Category Archives: 4 – Risky

High West – Valley Tan batch 3 (43.5%)

highwestvalleytanThere’s an arms race going on in the world of hot peppers. Most people have heard of the ghost pepper by now, the former hottest pepper in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records, but since 2007 four others have taken the title, the latest contender winning the title in 2013… the Carolina Reaper.

What makes the Reaper so hot? Well, in normal chili peppers most of the yellow capsaicin is in the white, fleshy “fins,” otherwise known as the placenta. In superhots such as the reaper, the veins that hold the capsaicin grow all over the inside of the flesh and not just the placenta. The flesh is also rolled around and folded so the actual size of the pepper is misleading. In a normal pepper, when you remove the seeds, you take out most of the spice, but there’s no such shortcut with the Reaper. It’s everywhere.

I can tell you… this shit is HOT! Worse, it tricks you. Once you start chewing, the unreasonable amount of oily capsaicin takes a few seconds to settle and connect with your wet mouth flesh, so at first you say to yourself, “Naw, this isn’t that bad. It’s actually kind of good!” Then it makes you look like a complete idiot. It slurred my speech, destroyed my concentration, and the morning after it proved something I never really believed in all my years of loving spicy food: hot in, hot out.

So, now that you just learned something really cool, let’s talk about something really dumb: this whisky. This whisky is dumb. Really, really dumb. I would rather try to eat an entire Carolina Reaper than cough up another $60 for a bottle of this garbage. I’m kind of sad that somebody burned a shitload of fossil fuel to bring this to me.

Inside the Carolina ReaperHaving tried a lot of fantastic whisky from the Utah based distillery, I can’t see how any sane employee there would think selling this was a good idea. It’s not like they have terrible taste in whisky. On the contrary, their rye whiskies are some of my favorites. How did this happen?! I can’t even bring myself to repeat the bogus story they sell this crap with so I’m going to truncate it.

The Mormons who settled Utah had all kinds of crazy ideas: like how men should have as many wives as they can manage; Native Americans were from Israel; magic underwear; black people are cursed by god; and Mormon whisky, if it tastes anything like this, was delicious. I could go on… but I won’t.

Nose: Oof! Wood. Like a freshly sanded floor in a house made, finished, and furnished entirely of wood. Even adding bitters and citrus-y syrups can’t overcome the stomach wrenching wood. It smells like someone took a whisky that wasn’t quite ready and then cut it with a whisky that definitely wasn’t ready.

Palate: I wasn’t sure it was possible, but it tastes woodier than it smells. It kind of reminds me of Kansas Spirit whisky, except, you know, more terrible and not nearly as sweet. I kind of wish they advertised with a similarly douchey campaign as Kansas, because at least then I would have had a laugh, too. If you can choke down the wood, there’s some buiscut-y flavor… like a biscuit made with sawdust. If you really dig, there’s an indiscernible fruitiness I can’t quite put my finger on.

Rating: RiskyIn one sense, this whisky has a lot in common with the Reaper. There isn’t a whole lot you can do with it that everyone will love. In fact, only a certain subset of people who like chili peppers or whisky will try to grow or acquire them, and an even smaller set will actually enjoy them more than their less infernal cousins. In a historical sense, this whisky was interesting for about ten seconds while I thought about how this was designed to taste like the booze of antiquated Utahn society. As a repeatable commodity, both seem kind of dumb, with the chili being a little less so. The rest of my Reapers will be mixed in with friendlier peppers and enjoyed in moderation, while the Valley Tan will sit on a shelf undisturbed.

I’ve read rumors about the next hottest pepper coming up… the HP56 aka Death Strain, roughly 50% hotter than the Reaper or almost 1,200 times hotter than a mild jalapeno. I can’t imagine how much hotter that is any more easily than I can imagine how much worse High West’s next dumbest whisky will be. I don’t plan on trying either… but then again, if I know anything about myself it’s that I’m curious to the point of extreme stupidity.

