Buffalo Trace Completes First Round of Whiskey Experiments

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Earlier this year I wrote about Warehouse X at Buffalo Trace and the distillery’s dedication to experimentation with whiskeymaking technology. The first barrels were laid down here in 2013, and this week, 3.5 million data points later, they were cracked open, ready for analysis.

I’m pasting the full press release below, but here’s the findings in a nutshell.

  • Hotter barrels do indeed produce higher alcohol levels in the finished product. This has long been well-known in the business (and is the reason why barrels on the upper floors of a rickhouse tend to go into the rarer bottlings, like George T. Stagg), but Buffalo Trace has formally validated this with science.
  • Natural light hitting barrels however does not impact color or abv. The “honey barrel” theory has long held that barrels nearest windows, which receive natural light, mature more fully. The experiments show that this really isn’t the case. That said, other factors such as air flow may impact these barrels, so the jury’s not yet out on honey barrels.

More experiments are on the way, so stay tuned come late 2018 for the next batch of results!

FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (Nov. 30, 2016) Buffalo Trace Distillery has completed phase one of its bourbon barrel aging experiment inside Warehouse X, the experimental warehouse built in 2013 that allows for specific atmospheric variables to be tested in four individual chambers, plus one open air breezeway.   The first experiment focused on natural light, keeping barrels in various stages of light for two years.

Chamber One of Warehouse X held barrels at 50% natural light, while matching the temperature of the barrels inside the chamber to the temperature of the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

Barrels in Chamber Two experienced 100% darkness, while keeping the barrel temperature at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chamber Three also had 100% darkness, but those barrel temperatures were kept the same temperature as the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

Chamber Four barrels saw 100% natural light as the temperature was kept the same as the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.

In the two years this experiment was conducted, the barrels in the open air breezeway (which was not climate controlled) saw a fluctuation of temperatures ranging from -10 F to 105 F, likely some of the greatest temperature variance any bourbon barrels have ever experienced. The pressure inside these barrels varied from -2.5 psi to 2.5 psi.

The team at Buffalo Trace collected and analyzed an astonishing 3.5 million data points. Among those learnings, an interesting correlation between light and psi was realized, and a long held distiller’s theory of more heat equaling higher proof was scientifically proven (at least for now).

However, another popular theory was disproved in part – as it turns out, the amount of light does not really affect the color or the proof of the bourbon inside the barrels. So much for the theory of honey barrels! But Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley has this to add about honey barrels, “Even though we proved light doesn’t affect the color or the proof of the whiskey, that doesn’t mean that honey barrels (those next to windows in standard warehouses that are typically distiller’s favorites) don’t taste a little bit better. Perhaps because of other factors than natural light.  We did prove factors like temperature, pressure, humidity and air flow all play a role in the end result.”

Now that the light experiment is complete, Buffalo Trace is moving on to the next planned experiment, which focuses on temperature. In this experiment, the various chambers will experience different temperature variations, with Chamber One remaining the same temperature as the outdoor breezeway, plus 10 F.  Chamber Two will be 80 F, Chamber Three will be at 55 F and Chamber Four will be kept at the breezeway temperature minus 10 F.  The temperature experiment is expected to last at least two years.

For information about Warehouse X including a blog updated since the inception, visit http://www.experimentalwarehouse.com/

Review: Kuvee Wine Preservation System

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How to deal with the conundrum of leftover wine has been an issue that has dogged us for ages, and while numerous solutions work well, none is perfect.

Kuvee thinks it has the answer with this: A high-tech wine dispenser that lets you pour one glass at a time while ensuring the wines inside last for weeks.

The solution is quite a cutting-edge one. Kuvee is a sleeve that goes on top of a custom (this is key) bottle of wine. On the front of the sleeve is a web-connected color touchscreen that provides copious information about the wine, including a picture of the label, a winemaker bio, tasting notes, and more. The screen shows you when the bottle was opened and even keeps track of how much is left. A base station recharges the Kuvee every time you set it down, much like an electric toothbrush. Want more wine? You can actually buy it directly from the Kuvee, which is perhaps the first time I’ve had a bottle of wine offer to sell me another one.

