Category Archives: 3 – Try it

Crown Royal – Northern Harvest Rye (45%)

20160229_145208Today’s guest blogger produces a television program back in his native England titled Friday with Furray. A self-professed full-time whisky-writer, he’s only 16 years young but still old as hell in human years, and definitely smells like he’s been slightly damp for a very long time. He likes Buffalo Trace, but loooves going for a walk and will hump your leg whether you want him to or not. Here to talk with us about his decision on this year’s Most Unbelievably Delicious Turd, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Jim Furray!

Jim: Rrrrrr-woof.

HTDW: Thank you. The pleasure is mine. Thanks for making the trip to come see us. So, I read your book and it says you’re from Corryketterburroughtonshire. How did you like growing up there?

Jim: Hrmphhh. (starts licking balls) Mmmrrrrrrrrr.

HTDW: Wow, that’s… heavy. You seem like such a casual guy about it all, though. Is that why you moved to Kentucky?

Jim: Rrrrr-oof. Rrrrrrrr-r-r-r-r-r. Hrmphhh.

HTDW: Hahahaha! Yea, I hear squirrel is a delicacy out there, but if I could change the direction of the conversation really quickly, can we talk about the whisky for a second?

Jim: Woof. Wwwwwwwoof woof. Arrrrrrr. Mmmhhhhmmmrrrooooooo!!! Woof woof rrrrrruf!

HTDW: That’s certainly high praise. I’m not offended by it, but I wouldn’t say it’s heavenly… it’s a $30 bottle of Canadian whisky. That’s stuff for cooking or making cocktails… or making cocktails and cooking… or ma-

Jim: Arr…rr…rrrrrooooo. Ruff. (shits on carpet)

HTDW: Aw, what the hell is this??? Bad dog! Bad, bad dog! You’re lucky I don’t rub your face in that… somebody get this asshole out of here. Sorry about that folks.

crownroyal

Nose: A bit of cedar, spiced orange rind, and malt. There’s a Bourbon hint, but it’s more like a first-fill unpeated malt… or Cognac. Actually, it has a lot of those Cognac grape notes. Over the top rye perfume, like the chemical tincture Templeton uses to flavor their whisky. Is that… powdered carpet deodorizer? Actually, the more I smell it the more I think of carpet deodorizer, especially after taking a sip.

Palate: Watery. Canadian. Tastes a little bit like marshmallow, as if the light whisky component were replaced with Kansas’ mellow spirit whisky. It tastes a bit like wine; Cognac really. Rye kicks up once it makes it down into your chest. I really liked the first glass, but after another I started to feel like I was drinking perfume mixed with apple juice.

Rating: Try itI understand feeling like you need a guide. It’s a huge market to explore. Maps are helpful, but nobody needs a gospel. Whisky is meant to be explored. It’s supposed to be fun, so while there are great whiskies and shitty ones, there is no singular “best whisky,” and if there were, it would never find itself on a shelf for $30.

As for Crown Royal overall, it’s cheap, not terrible, and widely available. It’s far from the worst whisky out there, but it’s not the best whisky in Canada, not the best in North America, and certainly not the best in the world.

*all characters appearing in this work are fictional. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve, Old Weller Antique 107, and W.L. Weller 12 year

It’s not really Bourbon Buffalo Trace season anymore, but that’s what we’re talking about today because that’s how we roll here at How to Drink Whisky Enterprises. We are current as fuck and super diligent about blogging. We want you to be current as fuck with us because, dammit, you deserve it. But we respect that you’re a casual readership, too. You’re attention span is small. So small. Such a small, tiny attention span it is, but so valuable! So pay attention! This is important!!!

 

Weller Special Reserve vs Antique 107 vs 12 Year

 

Do you or anyone you know do guerrilla landscaping? Like… if I paid you to spite-mow a giant dong  on my neighbor’s lawn, would you do it? My neighbor’s lawn desperately needs a giant dong mowed into it. How much do you think that would cost?

 

Special Reserve – (45%)

Nose: Farmy with a minerally graphite. Sweet, wheat chaff and hot, buttered waffles. Not very complicated and without serious flaws.

Palate: Easy-going. Tempered butterscotch candies and diluted wood. Hint of vanilla. It’s almost like it comes out of the bottle with a splash of water already added. Easy palate. Easy finish. Easy easy easy.