West Cork Distillers – McFadden Irish Spirit (40%)

McFadden Irish SpiritTo celebrate International Whisky Day, today I’m going to talk about this… um… whisky…ish substance… ironically of course, because whisky needs no holiday, yet seems to have three, if you count the antagonistic World Whiskey Day.

This bottle was produced by West Cork Distillers, a small start-up from Ireland founded partially with grant money and support from the West Cork Enterprise Board. The Board was part of a group of 35 that the European Union helped to form to develop businesses and inspire entrepreneurship across the region. If you’re looking for proof that politics are terrible at developing pragmatic businesses, you may not have to look much further than this. From the outside looking through the lens of this product, it seems a little bit like a lab trying to grow businesses in test tubes using funds allocated by the EU Structural Funds Program.

West Cork Distillers isn’t the only thing here that sounds engineered, though. This five person operation, two of whom were previously deep sea fisherman, does not appear to be distilling spirits, so this bottle, which the Facebook page and neck band precariously dub “whisky,” fits the description bizarrely engineered, as well.

McFadden NeckbandWCD’s flagship product, a 22% abv Irish spirit called Drombeg, was “created” to answer the needs of folks who don’t want to drink beer but can’t tolerate hard liquor or fruit-based alcohols. According to their webpage, it is “one of only two non-sweetened savoury brown spirit liqueurs on the global market.” Their Kennedy and Lough Hyne products appear to be equally strange permutations of brown, middleweight proof beverage. Thirsty yet? I know I am, but I’m not in the market for savory, brown liqueur, so what can these folks do for the likes of hard-drinking, neat-whisky loving me?

While there does appear to be some misdirection, make no mistake, the main label defines this as a “spirit drink” , “a recipe of whiskey and malt” and offers that it is “oak filtered,” whatever that means. It sounds like a Frankenstein of grain alcohol infused with malted barley, caramel color and sawdust, though the label also implicates at least some whisky in the liquid contents. What mysteries lie in wait for those daring enough to try this beast? Official sources declined to answer my emails so let’s find out the hard way.

McFadden Facebook Page

Well, it was challenging… to keep down.

Nose: An unsupervised five year old cranking out crayon pancakes with grape soda for his collection of stuffed animals. Malty vinyl, like a decade old Trapper-Keeper full of stale crystal malt. Stony raisins with toasted shellac. Coffee cakes glazed with graham cracker scented interior paint. Isopropyl rubbing alcohol and butterscotch marching across a Canadian hellscape in pursuit of an old lady wearing too much perfume.

Palate: Hits of that flavor grape soda acid leaves in your mouth after a sip coupled with bitter prednisone. Unflavored gelatin. Unmalted barley. Especially boozy and fake. It has a thin, solventy mouthfeel and lots of chemical signature stalked by a mildly smoky finish.

Rating: RiskyThis stuff is creepy. I took my first sip and woke up shoeless on a park bench 20 minutes later with a raging case of pinkeye and no recollection of how I got there. If you’re looking for a passive-aggressive Secret Santa gift for that whisky-drinking loudmouth you work with, this is it.

EDIT – 5/2/14: I was contacted by John O’Connell of West Cork Distillers, requesting I update this entry with more information about the product. I’ve added his comment on the McFadden below to clarify.

