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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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,
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!