The Whisk(e)y Chronicle #3

Evan Williams Single Barrel:

Style: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Produced by: Heaven Hill
Origin: Kentucky, USA
Proof: 43 (86%)
Age: NAS Technically. Age of barrels vary, this one is 8 years.
Price: $26 (Oregon, USA)

Other Information:
Barrel #407
Barreled on – 1-25-2012
Bottled on – 2-14-2020

Tasted neat in a Glencairn:

Aroma: Heavy vanilla, light brown sugar, light honey, slight alcohol burn.
Flavor: Heavy brown sugar up front, light vanilla, cherry/dried fruit on finish. Lingering heat. Oaky/wood lingers in the mouth.

Tasted with a splash of water:

Aroma: Honey, brown sugar. Alcohol burn intensified, which is unusual.
Flavor: Muted sweetness, heavy alcohol burn. Not better with water.

Verdict: 4 stars. Like the EW Cherry, this whiskey suffers from the addition of water. It’s actually much better on it’s own. This is perfectly good to drink on it’s own, but it does make a killer Old Fashioned. At this price point, this certainly could become a regular on the bar. Very good for it’s price. Pricewise it’s in line with the likes of Makers Mark and Jack Daniels Black Label, which are also good, but this is a slight step above. Makers and JD I’d be much more likely to mix, rather than drink neat.

Whisk(e)y Chronicle #2

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Evan Williams Cherry Reserve:

Style: Flavored American Whiskey (Kentucky Bourbon and Cherry Liqueur)
Produced by: Heaven Hill
Origin: Kentucky, USA
Proof: 70 (35% ABV)
Age: NAS
Price: $11.95 (Oregon, USA)

Tasted neat in a Glencairn:

Aroma: Strong cherry aroma and hot alcohol. Burns the nose slightly. Touch of oak, light brown sugar and vanilla.
Flavor: Again, cherry dominates. Brown sugar, oak in the finish. Very light vanilla/marshmallow. Sweetness lingers, as does heat.

Tasted with a splash of water:

Aroma: Sweet cherry and vanilla dominate, alcohol heat still present.
Flavor: Sickly sweet cherry, like cough syrup with alcohol. Was better neat.

Verdict: 2 stars. Solid 2 star. Good enough to drink on it’s own (but apparently not with water), but pretty much designed to mix with soda or soda water.  It’s flavored whiskey, so basically it is what it says it is. It’s cherry. Mix with Coke or 7Up for an adult Cherry Coke/Shirley Temple.  It’s sneaky at 35%. Goes down way too easy.

Whisk(e)y Chronicle #1

I’ve featured whiskey on the blog off and on as a spin-off to the In the Woods barrel aged beers feature, but I’ve been getting a little more seriously into whiskey lately, and thought it would be fun to do some tasting style reviews of whiskies. I haven’t had a lot to write about lately, with the pandemic, most of my normal topics have disappeared. I haven’t brewed since January, or judged a competition since February. Competitions, festivals and conferences have all been cancelled and I haven’t even been travelling that much to visit new breweries. At least tasting whiskey is something I can do from the safety of my own house.

I’ll use a 5 star rating system, similar to my beer reviews and Untappd. A lot of online rankings I see (such as Reddit) use a 10 star, but I don’t think I need to differentiate that much. Also, most people’s #1 is “Drain pour”. I’ve only poured out a partial bottle of liquor once, so that’s unlikely to happen again. I’ll at least mix it with coke or something to get rid of it.  So my scale will be:

1 Star – Mix with something to get rid of it.
2 Star – Solid mixer, great for quick mixes like Coke, 7up, Orange juice etc.
3 Star – Good enough to drink on it’s own. Possibly good for “fancy” cocktails, like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
4 Star – Fantastic on it’s own. Could make into a high end cocktail, but not needed.
5 star – Blows you away. Don’t mix with anything. Life changing on it’s own.

Might as well start with the bottle that’s in the cabinet right now. Nothing fancy, but it’s a good enough place to start.