I tried Kuvee with a white and a red, pouring out about half, then waiting two full weeks to see how well the wines fared. Both sailed through without an issue, tasting as fresh on day 14 as they did on day one. If you like to have multiple bottles in rotation and don’t like existing preservation methods, Kuvee is a winning solution.

The problem however is that Kuvee only works with those custom bottles (plastic canisters with a collapsing bladder inside), and there are only a couple dozen wines available. Most of those are relatively low-end. Exceptions like Chamisal, Round Pond, and Clos Pegase exist, but these aren’t the norm. I had never heard of the red I was sent, a $15 wine called Cartlidge & Browne, and it wasn’t terribly drinkable no matter what day I tried it on.

It’s nice that Kuvee requires no argon or other consumables, but the requirement of buying custom bottles will be a deal-breaker for most consumers. Unless Kuvee manages to expand to several hundred wineries at a minimum, it’ll be best reserved for restaurants with limited wine-by-the-glass programs where customers don’t get through a whole bottle every night.

$199 (with four wines) / kuvee.com

Review: Don Julio Tequila Blanco and Reposado (2016)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since we looked at Don Julio’s tequilas, aside from a (disastrous) appearance in our blind tequila roundup. Reportedly these have undergone recipe changes at least once since 2008 — the brand was sold to Diageo in 2014 — and Don Julio has continued to grow.

Today we take fresh looks at the blanco and reposado expressions of Don Julio, 2016 editions, which are grown from highland agave. Both are 80 proof.

Don Julio Tequila Blanco – I’ve been on and off with Don Julio’s blanco, but as of now it is revealing itself as a quite gentle but also engaging little spirit. The nose showcases crisp agave, a touch of lime, and white pepper. Spicy but not overpowering, the aroma sets you up for a bold body — but that never materializes. Instead we find it drinking with a surprising restraint, sometimes even bordering on coming across as watery. A stronger citrus profile makes its presence known, along with lingering floral notes. The finish is clean, lightly peppery, with a bit of lime zest hanging on. A great choice for mixing. A- / $30

Don Julio Tequila Reposado – Aged for eight months in oak (same as 8 years ago). Stylistically it’s quite light, which makes sense considering the blanco’s similar state. Notes are similar, though the pepper here is dialed way back. In its place, some orange peel, light caramel, and some light barrel char notes arrive on the nose. On the palate, again the pepper notes are restrained, with some modest brown sugar in their place. The floral elements are harder to catch here, their gentleness done in by the power of the barrel. The finish sees some red pepper, tempered by brown sugar, and a fleeting hint of licorice. All told, it’s a slightly sweetened-up version of the blanco. Nothing wrong with that. A- / $35

donjulio.com

Three 2013 Red Wines from Portugal: Passa, Assobio, and Titular

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Best known for dense Ports and crisp whites, Portugal is also home to a bustling red table wine production. Today we sample three reds from Portugal, including selections from both the Douro and the Dao regions.

2013 Quinto do Passadouro Passa Douro Red Wine – A traditional blend of touriga franca, tinta roriz, and touriga nacional. Notes of dark cherry and licorice find a curious companion in some sweet almond character, with the wine lightening up on the palate as it evolves to show off strawberry, some cloves, and a bit of vanilla. Short on the finish, but lively and pleasant. B+ / $15

2013 Esporao Assobio Douro – Another blend of touriga franca (40%), tinta roriz (40%), and touriga nacional (20%). Fresh blueberry notes fade into a licorice and clove character, adding body to an otherwise quite fruity attack. It’s a relatively straightforward wine, all told, but a versatile one that works in a variety of dining scenarios. B+ / $15

2013 Caminhos Cruzdos Titular: Dao Red – This blend from the Dao region comprises touriga nacional (45%), tinta roriz (15%), jaen (10%), and alfrocheiro (30%). Youthful, heavy on blackberries and brambly notes, with heavy tobacco, leather, and licorice notes bursting forth on the rustic finish. B- / $9

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2016

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Herradura’s fifth Coleccion de la Casa special edition tequila makes a return to its original expression from the series’ launch: Port cask finishing. Last seen in 2012, Herradura returns to the same formula for 2016.