“Kennedy, Cavanagh & McFadden.  These three products are technically classified as 40% abv savoury brown spirits.  All the alcohol in these products comes from 3 year old whiskey with no added flavours or additives.  I guess that the key question that you would probably be asking is why are they not declared as whiskey.  The reason is that we apply two unique and innovative processing steps in the production after the 3 year old maturation.  After preparation of the whiskey which is in accordance with the legal requirements – prepared exclusively from grain, distilled to not more than 94.8% alcohol, matured in oak cake of no more than 700 litres for at least 3 years, we apply these two steps. The unfortunate reality is that even after three years maturation the whiskey is not ready for bottling based on qualitative analysis (this is the case with all EU whiskey).  We apply an additional artisan processing step to produce what we think is a good tasting product – Steeping in malt.  In times gone by when distillation equipment was rudimentary quite often there used to be boil over from the still, though the lye and into the condensation tubes.  This used to have a deleterious impact on the quality of the whiskey which was eliminated by steeping the whiskey or first spirit in spent grain.  The high solvent quality of the whiskey extracts out an ever so slight sweetness and mouth-feel enhancing compounds which would not be extracted during the mash preparation.  When distilleries became large and with the advent of the column still the requirement and willingness to use this technology was lost to antiquity.  In fact some whiskey manufactures nowadays intentionally boil over their fermentate to modulate sweetness. When the EU technical file Irish whiskey manufacture was written (by the multinationals) this artisan process was not included even though mass production techniques such as chill filtration and steam cooking were included.  We also oak filter our products though a bed of charred oak.  This is somewhat similar to the filtration process using in USA whiskey production but the oak has not been totally pyrolyzed (i.e., converted to charcoal).   The class of chemical changes occurring during the filtration are exactly the same as those that occur during maturation and charcoal filtration (oxidative, additive, extractive and a combination of all three).   The act that we apply these two handcrafted and artisan steps means that, until we mature stock to 5-7 years, we have to adhere to the Spirit Drink sales denomination.  In essence I do not have an huge issue with this.  The multinational operators have realised myriad of spirit drinks without anyone taking exception to it but when smaller operators do some for genuine survival reasons rather than an endless thirst for profits some people take issue.  These are the cards that we have been dealt and we have to roll with them.”

Cheers, John, and thanks for the info.

Forty Creek – Copper Pot Reserve (43%): A Choose Your Own, Eh?…venture Story

This is the second collaborative review I did with Joshus Hatton of Jew Malt Whisky Reviews. I apologize to my email subscribers, this won’t run in your inbox so you’ll have to visit the blog to see it. Cheers!

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// game engine by s.r.helmick // notes by j.hatton and s.r.helmick //


Indian Creek – Staley Rye Whisky Distilled From Rye Mash (40%)

Elias Staley Rye

Exactly how they arrived.

As illustrated by these two samples they sent me, Indian Creek’s Missy and Joe Duer are very new to whisky. They sent these two nearly-empty water bottles along with two perfectly-good, empty glass bottles so I could see the labels they would come in. To be fair, I’m probably one of the first bloggers they ever sent samples to, and I did have a good laugh wondering why they didn’t just put the whisky in the glass bottles before shipping them.

At first glance, there’s a lot of neat looking information out there about these folks. I had lots of questions for them, but the website they deferred my questions to is very short on useful stats. Instead, they use the page to dub themselves mavericks, point out how their last name has a phonetic similarity with the word doer, and name-drop two distillers in an attempt to lend some credibility to their self-proclaimed 200 years of distilling the American Spirit.” Though from what I can glean, for the last 90 of those 200 years, their stills were silent; there are at least two generations of Missy’s family between her and anyone who actually walked the floor of an active distillery; and it sounds vaguely like Joe, unrelated to Missy’s distillery kin, is the one running things, especially when the webpage claims the creed “…one man, one vision, one family farm…”

But I didn’t want to write about this. I wanted to write about hickory and hops. They wanted to talk about how Missy’s great-great-great-grandfather, Elias, was a distiller, and how her husband Joe thinks “distilling just ain’t that difficult”. To me, coveting her ancestor’s accomplishments to boost the appeal of their own whisky is a bizarre departure from the website’s theme of self-sufficiency and pioneer values. I found the dismissal of whisky’s difficulty a bit short-sighted, too. Making whisky is, after all, very easy… making good whisky, however, is another story and I’m not sure it’s one the Duers have heard yet.

Inexplicable Empties

Inexplicable Empties.