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McAfee’s Benchmark Old No 8:

Style: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Produced by: Buffalo Trace
Origin: Kentucky, USA
Proof: 80 (40% ABV)
Age: At least 36 months (per label)
Price: $11.95 USD (Oregon, USA)

Tasted Neat:

Aroma: Light Brown Sugar, heavy fusel alcohols, burns the nose.
Flavor: Heavy Brown sugar, light maple, very light smoke, very hot in the mouth. Long finish, lingers.

Tasted with an ice cube:

Aroma: Heavy maple sweetness, light caramel/brown sugar, very light smoke/char.
Flavor: Light brown sugar, light maple, long finish. Very light smoke.  Very light cinnamon/rye spice very late in the finish.

Verdict: 2 stars (almost 3). Very solid bourbon for it’s price. In my opinion, it’s head and shoulders above others in that range like Evan Williams White Label, Old Crow, etc. Hence, the almost 3 star. I probably wouldn’t use it to make an Old Fashioned (although, I’ll likely try it before the bottle is empty) but it’s great on ice or mixed with coke. I picked it because I’m a big fan of the Buffalo Trace portfolio and this doesn’t disappoint.

Recommendation: Great for mixing with coke or 7UP (7 and 7 style). Remarkably high quality for a $12 bottle of bourbon.

Blast from the Past

While we were rearranging the lab offices at work and preparing to move into new offices, I came across this gem on the bookshelf with our technical manuals.

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The Great Beer Trek by Stephen Morris.  Published in 1984, this “Revised and Updated” version was published in 1990. For reference, in 1990 I was 10 years old. Still well away from my drinking years.

Eventually, I’d like to flip through the whole thing, but of course I turned immediately to the section on Oregon to see what was represented there.  The book lists 12 breweries for Oregon.  I’m not sure if this is every brewery that was in business in 1990, but California has 4 pages worth, so there doesn’t seem to be a numerical limit to the lists.  Surprisingly, all but one of them are still in business.  If you’re curious who were the beginning of the craft beer revolution in Oregon, this is them.

Ashland Ale’s Brewery and Public House, Ashland OR: Brewers of Ashland Ale and Rogue Golden Ale.  This was the first location for what is now known as Rogue Brewing Company.  Expanded first to Newport, OR and then Portland, Rogue now has several breweries and pubs scattered across the state as well as a distillery, a cooperage and a farm.

Deschutes Brewery and Public House, Bend OR: The first pub for Deschutes in Bend is still there, in it’s original location.  There is now a huge production brewery across town that I highly recommend visiting, as well as a pub and small pilot brewery in Portland.  Deschutes is one of the biggest breweries in the state now.

Oregon Trail Brewery, Corvallis OR: I honestly don’t know a lot about this brewery, but it’s still around.  Opened in 1987, with an ownership change in 1993, but it’s still kicking.

Eugene City Brewing Co., Eugene OR: This brewery closed in the early 90’s, and a new brewery opened in 1996 with the rights to this name but otherwise unaffiliated with the original.  This is the only one presented in the book that no longer exists. The new Eugene City Brewery eventually became a Rogue pub, but closed in 2014.

McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse (Hillsboro), Lighthouse Pub (Lincoln City) and Hillsdale Pub and Brewery (Portland): Hillsdale was the very first McMenamins property.  Apparently, they had expanded to three at the time of publication.  The McMenamins “empire” as they jokingly refer to it, now stretches from Bothell, Washington (north of Seattle) down to Roseburg, Oregon (damn near the California state line) and now includes concert venues, movie theaters, golf courses, a winery and two distilleries. They are more known for quirky decorations and tater tots than they are beer, but their Ruby Raspberry Wheat Ale is a “gateway” beer for a lot of people.

Hood River Brewing Co, Hood River, OR: Brewers of Full Sale Golden Ale.  I haven’t found the reasoning for the “sale” spelling in the Golden Ale name, but this brewery is still around and still in Hood River.  Although, now they go by the name Full SAIL.  They fashioned themselves as an “adventure” brewery, with all the wind surfing and kite boarding that happens in the gorge.  Their Session brand of light quaffable beers is quite popular.

