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.

Into the Woods Part 9 – Quarantine Edition

Last night we did something fun, we did a Zoom teleconference “Happy Hour” with some friends.  We’re hoping to start doing this more regularly as the current crisis continues as a way to still connect with people and not feel so isolated. Yay technology! During the happy hour we popped open a couple special bottles and while I was taking some tasting notes found a few I hadn’t posted about yet. I guess I was waiting to get a few more, or just forgot. I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, honestly I haven’t posted much of anything in a while, but now I’ve got a lot of time to kill.

2017 Pelican Father of All Tsunamis – Barrel aged Stout:
Brown sugar, caramel, whiskey aroma.
Chocolate, brown sugar flavor.
Chocolate and whiskey in the finish.
I wrote “aged well” so apparently we’d had this one a while.
Thick rich mouthfeel, strong rye whiskey flavor on warming.
Logged on untappd Oct 8, 2018 – 5 stars.

Post Doc Demon Star – Barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout:
Light cinnamon aroma, light soy sauce, bourbon notes, light stone fruit.
Heavy chocolate flavor, bourbon, light cinnamon, alcohol heat.
Jet black, thick, opaque, lingering warmth.
One thing I remember about this beer is the bottle had a really thick wax layer on it and it was a pain to open. I don’t mind waxed bottles, but this was three layers thick with an embedded logo on the top. Looks cool but really over the top.
Logged on untapped Nov 1, 2018 – 4.5 stars.

2017 McMenamins Longest Night of the Year – Barrel aged Barleywine:
“One year in the fridge” in the notes.
Dry fruit, whiskey aroma, cola, brown sugar, apple, pear.
Heavy caramel/brown sugar flavor. Huge whiskey, apple, sweet finish.
Low carbonation, med-thin body. Whiskey lingers long on the palate.
Logged on untapped Dec 20, 2018. Apparently we accidentally aged this one in the fridge for a year and pulled it out the following solstice. – 4.5 stars.

2018 Fremont B-Bomb – Barrel Aged Stout:
Light dark fruit, heavy coconut aroma, light vanilla, heavy barrel character.
Dark fruit, cola flavor, whiskey character.
Spicy finish, alcohol warmth, lingering whiskey.
While it is difficult to remember what I think of a beer I tasted two years ago, I’ve been really impressed with all the barrel aged stuff from Fremont. It’s all been really really good.
Logged on untappd Dec 31, 2018 (New Years Beer!) – 5 stars.

Ommegang King in the North – Barrel aged Imperial Stout:
I bought this because I like Ommegang, and it was the best looking of the Game of Thrones series of beers. Purchased Jan 2019 according to the notes.
Light coffee aroma, slight sherry, not much there.
Thick mouthfeel.
Light chocolate, coffee bitterness, light coconut.
No warmth, booze hidden, not much barrel character.
“Good but expected better”. This one was kinda one dimensional which was disappointing.
Logged on untapped Sep 18, 2019 -3.75 stars.

And now we get to the two beers we opened last night.  Two variants of the 2018 version of McMenamins Longest Night of the Year. 2017 only had whiskey barrel aged, but 2018 had Whiskey, Rum and Port barrel variants. The two we had were Whiskey and Rum.

2018 McMenamins Longest Night of the Year – Whiskey Barrel Aged Barleywine:
Dry fruit, brown sugar, oak/vanilla aroma.
Coconut, dry fruit flavor.
Very smooth, not boozy.
I didn’t take many notes, but this was very complex and enjoyable. I really like this beer. I wonder if I can still snag a bottle of the 2019 version.
4.75 Stars.

2018 McMenamins Longest Night of the Year – Rum Barrel aged Barleywine:
Brown sugar, oak aroma.
Very sweet, dry fruit flavor.
Again, didn’t take many notes in the midst of the “happy hour” but this one was very one dimensional and not as complex as the whiskey version. I guess that makes sense with rum being a very one note (sugar) kind of liquor but was slightly disappointing. Still good, but might just stick to the whiskey version in the future.

So there we have it! Now we’re caught up on the Into the Woods series.  I have some more barrel aged goodies in the cellar at the moment, so more of those will probably make an appearance soon.

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!

Traveling Yeti meets Thirsty Sasquatch

Well, this was destined to happen.  They opened a place called the Thirsty Sasquatch and I had to go there and see what it was all about.  The Thirsty Sasquatch opened a couple of weeks ago North of the river in Vancouver.  Vancouver is starting to be influenced by Portland, especially in the areas of microbrewing and microdistilling, but still has a feel of it’s own.  The ‘Squatch is a taproom and taproom only.  They serve beer and hard liquor with a focus on whiskey.  They don’t serve food, but they encourage patrons to BYO and also have menus to a few local places that will deliver, including a Mexican restaurant that’s right next door.

Inside, it’s a little bit smaller than I was expecting, just a handful of tables, and it was mobbed when we showed up (not that that’s a bad thing).  We managed to snag a spot at the bar which was fashioned from a slab off a log with knots and stumps and all.  We both ordered a beer flight to try several things.  They offer pints, smaller pours, and the flight samples of the beers and full shots (1.75oz) and a “flight” taste (0.75oz) of the whiskeys.  The beer flight was four samples, and the whiskey flights according to the menu are “usually” four, but you can mix and match as you like, including just getting one, which we did.  You can find the taplist here. Nearly all the beers are from Oregon or Washington, with a couple currently from Epic in Utah and a couple from AleSmith and Alpine Beer in San Diego, CA.  The list changes often so be sure to check before you go.

The staff behind the bar is very friendly, with lots of suggestions including pairing of some of the beers and whiskeys.  We got a small pour of beer and a half pour of one of the whiskeys to give it a try and they paired together quite well.

Overall, it was a good experience and probably somewhere we’ll return to.  One of the newest taprooms in the area and it seems to be doing really well so far.