I hate relying on unconfirmed info aggregated from other interviews, but judging by the content of the interviews I did find, I can’t help but wonder why none of the things they told people made it to their distillery’s webpage. Were they deceiving interviewers and leaving blank spaces on their own publications for plausible deniability? Are they just being short-sighted and forgetting how to leverage their online presence? Maybe they just think people from New England are annoying and didn’t want to answer my questions? I mean, we are kind of annoying…

According to one interview, their ancestor’s recipe used hickory casks, which sounds awesome. Unfortunately, here hickory casks have become hickory inserts to shortcut true maturation. I’m all for historical recreation, but is this really it? Inserts, much like small barrels, will never make a whisky as delicious as a full-sized cask. Greed and industry drive the small cask market, not awesome results, and Missy did manage to tolerate me enough to confirm via email that the casks they use are 15 gallons, roughly a quarter of the size of the industry standard, and that the moment’s aged whisky is only about 12 weeks old.

Another unusual reagent mentioned in other interviews is the addition of hops to the mash bill. Every other bottle of hopped whisky I’ve seen has been forced by the TTB to add the words hop flavored to the label. Charbay, Corsair and Sons of Liberty all released hop flavored whiskies before Indian Creek, but all clearly declare the addition of identity-forbidden, non-grain ingredients in the mash with that phrase, a phrase mysteriously absent on Indian Creek’s stuff. Equally curious, unlike all the other hop flavored whisky I’ve tried, this one isn’t hoppy at all. When asked about the hops and labeling issues, they replied with a written toast to Elias and zero confirmation. Was it the TTB that had the wool pulled over their eyes? Or is there some strange distinction I’m not aware of which they managed to slide under, a distinction that the TTB had not yet made when they broke ground for Charbay and created the category in 1999? To Elias and six generations of vague assertions: cheers!

Hop Flavored Whisky

One last thing I’d like to talk about here, before divulging my notes, is the spirit’s classification as a whisky distilled from rye mash. According to the federal code, Bourbon and any other American whisky that declares a grain in the title, like rye whisky, must be made from 51% of that grain (corn in the case of Bourbon), distilled to under 80% abv, laid to cask at no more than 62.5%, matured in virgin charred oak, and bottled at no lower than 40%. If you choose to lay your stock down in a cask that does not meet those requirements, then your spirit must go by the title whisky distilled from –whichever- mash or have the phrase distilled from -whichever- mash somewhere on the label. So not only is this three months young, but it’s aged in used casks. Worse, deception rears its ugly head on the label where they cleverly use Staley Rye Whiskey as the brand name and not the description, leaving the distilled from rye mash declaration in tiny letters beneath. This isn’t rye whiskey. I’m a little surprised the TTB let that one slip… wait, no I’m not.

 

Elias Staley Whisky Distilled from Rye Mash

Nose: Like fresh cut berber and carpet glue. Burlap sack. Beer and sopressatta bloom. VERY feinty. It actually feels like it’s carpeting the inside of my nose. Complete train wreck.

Palate: It’s like a mouthful of industrial dust and fermenting salad greens. Peppery with a lot of that yummy carpet glue.

UnrateableI can’t see giving this a rating. I mean, based on how terrible I think it is, I could easily tell you to Drink At Your Own Risk, but I’m not sure it would be useful or fair to start rating what is essentially new make, no matter how poisonous it may smell. New make is great for didactic purposes, and I’m glad that distilleries bottle it for the market to try… but unless you like drinking carpet glue, this is probably one of the worst I’ve ever tasted.

 

Staley Rye Whisky Distilled From Rye Mash – “aged”

Nose: Apple juice, ketchup and champagne. Super mild and very youthful. Wood chips for the smoker. The rotting vegetal smell from the new make is substantially muted and there is barely any detectable rye spice.

Palate: Watery, spiked with whole grain crackers. Coffee in the finish. It’s still a tiny bit vegetal but not nearly as offensive.