As with the 2012 version, this tequila spends 11 months in ex-bourbon casks, then finishes for two months in formerly used Port casks.

This expression finds a relatively traditional reposado nose of vanilla-scented caramel and toasted marshmallow, plus modest agave and just a hint of red fruit. Aromatically quite racy, it’s got a level of red pepper I haven’t really seen in this line before. On the palate, again, traditional reposado notes tend to dominate. Black pepper, green onion, and mixed savory herbs give this a dominant, heavy base — and after five or ten seconds more fruity elements, driven by the Port finish, finally begin to surface. The finish lingers with very light notes currants and some strawberry, but it’s red and black pepper notes that hang in there after all else has faded away.

You’ll find more complexity, and a much stronger Port influence, in the original bottling, but this expression is quite compelling in its own right.

80 proof.

A- / $90 / herradura.com

Book Review: The Beer Geek Handbook

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Patrick Dawson’s Beer Geek Handbook is a kooky, breezy look at the often nutty world of beer – with the self-described “beer geek” squarely in mind. Extensively illustrated by Greg Kletsel, it covers the basics of beer, while tiptoeing into the rarified air of the Great American Beer Festival, beer trading, whether collaborative brews are any good, and what a DONG is. Reading this book won’t help you score a glass of Pliny the Younger, but it will help you better understand the obsession (perhaps critical if you’re a BS, a Beer geek Significant other, in the parlance of the book).

The book’s sections are quick, easy to digest, and best consumed piecemeal – and arguably while one is occupied on the toilet. While certain sections are more useful than others (the short sections on key breweries to visit is definitely worth a look), the whole affair is plenty of fun. A nice stocking stuffer.

B / $11/  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Laphroaig 25 Years Old and 30 Years Old (2016)

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Old Laphroaig is one of life’s great pleasures, but I haven’t encountered any truly wonderful old stock from the Islay classic since 2009. Good news, folks: Laphroaig is reintroducing both the 25 year old expression and launching its 30 year old single malt stateside, to boot.

Best news: We got ’em both and we’re here to review the updates. Thoughts follow.

Laphroaig 25 Years Old (2016) – A blend of whiskies aged in second-fill European oak Oloroso sherry barrels and ex-bourbon American oak barrels, bottled at cask strength. A quarter of a century in barrel have ensured that the fruity notes temper the smoky aromas considerably, everything coming together to showcase notes of camel hair, wet asphalt, licorice, and ample iodine. On the palate, ripe citrus notes from the sherry barrels trickle down into a pool of molasses and salted licorice waiting below. Cloves, pepper, and other spices emerge on the racy and lasting finish. This expression isn’t as well-formed as its 2009 rendition, but it’s still highly worthwhile. 97.2 proof. B+ / $500

Laphroaig 30 Years Old – Double-matured in first- and second-fill ex-bourbon barrels. No sherry impact here. This is a glorious expression of old Laphroaig, sweet and smoky and mellow as can be. The nose is a racy, spicy beast, familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in older Islay. But the use of 100% bourbon casking lets a more pure expression of the whisky shine through. The nose’s fire and brimstone are tempered with vanilla and caramel, and unlike many an Islay, its sweetness is kept clearly and firmly in check. The palate builds on that base, taking the the dying embers of a spent fire and injecting them with fresh apple notes, plus notes of gingerbread and flamed banana. Again, its sweetness is kept firmly in check, the finished product showcasing a balance and delicacy you almost never find in Islay whiskies. The above may be simple flavors and tastes, but Laphroaig 30 is anything but a basic whisky. It’s a nuanced malt definitively worth exploring, savoring, and understanding. 107 proof. A / $1000