Blitz-Weinhard Brewing, Portland, OR: While this brewery technically still exists, it does so in name only and is no longer in Portland.  First owned by Stroh’s and then eventually Miller Coors, the Portland brewery shut down in 1999.  The name exists still in the Miller Portfolio as Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve and the line of Henry’s Hard Sodas. At first, I thought Mr. Weinhard must be spinning in his grave to have his name on neon orange and grape alco-pops, but reading The Beer Bible I discovered that Weinhard actually kept his brewery in business selling sodas during Prohibition, so maybe it’s actually fitting.

Bridgeport Brewing Co, Portland, OR: One of the “big three” in Portland, it’s still around, although the last couple of years it’s fallen on hard times.  Bought and then seemingly ignored by the Gambrinus Co (Shiner Bock in Texas), they started to fade away.  A recent brand refresh and new product offerings has given some life to the old brewery and hopefully it can make a comeback.  I’d hate to lose one of the originals.

Portland Brewing Co, Portland OR: The brewery that I work for, although no longer on NW Flanders Street as indicated in the book.  Moved into a larger facility in the NW Industrial area and in 2004 merged with Pyramid Breweries out of Seattle (more below). Now part of a conglomerate that includes Magic Hat in Vermont and Genessee in New York.  Started in 1986, so between the first publication of the book and the update.

Widmer Brewing Co, Portland OR: The last of the big three (including Bridgeport and Portland Brewing) makers of the ubiquitous Widmer Hefewiezen.  The classic example of American Style Hefe.  Distributed mostly nationally thanks to a 30% partial ownership from AB-InBev, Widmer also formed a small craft conglomerate called the Craft Brewers Alliance that includes Redhook Brewing in Seattle and Kona Brewing in Hawai’i.

Other notes:

On the page facing the Oregon page, one of the Washington listings is Hart Brewing in Kalama, Washington.  Makers of Pyramid Pale Ale and Pyramid Snow Cap Ale.  This brewery would later move to Seattle and become Pyramid Breweries, which would then merge with Portland Brewing Co.

Under the section called “Kindred Spirits” following the brewery listing is a list of three homebrew clubs.  Heart of the Valley in Corvallis, which still exists, Cascade Brewers Society in Eugene, which is also still around, and the Oregon Brew Crew in Portland, of which I am a member.

North Carolina is listed in the section called “The Wastelands” and only lists 4 breweries.  One of which is a branch plant for Stroh’s in Winston Salem, which as far as I know has been closed for a long time, and one is a Miller plant in Eden, which closed about 10 years ago.  It’s still sitting vacant to this day because it’s much too large for anyone other than Bud/Miller/Coors to use.  Even larger breweries that have since opened in North Carolina like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium would struggle to fill that capacity.  The other two breweries listed I have never heard of; Dilworth Brewing Co in Charlotte, which apparently closed in 1998 and Weeping Radish Brewing in Manteo, a German style brewery that still exists and still strictly adheres to the Reinheitsgebot purity law from 1516.

South Carolina lists zero breweries.

Into the Woods Part 8 – Halloween Edition

The weather has turned cooler, it’s raining and there are leaves blowing around everywhere.  Dark, thick beer weather is upon us at last.  Last night I went over to a friends house for a Halloween party and both our hosts and several guests brought out some nice bottles for the occasion. Large parties are great for trying several things since 6-10 people are splitting a bottle you can get several small tastes in without getting too deep into the weeds at the end of the night.

I didn’t take any tasting notes, but several things jumped out at me, so I want to get them jotted down here while I still remember them.