Rating: RiskyThere are lots of rye whiskies out there that offer more flavor, taste amazing, and cost much less money; Indian Creeks whiskies are $50 and $65 each. Unexplained inconsistencies and marketing deception make me uncomfortable, as well. It’s one thing to be vague about what’s going into your bottle, and another to rely on confusing marketing tactics, say things publicly and then backtrack to ignoring that you said them in the first place, all while slapping on a premium price tag with none of the requisite experience to back it up. While I can’t say for sure if they’re deceiving you about the hops, they seemed tentative about being explicitly clear about their pride and joy, the whisky, which is terrible… juuust terrible.

Thank you to Missy Duer at Indian Creek Distillery for the samples.

EDIT 10/30/2013: It seems like the debate about hops in whisky is more complicated than I initially realized. It took me a long time to get to the bottom of it. Not a lot of bloggers or industry people had the answers, but I spoke with a dozen distillers, TTB agents, historians and brand ambassadors and then found a lot of really cool information about the subject. If you’d like to read about it, I’ve delved a little further into the issue here.

Lost Spirits – Bohemian Bonfire (59%)

Bohemian BonfireThe folks at Lost Spirits seemed apprehensive when I first began talking with them. My blunt and churlish style often deters people who disagree with my convictions, but they rolled with the punches and brought an awesome sense of humor to the conversation. I have a hard time resisting the charm of folks who aren’t afraid to take a good-humored jab back, so I offered them a small concession for when I wrote about their distillery: as a sign of good faith and in deference to their position on the contentious issue of spelling, (and also because I’m a little afraid of anyone who would intentionally create a spirit like this) for the duration of this post I will call it whiskey with an e. The spelling was carefully deliberated by visionary Bryan Davis and longtime business-partner/romantic-companion Joanne Haruta. They settled on that spelling to further distinguish their peated American whiskey from the traditionally peated Scottish product. Standing out from the crowd is a welcome theme here, and the spirit’s unusual constitution, from the wooden “log-and-copper still” to the Canadian-sourced peat, certainly deserves a little extra distinction.

As far as movies go, horror is not a genre for everyone, and for me, Lost Spirits’ whiskey is like the liquor version of torture-porn. It’s just so crazy that I can’t look away. I have to find out what happens next. Wait… what’s that guy doing with that blow-torch?!Ahhhhh!!! After adding a heaping dose of water, which I highly recommend, this could also be a Spaghetti Western; unapologetic, wild and lawless. Each sip confronts you with two hours worth of tumble weeds, senseless dueling on dusty boardwalks and people getting kicked in the stomach by horses. What will the next cask of this be like, because while all of their bottlings are completely untamed, the production here is so small that all of their whiskey is single cask by virtue of not having a tun that’s big enough to mix multiple casks. That means their bottlings number in the very low hundreds with lots of variation from release to release.

Cigar Malt Taintpunch

SHORYUKEN!!!

A while ago, Dalmore tried to cater to the cigar crowd by releasing a bottle called “Cigar Malt.” I thought that one was alright but extremely overpriced and probably not as good as they thought it was for sharing with a cigar. Lost Spirits just delivered a swift taintpunch to those clowns, with what I would consider to be a true “cigar malt”; one that would probably hold up much better being served on the patio with a nice, Dominican Robusto than neat and isolated in a sterile nosing lab. Now, I’m not really into smoking, but if you’re one of those people who dig a dank stogie, then this is whiskey you should seek out above all others. As it turns out, Davis is an avid cigar smoker, which may just explain the density of terror and violence he prepares his spirits with.

If you need a good reason to visit, besides the freakishly huge whiskey, there are few places on the planet more beautiful than Monterey County. Nestled between ice plant littered ocean front, redwood forests and chaparral California hills, Monterey County is the middle point on the drive from Morro Bay to San Francisco, which is a bucket-list worthy adventure up the 1. Second only to Big Sur, this might just be the coolest stop along the way. They found an awesome spot to exercise their craft, one I am extremely envious of.