Rating: RecommendedThis one is a no-brainer. For $20-30? Buy! Buy! Buy! Plus, like the Antique 107, people often buy single casks of this one for their store, club, or friends. These store picks can range from pedestrian to amazing, making for an affordable and collectible whisky experience.. not that we would ever recommend collecting bottles over drinking them.

 

Old Weller Antique 107 – (53.5%)

Nose: It starts minerally like the Special Reserve, but takes a quick turn and becomes spicy and sour, like a hit of undiluted lemon juice or a backyard pile of wet sawdust that’s just starting to ferment. Good but definitely more aggressive woodiness.

Palate: A bit of a kick. Short but bold finish with a slightly numbing tongue. Stripped down cinnamon and honey. Citrus rind.

Rating: Try itThis one could use an ice cube or two. No judgement here. Personally, I much prefer the Special Reserve. The sour note on the Antique kind of puts me off. It seems to me like they trade a bit of favorable flavor for a slightly sexier proof. Still, as with the Special Reserve, $20-30 is not a bad deal, and store picks can be exceptional.

 

12 Year – (45%)

Nose: Like a mix of the Special Reserve and 107, all the sour and vanilla, but balanced with a rich layer of vanilla and fruit, making the sour bearable and the vanilla richer. Raspberry sorbet. Those glowy red cocktail cherries. Cultured butter on granite.

Palate: Not nearly as harsh as the 107 and much sweeter, creamier vanilla than the Special Reserve. Birthday cake with chocolate frosting. Cinnamon. Citrus. Buttery. Not overwhelming but still a very seductive drinker.

Rating: Highly RecommendI love this one. It’s no wonder it’s so hard to find. At roughly the same “honest” retail as the other two, this one takes the prize for me. That’s not to say I haven’t found store picks of the Special Reserve and Antique 107 that were as good or better than the average 12 year bottling.

 

Guerrilla landscapers interested in the position, please leave a link to your CV in the comments below. Cheers!

Compass Box – Boxed Set

compass box cover

Compass Box is a blending house, so their obvious goal is to blend “accessible” whiskies. If you’re more of a fan of cask strength single malts or bolder American styles, these probably won’t be that enticing. Having said that, if Johnnie Walker is your benchmark for good blended whisky, then these are going to blow your mind. Personally, I’m cheering for them. I hope they’ll be able to wrestle the idea of blended Scotch away from the terror that lurks on those shelves today. It’s nice to see a few affordable blends that don’t suck.

Compass Box has a long history of smartly packaging their products, and this box set is no exception. The wooden box opens up to five vials of different Compass Box releases; Hedonism, Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, and Peat Monster. I really dig sample packs like this; all the fun of compulsively emptying vials like an alchemist of some sort, coupled with a chance to get a more fleshed out picture of the company’s vision before making a judgement about their talents.

So without further ado, let’s see how the whiskies stack up.

 

Hedonism (43%)
Blended Grain

Nose: Light and sugary. Over-seasoned “greywood”. Dry almond, like a thumbprint cookie. Warm butterscotch. It has a bright bite to it, very much like a Canadian whisky. Freshly constructed barn rafters. A little water helps the perfume rise.

Palate: Mild with wisps of Sugar Crisp cereal. Buttery, cherry danish with sliced almonds. Dirty penny with slightly peppery notes that drag out the finish. Water dilutes the bitter metallic part a little bit and lets the caramel/vanilla notes’ show.

Rating: Try itIn a blind tasting, I would swear this was Canadian. I really don’t like very much Canadian style whisky, and this certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but if it were competing against all of the Canadian stuff I’ve tried, I’d say this is a great example.

Still, Canadian whisky is CHEAP! There’s no reason to buy this when there are so many more affordable whiskies coming out of Canada. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great Canadian-style whisky if that’s what you’re looking for, but with a cost approaching $90, it’s definitely over-priced. At half the price, try looking for Forty Creek, instead.

 

Asyla (40%)
Blended Scotch

A blended Scotch,  which means it’s comprised of both grain and malt whiskies. As would be expected, the profile is somewhere between the Hedonism and the Oak Cross.

Nose: Almost like a light Clynelish. Malty pear with a drop of farm and flowers. Still very light and approachable. If you can smell past the sweetness there are some delicious green pepper notes hiding in the drink.

Palate: Sweet and easy drinking. Malty pear flavors usually predict peppery notes and are hot, but here the pepper is extremely watery. Rich, Canadian-whisky type butterscotch as it trails off.

