jim Beam Black Extra Aged had far less of a nose than the other two bourbons, and it wasn’t especially appealing. Nothing wrong, just not much there. The taste was thin and easy on the front palate, but on the back palate it was rougher, less pleasant. In contrast, Knob Creek (also a Jim Beam product) was a completely different animal! A full, rich sweet nose, fuller on the front palate, and far more pleasantly flavorful on the back palate. Better than both was Weller Special Reserve (reviewed earlier in this blog.)

winchester-terrepure

Is it even possible to make good whiskey quickly, without aging, though chemistry? The idea is anathema to most of the whiskey-drinking world, but I did find some good articles on the topic:

https://bottomofthebarrelbourbon.com/2015/04/10/better-aging-through-chemistry/

Rapid-Aging Whiskey Technology: GAME CHANGER OR GIMMICK? by Jake Emen –

https://redwhiteandbourbon.com/2015/06/23/the-fallacy-of-instant-bourbon-part-i-the-claims/

https://redwhiteandbourbon.com/2015/07/03/the-fallacy-of-instant-bourbon-part-ii-the-science/

Long Term Changes In Whiskey Maturation

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Four Roses Small Batch
Four Roses Yellow Label

A friend and I traveled to Codex, a 1920’s style speakeasy in Nashua, NH, to enjoy the city’s annual Winter Holiday Stroll and cocktails in style. Here I tried Four Roses Small batch. The origin of Four Roses is unclear. Some accounts credit Rufus Mathewson Rose, post Civil War, but the Four Roses web

site now credits a Paul Jones, Jr, who trademarked the name in 1888. In 1910 Four Roses was produced at the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Seagram purchased this brand in 1943. The brand went through a period of highs and lows, with dramatically changing mash bills and recipes. A series of ownership changes in the 2000’s led to the distillery being purchased by the Kirin Brewery Company of Japan. Under their leadership, Four Roses began producing a variety of highly regarded, straight bourbon whiskeys, one of which we’re reviewing today.

So what is in Four Roses Small Batch? The mashbill is a mix of four recipes used by Four Roses: OBSO, OBSK, OESK, OESO. The OB batches have 60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Malted Barley, and the OE batches have 75% Corn, 20% Rye, 5% Malted Barley. They’re aged in new charred oak casks. 90 proof. No age statement – I looked at other reviews, and some stated that Four Roses Small Batch is about 8 years old. Details on the Four Roses recipes may be found here.

Nose: A light fruit sensation, almost flowery. Palate: Much greater than one might expect from the nose! Light the front palate, a hint of citrus, an almost apple-like tartness. Refreshing. A bit of caramel and oak develops on the back palate. A delicious, lingering finish. Now I definitely want to compare this to the “bottom shelf” version, Four Roses Yellow Label Straight Bourbon, as well as to the more upscale single barrel selections.

Here’s another informative review on this fine whiskey (sure, I link to other blogs, why not?) The Casks.com Four-roses-yellow-label

Four Roses Yellow Label

Much more affordable than the Small Batch, Yellow Label is the base version of the Four Roses bourbon family, and it’s surprisingly excellent. My 750 ml bottle was just $15! It’s not quite as refined as the small batch, perhaps a tad less smooth, and a bit lower in proof – but this is a fine drink that I have shared with friends, all of whom enjoyed it very much. Very glad I purchased this bottle. I enjoyed this even more than other somewhat more expensive whiskeys, like Knob Creek (which in of itself is a good product.)

Age: No age statement, but other reviewers, based on their research peg it as being around 6 years old. The mashbill is a mix of 8 to 10 recipes used by Four Roses, with corn, rye, and malted barley. They’re aged in new charred oak casks. 80 proof.

four-roses-bourbon
photo from http://www.facebook.com/pg/fourrosesbourbon/photos/

So where did we do this evening’s tasting? At the Codex BAR, a 1920s-Inspired Speakeasy Bar in Nashua, New Hampshire.