2018 Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star Spice Wars – Fremont Brewing (Seattle, WA) –This was the first bottle that got opened and talk about swinging for the fences.  Fremont has a pretty good track record with barrel aged beers.  I’ve had the plain Barrel Aged Dark Star, but this one has the addition of a handful of spices.  The label lists cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and vanilla.  It was delightful to drink and the only thing I would really knock it for was that the cinnamon really overpowered everything else. I didn’t get the other spices.  My wife said it tasted like an oatmeal cookie, so I think they nailed it. (4.75 stars)

Good Gourd Almighty – Pumpkin Beer aged in Rum Barrels – Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL) – The first of three Cigar City beers to make an appearance last night (our hosts used to live in Florida and attend the Hunahpu Stout release often).  Lightly spiced pumpkin beer with a strong vanilla presence from the rum.  Pretty easy drinking and does well to hide it’s 11% abv strength.  (4.5 stars)

Forgotten Island – Belgian Quad aged in Rum Barrels – Cigar City Brewing –  Another rum barrel aged beer from Cigar City, unfortunately this one was not very good.  Or, at least it was very old.  I believe this was from 2014 and it was sickly sweet, not crisp and dry like a Belgian strong should be and was very oxidized, a flavor to which I’m sadly very sensitive.  Other people weren’t as put off by it as I was, so some personal taste issues I’m sure.  Would have probably been amazing if fresh.  (3.25 stars)

2013 Eclipse (Black Wax/Evan Williams barrel) – FiftyFifty Brewing Co. (Truckee, CA) – I see these bottles at the bottle shop all the time, what’s interesting is they bottle variants from a single style of barrel and the different wax color is the key to what barrel. One might be Woodford Reserve, one might be Heaven Hills, etc. This one was Evan Williams, which isn’t super rare, but still a very enjoyable beer.  Super smooth and great whiskey character.  No harsh alcohol despite pushing 12%. (4.75 Stars)

Toyko* – Brewdog Brewing (Aberdeenshire, Scotland) – I really have no idea what this beer is supposed to be.  An imperial stout with jasmine and cranberries and then dryhopped and aged on toasted French oak chips.  It says it’s meant to be “excess” and it surely is.  Even comes in at a whopping 18.2% alcohol.  At about 4 years old, it mostly tasted like soy sauce.  Not very pleasant, but interesting to try. (3.0 stars)

Bonus Beer:

2013 Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Cigar City Brewing –  This one’s not actually barrel aged, but it was a rare treat to get to try it and it rounds out the Cigar City trio from last night.  This Mayan themed beer is essentially Mexican chocolate, with cocoa and chili peppers.  It was pretty good, but the peppers were a bit over the top for my personal taste.  It had a strong flavor and a bit of a throat burn.  (4.5 stars)

Backstage Pass to Whiskey

This is predominately a beer blog, but I also enjoy other spirits, and had a unique experience last night that I felt was worth writing about.  The McMenamins Back Stage Pass to Whiskey was a private, ticketed event with whiskeys from all around the world.  This was an amazing chance to broaden my horizons and taste a lot of different things.  We were given a glass and tokens to enjoy small tastings (1/2 oz?) of a long list of things, many rare and new to Oregon, and some that they only had a single bottle of. The beer tie-in is that my love for whiskey and love for barrel aged beers go hand in hand.  More and more we start to see wine, tequila and gin barrel aged beers, but the majority of barrel aged beers are bourbon/whiskey barrels.  I didn’t take extensive tasting notes, but a couple of things did pop out at me.

Scotch:

I’m not normally a fan of Scotch because I don’t like the smoky flavor.  I think I’m really sensitive to those phenols, and just don’t enjoy it.   A couple of the bottles they poured last night I could smell them from across the room.  Completely unintentionally, I began and ended my night with a Scotch.  The first sample I had was the Balvenie 14yr Caribbean Cask.  Finished for the last few months in rum barrels this whiskey was smooth and slightly sweet.  It was also not smoky at all, something I had gleaned from the online tasting notes.  The last sample of the night was the Oban Little Bay. This was was also supposedly not very smoky, and it wasn’t, but it was there.  Particularly in the finish.  It wasn’t to the point of being unpleasant, but it was noticeable.