Rating: Try itLike the Hedonism, this whisky comes with a luxury price tag. Clynelish and Old Pulteney both provide the same profile at the same price point but with a depth of flavor not found in this. Now, unseasoned whisky drinkers may find the mildness desirable, so choose between these with that in mind. This is an extremely accessible whisky and would be a good middle step for converting non-whisky people to the drink.

 

-This review brought to you in part by-

weezwares

 

Oak Cross (43%)
Blended Malt

Nose: Bolder and spicier. Dried trail mix carrots. The profile is definitely getting meatier. Grassy notes start to appear, alongside hints of ginger powder and green apple peels. It’s still a little watery to me.

Palate: A little Cognac, a little honey, a little potting soil. Slightly drying. Peppery with a nice medium finish that leaves a rich tingle on the tongue.

Rating: Try itIn conversation, very few people would speak ill of Compass Box, and that this is a blended malt whisky is great, for its category, but the whole point of any blend is to make it more affordable. The trade off is cost to taste while attempting to balance the two. While these seem to be good for blending expositions, so far, they’re anything but affordable.

 

Spice Tree (46%)
Blended Malt

Nose: Tiny rubbery note, with a nice, rich, butter-drenched fruitiness layered over it. Raisins and dried pineapple. Nutmeg and ginger powder. Dried orange peel. Caramelized malted barley baked into a brittle.

Palate: The pepper in this one amplifies as time passes and is the most aggressive yet. Numbing clove and Sichuan pepper on the tongue. Almost phenolic. Sweet and sherried with nutmeg and dried fig. Lime and polished leather.

Rating: RecommendedMoving in a linear line, the Spice Tree has the most spice and sherry. The sweetness tones down a bit, though that’s not a bad thing. This one best frames some of the similarities between French Sessile oak (what we usually think of as wine casks) and Spanish Pendunculate oak (what we typically think of as sherry casks). Now we’re talking! This one is delicious and at around $60 right in the sweet spot of the flavor/price balancing act.

 

compass box sampler

Peat Monster (46%)
Blended Malt

I didn’t have high hopes for this one, seeing as the status quo for Compass Box is to blend “accessibly,” whatever that means. Most of the blends in this box have been less than inspiring for the price, kind of defeating the purpose of a blend, to me.

Nose: Surf and Turf! Bacon wrapped scallops served over seared chicken skin. Iodine-rich seawater. Slightly stony. Fresh sea breeze and crushed barnacles. Dried sage and sambal chili paste. Not super complex, but delicious smelling all the same. Smells a bit like there’s some Laphroaig mixed in there…

Palate: It’s surprisingly gentle on the palate. The peat creeps in and blossoms into bright iodine with a lime tang. Umami and mushrooms with salt that revs up in the finish into spicy fire. Easy going bandage phenols and a tiny bit of copper. The finish is delightful as the fumes expand through your mid-section and rise back up to your head, inescapably reminding you that you definitely drank a good dose of peat.

Rating: RecommendedIt’s not exactly what it says it is; not quite a monster… maybe a very desirable beast of peaty burden to carry you through your cravings. This provides a terrific example of how a whisky can be “accessible” and still please the whisky anoraks. For just under $50, the price is right, too!

The proof on these is on the low side, so if you’re looking for a face-melter, these won’t do. I think these are best suited to coax gentle drinkers in to the fold with easy to explore Scotches they can nose and drink comfortably.

SIA – Blended Scotch (43% )

SIASIA brand owner, Carin Luna-Ostaseski, began her journey as a hobbyist in her own kitchen. Satiating her curiosity by blending different whiskies from her personal whisky shelf, she began to understand how they interacted to create a new spirit; whiskies like mild, grain forward Auchentoshan; monstrously peated, umami Ardbeg; sweet and peppery Old Pulteney; malt forward Oban; all came together in her first trials.

Blending itself is infinitely complex. You’d think it was just measuring a little bit of reagent A and a little more reagent B into a jar, shake, and you get what you get, but there are so many more variables.

Proof alone can change a whisky from abrasive to delightful. Some get watered down and turn bitter or lose their edge, while others can open up and become deliciously fruity. Like how homemade soup is always better the next day, alcoholic mixtures marry and change over time in a phenomenon called “bottle shock,” as well. This means that the immediate product you smell or taste can be dramatically different after being left alone for a few days.