[During the Prohibition] Speakeasies popped up in every city across America…. Codex isn’t an ordinary bar, it’s a speakeasy. Inspired by the Prohibition Era, this bar is hidden. And by hidden I mean it’s disguised as a used bookstore on Elm Street… This storefront, however, is not the actual entrance… To get in, you’ll have to go down the side alley and find the unmarked door… Once you enter the “bookstore” you’re presented with a large bookcase and an apparent dead end…. take another look at the books. One of them is actually a secret lever! Pull the right book on the shelf, and you’ll be granted entrance through a secret door into the bar…. Read on: New England Today: Codex speakeasy

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Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distillery is Austin-Niochols in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Age: A blend of 6 to 8 year old bourbons. I’ve read that the mash bill is 75/13/12 corn/rye/barley. 50 Proof. Appearance – Light maple syrup color. Palate: Much better than the Canadian Club that I had previously; this bourbon has a toasty kind of quality, black peppery and rye spices. Rougher around the edges than the Knob Creek or Woodford Reserve. A bit strong for me to drink straight, I’d use this as a mixer or in cooking (heresy, I know!)

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

 

Whiskey Reviews page 3

Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review (homepage)
Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review LogoThis page has reviews on flavored whiskies, American “blended whiskies” (which are not technically true whiskies) and other spirits and wines.

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Revel Stoke Spiced Whisky

Misc Flavored Whiskeys

Canadian Whiskey, imported by Phillips Distilling Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
No age statement; website says that it is a mix of a 3 year old and an 8 year old.
Mash bill unavailable, 90 proof.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t have a background in spiced liquors, either whiskey or rum. Straight, yes, Flavored with something like maple? Perhaps. But “spiced”? Outside of my experience. Such concoctions could be “delicious” to some people, but my first response to this unusual spice experience is “this isn’t whiskey!” Lots of spice, pepper, a hint of cherry. There eventually is a slight, nice undercurrent of caramel. Was that flavor added – or part of the original whiskey? Also, this is a bit sweet. Could their be added sugar? Their website states “Features hints of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, coriander and cardamom” – since I don’t know what cardamom and coriander would taste like in whiskey, I’ll take their word for it – maybe it’s in their strongly, and I just don’t recognize it! 🙂

Would I recommend this? Well, not to a whiskey enthusiast who likes straight whiskey, but it might be nice for people to sip on, on a cold winter night. As the photo below shows, this is just one of a line of flavored whiskys; if I come across the others I’ll be sure to review them.

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Miglianico Montupoli Montepulciano

This red wine is from the wine growing regions of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Montepulciano is a red wine grape variety grown widely in central Italy, most notably its eastern Abruzzo, Marche and Molise regions. The variety was named after the Tuscan parish of Montepulciano, but, confusingly, is not used in the famous wines produced there. – wine-searcher.com: Montepulciano.

This wine had a surprisingly strong berry flavor, yet with almost no sweetness. Not what I expected from a dry wine; very nice.

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1/22/16 Alcaeus: Ancient Oak Cellars

I’m not a wine connoisseur, and especially not a fan of dry wines. Still, I like to try new things – who knows when you’ll have a great experience, and discover something new? So when I had the opportunity to try this at Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits in Medford, MA, I was happy to explore. This is a Cabernet Franc, one of the major black grape varieties. One doesn’t generally see it on its own; it is usually part of a blend. They are generally lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon. This expression is from a family winery in Santa Rosa, California – Sonoma County. It certainly had a pleasant, subtle, fruity nose. But I ended up tasting the tannins more than anything else. That’s not a knock – I’m upfront about my ignorance of the topic. Someone who likes Cab Francs might love this. Just not my thing.

Ancient Oak Cellars.com

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Red Shot Cinnamon Flavored Whisky

Canadian Whiskey with Natural Cinnamon Flavor, 30% ABV/60 proof.

What can I say? This ain’t whiskey – it’s a whiskey-based cocktail, more of a liquor, where the predominant – dare I say only – flavor is sweet, sweet cinnamon. If that’s your thing, this has it in spades, and it’s cheap. Probably designed to make college kids drunk, it’s sure not a sipping whiskey.

For an in-depth comparison of five similar products, see BLOWING UP FIREBALL: Cinnamon Whiskey Review Round Up

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Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Flavored Whisky

Well it’s shockingly sweet, more like a flavored liqueur than whiskey. Sure, I’m used to detecting a hint of caramel or toffee, which may occur at small level in straight whisky. So for me to taste added caramel flavoring – well that overwhelmed my spirits palate. This has the intensity of sweetness and caramel flavor that I would associate with an actual piece of caramel candy. Still, this is a flavored whisky by design, so it’s not fair to compare this to straight whiskey. For people who like flavored liqueurs, that would probably be a good choice. Yet although I occasionally enjoy a sweet drink, such as a frozen strawberry daiquiri, I just can’t see myself coming back to this.