Nose: Snuffed pipe tobacco and Heath bar. Dried moss and cherry tree bark. The interior of an old-timey western saloon and the whiskey or tequila they would serve there, with sandalwood and lots of desert gore. Blood pouring over the dirt floor of an abandoned Utah cellar where dark, terrible things are happening. Stomach acid stalks the finish on the nose. Malt waits until the coast is clear before breaking out the oatmeal cookies. Traces of bandage and menthol. Very young; I’d be very interested to see what the new make smells like and how much of this character is the spirit itself as opposed to the cask.

Palate: Citrus laced tobacco and sage. Hot, hot, hot. Salted, bloodied chocolate races past followed closely by a man with a rubber mask, a brass-handled knife and a smudge stick. Metallic wafts of gunpowder smoke, ACE bandage and bile in the bright, bright finish. It’s herby and nutty, too, like peanut shells and thyme bundles, with a touch of trout skin and a sprinkle of cinnamon from the cookies.

Rating: RiskyI give this rating as lovingly as possible. Would I Recommend this bottle to someone who asked me on the street for a recommendation? Probably not. Believe it or not, this sounds like it’s on the mild end of the spectrum for Lost Spirits and I don’t think Bryan is trying to make a comfortable, socially-acceptable drink. Timid explorers need not apply, I think he’s trekking over new frontier while trying to find an identity for his brainchild, a whiskey you should definitely Drink At Your Own Risk. I hope he can own that assertion with pride. As for horror, personally, I love it and would jump at Lost Spirits’ next mutation in a heartbeat should I find it within reach, however perilous that may be.

Thanks to the awesome folks at Lost Spirits for the bottle! Cheers!!!

Jim Beam – Rye (40%)

Jim Beam RyeThe label says this is “the world’s finest rye”. I’m not making this up. World’s. Finest. Thank god this economic downturn is finally over: the finest things in life are back to only costing $18, again. National crisis averted. I’m suddenly rich as hell and can stop spending all this money trying different rye whiskies, because here it is: the world’s finest rye. Adventure over.

Actually, this is the stuff fiscally-prude, wealthy people drink because they have no time to find out what good whisky actually tastes like. Oh, some food blogger who doesn’t try very many whiskies said it was really good? Well, that guy clearly has no idea what he’s talking about because this isn’t really good; it’s the finest goddamn rye in the entire world. It says so right there on the label.

In a brilliant marketing move, Jim Beam keeps their most terrible spirits in the bottle with their company’s actual name on it. I always wondered why distilleries did this. When I see Jim Beam in the print on any of their premium “small batch” brands I don’t think “hey, this must be their premium stuff”. Instead, I have flashbacks to my last brush with toxic shock syndrome after the most recent dose of Jim Beam I endured took its toll. I would think they would want to put their good stuff in the Beam bottles and silently release their most poisonous casks under another label, something like J Taylor M’Liversucks.

But I digress, things aren’t nearly as bad as I’m making them sound. The nose wasn’t poisonous. It was just really boring. “Is this really rye,” I found myself asking, “or is it decent Bourbon watered down with something from a mop bucket?” Nosing it next to almost any other rye at all makes it seem even worse, but tasting it was really where I decided to give this the lowest rating I could. Is it mixable? Well, it won’t ruin a drink but it’s not going to help it out any, either. If a recipe calls for rye, it’s asking you for something with flavor and this is not it. Is it affordable? Yes, but is that what whisky is really about? Because, silly me, I thought it was supposed to be about flavor.

Nose: Sliced whole wheat bread. No, not the good stuff, the stuff that people cut holes out of and smoosh their cat’s faces through to be funny. Faint pine sap brightness. A wet dish sponge with a drop of Dawn. A tiny bit of corn sweetness, but compared to almost any other rye this is extremely underwhelming.

Palate: It has a bitter base note. Fish food, orange zest, crushed multi-vitamins and pennies. The finish can’t go away fast enough. I would call it cheerless, like it’s mourning a lost family member.

Rating: RiskyJim Beam’s callin’ you a chump, sucka! If you want my advice, for an extra $3 you can get yourself a bottle of delicious Rittenhouse 100 and leave all this unpleasantness behind you.