Japanese:

McMenamins has always had a great selection of Japanese whiskys at their properties.  I only tried one last night since the Yamazaki 12yr, Yamazaki 18yr and Suntory Toki I’ve all had in the past.  I highly recommend the 18 year if you can find it.  The one I tried last night was the Nikka Coffey Grain.  I think the first time I saw this I misread it as “Coffee”, and interestingly enough, this whisky is very dark with a very slight roast note to it.  Quite tasty.

Irish:

I’m a big fan of Irish whiskey.  Bushmills is a go-to favorite of mine.  The first one I tried was the Knappogue Castle 12 Year, and it was pretty good, but I think it was a little sweet.  Tasting notes on the website list honey and marshmallow, which normally I would like but it was a bit off putting.  The other Irish I tried was Jameson Reserve Selection Black Barrel.  This one blew me away.  Very smooth, really nice easy sipper.  No one flavor dominated, very balanced. I was interested in the West Cork Limited Rum Cask, but it disappeared from the table so I think I missed my chance.  I did overhear someone say they weren’t impressed with it, but different strokes ya know?

Rye:

I’ve discovered somewhat recently that I really like Rye whiskey.  Sometimes more than their non-rye counterpart.  Buillett Bourbon is a classic, great neat or in a mixed drink, but in my opinion Buillett Rye is even better.  The first thing that caught my eye was the Whistlepig Straight Rye 15 year.  This is a brand I see online very often as trade bait and people in search of, so I had to try it.  It was pretty good, and I could get it here in Oregon, but at $85.00 a bottle, it’s not likely to find a place in my liquor cabinet anytime soon.  Next, I tried McMenamin’s newly released Billy Rye Whiskey, a rye version of their Billy Wheat Whiskey.  It was quite delicious and very heavy on oak and vanilla notes.  Super smooth, easy drinker.  Knob Creek Rye got a turn and it was solid and enjoyable.  Nothing jumped out of me but simply a “Yeah.. I like that” kind vibe.  Most Knob Creek I’ve had in the past has been good. Last was the High West Double Rye.  This was quite good, and very spicy.  It had a cinnamon-like quality to it’s spice.  Another beer tie-in, it took me a bit to realize that High West is the barrels used to make Lagunitas High Westified Imperial Coffee Stout.

Canadian:

I only tried one of the Canadian offerings, and I’m sad to say it wasn’t very good.  The Lot 40 seems to have a lot of praise online, but to me it came off very saccharin-sweet.  Artificial tasting and not a good kind of sweetness.  A friend of mine there, who happens to be an Edgefield distiller, told me Canada allows adding sweeteners to whiskey.  (Wikipedia says caramel color and flavour allowed, similar to Scotch).  Seems like a shame, it may have been pretty good otherwise.

Bourbon:

Not surprisingly, this table had the heavyweights.  I tried three from this table, starting with the Woodford Reserve Cosmic Selection, a special McMenamins exclusive blending.  It was super smooth and rich, very very nice.  More and more I’m seeing these type of special exclusive blends, or single barrel runs, where a certain bar will pick a barrel and then get every single bottle that comes from that barrel, exclusive to them.  Next was the I. W. Harper 15 yr.  I remember it being pretty solid, but not anything that blew me away.  Last was the one that stole the show.  The Bookers 25th Anniversary.  Adorned in gold wax and a red ribbon, I knew this bottle was rare when I saw it, but I didn’t actually know how rare until this morning when I looked it up.  I posted the following picture on Instagram,

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with the caption “Bookers 25yr.  I don’t want to know how much that bottle costs.”  When I looked this morning I realized I had transposed 25th Anniversary and 25 years old.  Obviously 25 year old Bourbon would be something special, but this was a one time release from 2014.  It appears to have been around $110 at release, but now the few bottles that remain are listed from $750-999 on a wine sales website.  Holy cow.  It was good, but I don’t think anything could be a Grand good.  Bookers is another brand I see often in online trades.  It seems to be popular for people how can’t normally get it.

So there we have it, a whirlwind world tour of the world of whisk(e)y!