Pictured here with one of my father’s, זיכרונו לברכה, Frank Sinatra albums

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Jim Beam Apple

Apple Liqueur Infused With Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Introduced in 2015.
James B. Beam Distilling Co., Clermont, KY, Beam Suntory. 70 proof. No age statement.

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Right off the bat, this isn’t whiskey – it’s a cocktail including whiskey and “flavored liqueur, which probably has a base of vodka, rum, or some distilled neutral spirit, along with flavorings. So if you are looking for a good scotch or whiskey to casually to sip, this ain’t it. This is a simple, very sweet, apple tart drink to have at a party with friends. And the flavor is decent – if this is the kind of experience that you’re looking for, then job well done!  Like most flavored liquors, I do wish that they cut the sweetness by half – most drinks Americans enjoy are heavily over sweetened. But that being said, the flavor is pleasant, and since it’s lower proof than most whiskey, one can perhaps drink a bit more of it, if the occasion allows.

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Taking a break from whiskey. Was doing a bit of wood-working for a holiday art project – when it’s done, you’ll see it 😉 Working on the project with my daughter, at my friend Joe’s house. Greatest guy.  While there he introduced me to B and B Dom , made by Benedictine. 86 proof, made in France, aged for 2 years in oak barrels. It is a drier liqueur than Benedictine. Their label states “Benedictine’s own bottled B and B unites the delicate finesse of Benedictine and dryness of fine Cognac brandy.” Benedictine itself is a herbal liqueur composed of 27 plants and spices. Super sweet a little bit like desert wine. After a year of tasting whiskies, I’m not used to this level of sugar, lol.

Had some high hopes for the Romana Sambuca, Italy, 42 percent ABV. It’s an Italian anise-flavoured, colorless, liqueur. Flavored with anise, elderberries, sugar, and a “secret natural flavor formula”, whatever the heck that is! I haven’t had anything like this in over 10 years! Reminds me of some old fashioned Italian pastries I had growing up, near East Boston.

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10/20/16 Rebel Yell root beer whiskey

Mediocre whiskey mixed with flat, mediocre, watered-down root beer. But at least there’s the unexpected disgusting plasticy taste to sneak up and surprise you. This is 99 cents I’ll always regret wasting :-p

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

Whiskey Reviews page 2

Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review Logo

Welcome! Here are some of my older reviews. Newer reviews are at Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog

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Hirsch Reserve, selected straight bourbon whiskey

At $40 a bottle I wasn’t quite willing to try small batch Hirsch Reserve, selected straight bourbon whiskey. Aged 7 years. But when I saw it on sale for $22, I thought I would pick up a bottle.

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The source is MGP, a major distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana that creates huge amounts of a variety of whiskeys, and then sells it to bottling companies which may finish it with additional aging in other barrels, or charcoal filter.  Those bottling companies then sell the finished product – which is often little changed from what MGP produces – under their own label (and sometimes sold misleadingly as artisan or small batch.) Here Anchor Distilling Company is the bottler, and they don’t hide the fact that this is MGP sourced whiskey. Aged 7 to 9 years. Light amber color. A smooth and unexpectedly tangy nose – floral and yeasty. On the palate there is a caramel corn flavor – and maybe some kind of nut, pralines? Faintly sweet and fruity.  Growing on me 🙂

Their website notes: The rye is sourced from Northern Europe, and the corn comes from Indiana and Ohio. The high rye content adds a distinctive spice character that balances the sweetness of the corn…barreled at 120 proof, which is amongst the lowest in the industry and imparts a smoother taste profile. The oak is a #4 char around the base and a #2 char at the head of the barrel. – from Anchor Distilling.com – Hirsch

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Bozwin Palestine Whisky

Until the 1950’s, “Palestinian” referred to Jews, and “Palestine” to The British Mandate of Palestine – a part of the United Kingdom that included what today is Israel and Jordan, and related territories. This region previously was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. It existed from WWI to 1948.  During this era, there was a Jewish community known as the Yishuv (ישוב). Not only did Jewish residents of the British Mandate of Palestine produce wine – they also produced whisky! See “The Rare Find” by Gary He, on Drambox:

Bozwin, which roughly translates to “Beauty of Zion” was a brand created in the late 1920s by Mendel Chaikin, a Russian immigrant who founded M. Chaikin & Company, a London-based wine and spirit merchant. The company purchased kosher wine, spirits, and liquers in bulk from what is now modern day Israel, and shipped them back to London for bottling and sale to a growing Jewish community in the East End of London. The head offices for M. Chaikin & Co. were located at 72-74 Brick Lane, down the street from what was once the Spitalfields Great Synagogue.