Often times these transformations are as difficult to understand as our own sense of smell. Blending is an art; a labor of love; an amorphous equation that eludes simple mathematical explanation. Factor in differences in each single cask along with age, proof and shock, and suddenly, making a whisky uniform, batch to batch, is no small feat… but Carin marched on.

After witnessing one of her friends start her own alcohol label on Kickstarter, Carin saw her own potential laid out before her. She got to work hosting tastings, conducting market research about what people liked and didn’t. She learned that the first impression was most important; if the nose isn’t welcoming, the consumer is less likely to take the first sip with an open mind and less likely to enjoy the experience overall. She found combinations people seemed to love, and some they hated. In true San Francisco spirit, she pushed on, arriving on the furthest coast, a consumer turned entrepreneur. Thus, she cut her teeth the old fashioned way, with lots of hard work, painstaking attention to detail and steely resolve. Her perseverance paid off and her journey culminated when a Kickstarter campaign to launch her brand brought in an impressive $45,784 (almost seven grand over her projected budget!).

With capital in hand, she settled on a profile people seemed to enjoy, tested it some more, and then shipped off a sample for Douglas Laing & Co. to try and recreate. They sent her several samples back and once they settled on the one they both felt was perfect, production began. The end product, a “proprietary mix” of distilleries’ whiskies ranging from 5-9 years in age, 40% of them malt and 60% grain.

Nose: Mild and approachable. There’s a calm peat resting faintly in the back. Sharper, malty notes slowly set in next. Freshly cut mushrooms and tomato glutamates. Hay and chocolate steeped in black coffee and then left to dry in the sun. Everything is in balance but a bit muted overall.

Palate: Gentle at first, like an ice cube just melted in your mouth. A peppery cinnamon slowly rises next. Peat peeks in with some vanilla phenols: “I love you, Vanilla!” it cries, “Will you marry with me? I know just the vatting.” To which Vanilla whispers, trembling, “Yes,” before calling its blended, milk chocolate mother.

Rating: Try itThere’s a lot going on in this whisky. It’s not very bold and the proof is on the low side, so the complexity can be easily overlooked, but the longer I spent with the glass, the longer I found new corners of it to explore.

It’s a sunny, rounded, easy-going drink and an obvious recommendation from me that should quickly appeal to the average non-geek. At around $55 a bottle I’d like to see the price come down a little, but this is obviously a small company so the price will hopefully move in a favorable direction as Carin brings this awesome new start-up up to speed.

Thank you, Carin, for the sample!

Tincup – American Whisky (42%)

TINCUP“At 22, Jess Graber packed up his bags and moved to Colorado in hopes of finding himself and inspiration. A volunteer fire fighter, Jess fell in love with the mountains and discovered his love for distillation. And Colorado’s TINCUP whiskey was born.”
-Tincup’s neck tag

Strange. Even ignoring the weird sentence fragment and the end, that blurb seems disjointed… like it’s missing something. Oh, that’s right. In between the firefighter thing and TINCUP, Graber established and then sold Stranahan’s to Proximo Spirits. He’s not completely free of Proximo, though. Now he’s lent his name to a sourced spirit under their stewardship. Red, White and Bourbon’s Josh Chinn nailed it when he postulated the exact mix of MGPI mashbills used. Less than two months later they would officially confirm what Chinn surmised on his own. Nice job, Josh! 

I’m not sure Proximo intended to reveal their source, though. It seems like Josh might have blown their cover and forced them into damage control mode. Like many bloggers before me who tried to jump on the story when Tincup first became available, Proximo never returned any of my emails and the Stranahan’s people were mildly annoyed by my queries. There was a vacuum of information.

Their more recent and painfully cheesy website seems to imply that they were working hard on the Colorado angle up until the flurry of interviews where Jess Graber gave away the game. Look at this ranch. Elk good. Water cold. Jess Graber not single. We make whisky. No. I’m sorry, Jess, but you don’t. Not anymore.

Jess Graber's Tincup

from tincupwhiskey.com

I have to admit, I’m pretty annoyed by people who buy from MGPI at this point. Trying to find new, American whisky has become a chore. These guys in Indiana are flooding the market. Now, I have to spend twice as long scouring labels looking for the word Indiana, or even better, the phrase distilled by followed by anywhere else, and it’s getting harder to avoid buying into it. There have been points where the open part of my whisky shelf had been inadvertently taken over by MGPI products. Not that all their stiff is swill, some of it is very good, but I’ve walked into smaller stores where they didn’t even have anything else other than the regulars (Johnnie, Jack, & Jim) and MGPI wares. That’s crazy!