laphroaig.com

Review: Pyramid Ditto Session IPA

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Seattle-based Pyramid’s newest brew is Ditto, a session IPA “dry-hopped with two Pacific Northwest hop varieties, Amarillo and Calypso, and includes three kettle hops, Nugget, Delta and Chinook.” It also includes a blend of pale, caramel, and wheat malts in the mash.

The brew is light on its feet, offering fresh bread notes studded with a touch of orange peel. Moderately bitter at first, a growing, brooding bitterness emerges the longer it lingers on the tongue. The finish is rather earthy, with notes of slate and evergreen bark hanging in until the end. All told, it’s a great example of a session IPA — I would have guessed it to be of considerably higher alcohol level than a mere 4 1/2 percent.

Available in 12 oz and 22 oz bottles… though the latter sort of defeats the purpose of a session beer, no?

4.5% abv.

B+ / $NA / pyramidbrew.com

Review: Westland Garryana Native Oak Series 2016

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Who or what is Garryana? It’s short for Quercus garryana, a species of oak native to the Pacific Northwest, where Westland Distillery is based. While American oak barrels are traditionally formed form Quercus alba, a species of oak common to the midwest, Westland, as you might have guessed, aged part of this limited edition release of its single malt whiskey in so-called Garry oak, where it spent three years slumbering before hitting the bottle. Westland has more information than you could ever want to read about Garry oak at the link below, so I’ll leave that fun to them. In brief: 21% of the whiskey is distilled from pale malt aged in new Garry oak, the rest is a smattering of different malts (including peated malt) aged in Alba oak (mostly new, but 10% used).

But let’s move on to the task at hand. Today we immerse ourselves in Westland Garryana. Thoughts follow.

The nose hints at citrus and red fruit, woody notes echoing eucalyptus rather than simple sawdust. With time, the peaty notes come to the fore, gently smoky but clear enough to make an impact. The smokiness grows with time in glass, taking on a nostalgic note reminiscent of sweet-and-smoky barbecue-flavored potato chips (and which is making me want to run out for Lay’s immediately).

The whiskey is approachable without water, and drinks without too much heat. On the palate, flavors of wet wood, citrus peel, and fresh grain quickly give this a familiar, Scotch-like feel. There’s also a light caramel and butterscotch note here that gives the whiskey a heavier level of sweetness than expected, with notes of toasted marshmallow, nutty sherry, and hazelnut. Smoldering and lingering on the finish, the whiskey eventually finds a lovely balance between sweet and savory, though it feels a bit short on depth. Still, considering its youth, there’s plenty to engage the senses here. Fans of peated Scotch should particularly give this a look to see a sort of Upside Down version of their favorite spirit. I can completely see how something like Garryana could grow on you.

112.4 proof. 2500 bottles produced.

B+ / $120 / westlandgarryana.com

Review: Starr Hill Last Leaf and Basketcase

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These seasonals are part of Starr Hill’s 2016 Fall Tour Pack along with Whiter Shade of Pale Ale and Northern Lights. Let’s sample the new brews.