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Click here for the article http://www.drambox.com/blog/content/2015/7/22/the-rare-find-bozwin-palestine-whisky

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Class act, gentlemen. We thank you for your service to our nation.
Pic courtesy of The Whiskey Wash.

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Bird Dog Blended Whiskey
Candian Hunter Blended Canadian Whiskey
Canadian Club
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut

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Bird dog Kentucky blended whiskey.  Bought it without thinking about what “blended whiskey” meant. Obviously it should mean a blend or 2 or more whiskeys, but due to misleading peculiarities of American liquor labeling laws, that’s not correct.

Under American law, American whiskey can be sold as a blended whiskey if it is as little as 20% whiskey, and the rest can be water and neutral grain spirits (basically, junk drinkable ethanol) It turns out that there are many different legal categories for American whiskies, and only some correspond to what we would call “real” whiskey. Anything labelled straight whiskey is real whiskey, while “blended whiskey” can be as little as 20%, plus filler. See this source for details TTB.gov Distilled Spirits homepage and TTB.Gov Distilled Spirits FAQs. To be clear, this is only true for American law: Other countries use the phrase “blended whiskey” is a more meaningful sense:  In Ireland and Canada, blended whiskies are simply a blend of 2 or more real whiskies, without grain neutral spirit filler.

Back to the Bird dog Kentucky blended whiskey: 80 proof. Medium gold color, with a caramel nose. I’ve never detected such a strong scent of caramel from whiskey before, and I’m pretty sure that it is an added flavoring. Drinks easy, but has a dark flavor that I’ve never experienced on the palate before. A bit too strong. It’s not what I want in a whiskey. It’s more like a flavored liquor, but there’s nothing on the label that indicates flavoring has been added.

Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. While making whiskey, a significant percentage is lost due to evaporation. This is known in the industry as the “angel’s share”; but some of the whiskey is also lost, as it is absorbed into the oak barrels themselves, Jim Beam playfully refers to this lost whiskey as “the devil’s cut.”  Jim Beam developed a way to remove these dregs of whiskey from the barrel, and combine them with the rest of the whiskey, to improve their profits. While many drinkers would find this wood-soaked whiskey “dregs”, when a small amount is mixed with other whiskey, some might enjoy it. The Jim Beam website states:

“Through a unique, proprietary process, we extract this formerly lost liquid from deep inside the barrel wood and put it back into our special Bourbon. The resulting liquid is deep in color, aroma and character with robust notes of wood and vanilla.”

The result? As always, a matter of personal taste. Very light color, a decent nose, very affordable. I’m detecting some of the same citrus flavors I found when I tried basil Hayden’s, but Jim beam’s Devil’s cut isn’t up to that league. This is harsher, less smooth. And definitely very woody, read about the process by which Jim bean extract liquid from the wood in the barrels. Eventually it grew on me a bit, I’m appreciating the woody notes. Would be best paired with food, especially chocolate. See this review for more details. Jason Scotchreviews Blogspot.com Jim-beam-devils-cut-kentucky

Canadian Hunter Blended Canadian Whiskey

From Sazerac (US). Region of original distillery: Canada. Category: Canadian whiskey. No age statement, and I haven’t found a mash bill for this.  80 Proof. As for the nose: Not great, had a slight rubbing alcohol scent. Palate: It’s not harsh, was easy to drink, but there was no depth, no meaningful flavor. Had a thin feel to it, I don’t see this as something that I’ll be coming back to.

Canadian Club

Commonly thought of as a bottom shelf offering, I thought that I would give this a try again. From the Walker distillery in Windsor, and part of the Beam Suntory company. Aged 6 years in new white oak barrels. Mash bill is rye, malted rye, barley and corn, aged in new white oak barrels.  80 Proof. Appearance: Deep gold color. Nose – perhaps a scent of barley? Not much else. Palate: Medium body, and perhaps I’m almost detecting a ginger ale-ish quality to it? It’s drinkable and good for a mixed. I’d put this in the same category as Crown Royal.

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Pendleton 1910 Canadian rye whiskey

Produced and aged in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Purchased by Hood River Distillers in Oregon where it is finished and bottled.

100% rye mash bill. Aged 12 years in oak barrels. 80 proof.  Color in glass, pale gold.