Many of the non-distiller producers have the same lame excuse, too: I wanted it to be affordable. Well, sourced-whisky vendors, I wanted it to be different. I didn’t want my whisky shelf to be an MGPI collection. As if they knew people would eventually come to the same disappointed conclusion, they expanded their line-up last year, to include more rye mashes, along with a new wheat and a barley mash… sigh.

I have to give the Tincup team credit, though. This is a really cool looking bottle. The hexagonal shape makes me want to carry it with me and watch the spirit slosh around. Where Stranahan’s left it’s cup to be held on by gravity alone, and was often lost immediately after opening, the tin cup on top of Tincup actually screws onto the bottle, integrating nicely.

Nose: Smells more like rye than a Bourbon. Sunflower, carpenter’s pencil, cinnamon candies and 80’s ski lodge. Guava and salvaged barn board. Lime, celery stalk and sweet, virgin, pool liner. As it airs out, the graphite swells. It’s a little sharp but not very complicated.

Palate: Cherry cough drops with a tiny smudge of black licorice. Like the nose, the start of the palate screams rye, but as it progresses it let’s some Bourbon out. Blindfolded, I would have had a very difficult time guessing whether this was rye or Bourbon. Graphite with some cinnamon spice. Not a huge complicated whisky with a simple finish to match.

Rating: Try itI give this rating very timidly and with one caveat: for the $27 I’ve seen stores sell it for, awesome, but for the $35 I see on a few websites, I’d hesitate.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey – batch 92 (47%)

Stranahan's Colorado WhiskyBefore the distillery was officially founded, George Stranahan let Jess Graber use his barn to experiment distilling his whisky. At the time, Stranahan was not only a bootlegging accomplice, but owner of Flying Dog Brewery, so Graber began distilling leftover kegs and any odds and ends he could get Stranahan to give him. Eventually, Graber “crafted his own recipe from barley” and tasked Flying Dog to brew it for them, essentially outsourcing the mash he would use for his whisky.

The official distillery was founded in 2004 by Graber and Stranahan. Graber quickly brought amateur distiller Jake Norris into the fold to help with production as a minority partner. In 2007, Flying Dog moved to Maryland so Stranahan’s switched to Oskar Blues for their wash. Two years after that, they bought a new space and started making their own wash. Finally, in 2010, Graber sold the whole thing to Proximo spirits. Norris was the last of the trio left working the floor when he departed in 2011. He’s hinted in interviews that he has a side project he’s planning, but nothing has surfaced yet. Thus concludes the journey of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey from craft to corporate in six short years.

Knowing the genesis of this brand, I suspect there are some hops in the mash. Flying Dog makes a lot of very hoppy brews. Proximo is notorious for its reluctance to comment, though the official reply I received from Stranahan’s very plainly denied the addition. The website claims it’s “straight Colorado whisky”. If it were straight whisky, that would rule out any adjuncts like hops, but the only declaration on this bottle uses the word straight to describe where it came from, “straight from the Rocky’s,” and I have a suspicion that the word Colorado in between straight and whisky on the website may provide them disingenuous cover, as well.

Nose: White wine, dry cave and hops over a malty base. Given lots of air there’s evidence of a beautiful single malt in here. Sliced almonds and raspberries. Woody like a Bourbon. Slightly under-dried apple chips. Socks and boiled egg whites waft in between milk chocolate.

Palate: Hops dominate all for the first few moments before retreating to offer a little footing for traces of other flavors. IPA on the middle of the tongue and stout in back. Bright with bitter grapefruit, cola and heaps of ripe apples. Numbing. A little of the chocolate in the finish implies there may be some darker roasted malt in the mix.

Rating: Try itI love the nose but find myself less enamored with the palate. The roar of its cult status is hard to muffle, though. It doesn’t suffer from lack of character but I’ve had much better bottles. I do find it strange that WhistlePig receives so much criticism for being 10 years old and costing upwards of $60, while Stranahan’s rolls in with no age statement and a verbally marketed age of 2-5 years for the same price without commotion from the peanut gallery.