Starr Hill Last Leaf Maple Brown Ale – A brown ale brewed with real maple syrup. Definitely the best of both worlds here, a light brown sugary sweetness giving the malt a fresher lift and an appropriately festive feeling, without being overtly heavy on the baking spices and chewy malt. A light bitterness on the back end adds balance, with hints of maple syrup making quiet appearances throughout the experience. 6.1% abv. B+

Starr Hill Basketcase American Helles – This bready brew drinks as an otherwise unremarkable lager, mild on the hops while offering a fairly heavy effervescence, more so than you’d find in a traditional German Helles (perhaps making it particularly “American” in this case). It’s a clean and inviting, though nothing that makes me think especially of the fall. 5.4% abv. B+

about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Charbay 2005 Double Aged Rum

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This new and highly, highly expensive rum from Napa’s Charbay was distilled in 2005 from Hawaiian and Jamaican first-press sugar cane juice (not molasses), fermented with Champagne yeast, and distilled on Charbay’s pot-style Cognac still. It was aged in stainless steel for five years then put into French oak Chardonnay barrels for three more years. It was bottled two years later, before finally being released at full barrel strength, uncut and unfiltered.

If the production methodology alone didn’t cue you in, this is an exotic and highly unusual rum. It has a lot in common with nicely aged rhum agricole, but it finds a style that’s completely its own, too.

The nose kicks things off with curiosity: dried banana, buttered popcorn, and notes of saltwater taffy. On the palate, the popcorn really pops, as notes of maple syrup, toasty brown sugar, cinnamon, and cloves hit forcefully, followed by a backbone of earthy coffee bean, mushroom, and tobacco. Deep and lasting, it is surprisingly approachable at nearly 65% alcohol, but water is a lovely idea, which brings out some salted licorice notes that don’t fully show at cask strength.

137 proof. 2790 bottles produced; about 25% of that was released this year.

A- / $450 / charbay.com

Review: Wines of Lazy Creek Vineyards, 2016 Releases

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Lazy Creek Vineyards, part of the Ferrari-Carano family of wines, is an Anderson Valley winery focused on pinot noir. Winemaker Christy Ackerman makes all of its wines as well as all of Ferrari’s pinots, and she invited a number of wine writers to sit in on an online tasting to sample the winery’s wares and learn more about what makes Lazy Creek so darn lazy.

First, some back story:

Lazy Creek Vineyards sits on a 95 acres ranch in Mendocino County’s bucolic Anderson Valley. Its vineyards were first planted more than 100 years ago, by the Italian Pinoli family. The winery was established in 1973 by Hans and Theresia Kobler, and quickly earned its reputation for excellent pinot noir and Alsatian-style gewurztraminer. In 2008, Lazy Creek Vineyards was acquired by Don and Rhonda Carano, who have continued a winemaking program emphasizing single-vineyard, terroir-driven pinot noirs and gewurztraminer, under the direction of winemaker Christy Ackerman. In 2014, Lazy Creek Vineyards was designated a California Certified Sustainable Winery (CCSW) by the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).

And now let’s taste some wines!

2015 Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir – A beauty, very lively and fresh, closer to a white wine than a classic, fruit-driven rose. Strawberry notes meld with sea spray and slate here, with a fresh and lightly floral finish. A- / $22

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Lazy Day Pinot Noir – This is the only Lazy Creek wine in broad distribution and comes from a blend of various estate vineyards. Fairly standard-issue for Anderson Valley, loaded with notes of cherries, raspberry, and some vanilla. A little licorice edge on the back end gives this some tannic grip and a bolder profile that is more aggressive than more inland pinots. Highly drinkable. A- / $35

2014 Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir – As weighty as the Lazy Day pinot is, this expression pushes things much further. Big notes of licorice, coffee bean, and some smoky wood notes dominate, giving the wine a body closer to a syrah than a typical pinot noir. The bittersweet finish offers a respite in the form of dried cherry and light cocoa notes, but what comes before is quite aggressive and needs careful attention, particularly if attempting to pair it to food. B / $58

2014 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir – A point of comparison for the tasting, as this is bottled under the primary Ferrari-Carano label, but still comes from Anderson Valley fruit. Again the licorice kicks off right from the start, with darker blackberry notes forming the core. Spicy clove and black pepper give it an aggressive edge, along with some balsamic character. The finish is rougher than Lazy Day, but not as bold as the Estate pinot. B+ / $38

lazycreekvineyards.com