Absolutely one of the most gorgeous bottles I have seen. Hint of vanilla, sweet, none of the alcohol burn that some associate with whiskey. The peppery rye flavor is more subtle than in other ryes. A very pleasant and easy drink. Not too complex, and lighter than the many higher proof offerings.

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Basil Hayden’s bourbon whiskey

for the first time. It’s the lightest bourbon whiskey from the Jim Beam family (owned by Beam Suntory.) 80 proof. Has a higher percent of rye in the mash bill, compared to most other bourbons. Until 2014 Basil Hayden’s was aged 8 years, but after that the company removed the age statement.

Light golden color. Surprisingly, this has a slight citrus scent (but not flavor) almost an apple cider flavor on the front palate. I may have detected notes of oak and vanilla. This drink is sweet, crisp and clean, like a hard cider. Almost no alcohol burn when tasting. I really like it, and would definitely recommend it. But there’s just one thing: It’s triple the price of Old Grand Dad – and to a large extent, it apparently is almost the same thing! People studying the distillery report that both Basil Hayden and Old Grand Dad share:

* same mash bill
* same barrels, and same warehouse
* same lack of age statement
* same proof (80)

Hayden’s is just apparently is aged a little longer, and from select barrels. That indeed could make a modest difference in flavor, but perhaps not substantially so. So is it worth it to pay 250% more, for a slightly older Old Grand Dad – in an admittedly much more beautiful bottle? If you detect a substantial difference in flavor, sure. But otherwise, perhaps it would be good to choose something from the Old Grand Dad family.

There’s a great history of Basil Hayden’s and Old Grand Dad here, discussing the difference between Hayden’s and OGD.

Old Grand Dad 80 proof vs. Basil Hayden’s: From The Whisk(e)y Room

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10/22/16 Knob Creek Rye Whiskey

Once again I was visiting the Winthrop Arms Hotel, Winthrop, Massachusetts, on Boston’s North Shore. This restaurant and hotel is an old-fashioned gem worth visiting. Has a turn of the century charm, beautiful restaurant and bar, and nice hotel rooms within walking distance of the water.

Wow, this Knob Creek Rye was a good choice. Has a beautiful golden color. 100 proof. From James B. Beam Distilling. Aged in white oak barrels. No age statement. I haven’t tried it yet, but other reviewers note that this may be very similar to the more expensive rī¹ (rye one) ,also from Jim Beam. Easy, warm, a little pepper in the front. The rye flavor strongly hits in the back palate. Not much of a burn. Very smooth.

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At the Winthrop Arms Hotel.

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10/2016 The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

An old best friend flew in from the west coast, always a reason to celebrate! Rob and I had hours to reconnect and trade stories and life experiences, and what better way to do so than over a drink?

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old, from The Glenlivet distillery, near Ballindalloch in Moray, Scotland. An affordable, common, single malt scotch whiskey, aged for 12 years, first in white oak barrels, then in European oak barrels.

Apparently I’m still a whiskey, rye and bourbon man – most scotches don’t do anything for me. The Glenlivet has a smooth mouthfeel. It’s great that this was not aged too long – some aged whiskies have an oakiness to them, which their manufacturers try to pass off as a feature, yet which is clearly more of a bug.  There wasn’t any astringency, harshness, or off-putting aromatics. It’s a typical scotch, and I can see why people might it. But just not my thing.

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10/16/16 The Glenmorangie Collection, gift pack

The Original – Glenmorangie aged 10 years, 43%, ex-bourbon casks. Has a white colour, and a bit of a bite to it. Really feel the alcohol burn. An absolutely delicious nose. Wish that I liked it as much I like the bourbons that I sampled.

The Lasanta, 10 years in ex-bourbon casks, then another 2 years in Oloroso Sherry casks. Noticably darker than the original 10 year old. Has a deeper, more complex flavor. A bit less of the burn. Has a nice mouthfeel on the upper palate, but becomes harsh/sour on the back.

The Quinta Ruban – 10 years in ex-bourbon casks, then another 2 years in Ruby Port casks. Has a nice honey/caramel color. A beautiful toasty warm aroma.  A bit less of the burn, and almost a hint of caramel.

The Nectar D’or – Finished in Sauternes wine barriques. Darker than the original, but lighter than the Quinta. While favored by some others, I didn’t appreciate the flavor at all.

I’ve tried all four a couple of times, over a week, but not thrilled with any of them at the moment. Perhaps I’m not a Scotch fan. But I’ll sample them again next month, & see if anything has changed in how I appreciate them.

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

 Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review Logo