Welcome to this month’s edition of the A-List, where we look back at the best of last month’s reviews and ratings and compile them into a really useful, printer-friendly graphic you may take along during your next trip to the store. We’ve reached the midpoint of 2014 and there have been some really truly exceptional items released on the market. One of the best years in a while? Quite possibly.
(Rob’s note: The Rittenhouse is an incredible bang for the buck rye that’s finally getting its due on the site. And while it is a wee bit pricey, the High West is quite a great grab if you can still find it on the shelves!)
Full confession: the first batch of this stuff was so bereft of quality, it was not uncommon to passive-aggressively serve generous pours to irritating house guests in hopes of expediting its stay on the shelf to the recycling bin. A few years since its initial release, reconsideration is warranted; with the hopes of quality control finally living up to its purpose.
As usual, a bit of context: Town Branch is made by AllTech, not a small family operation as you might expect by that folksy company name but rather a large conglomerate specializing in animal feed and nutrition. The company also makes a reasonably tasty bourbon-barreled stout and ale. Town Branch takes it namesake from the body of water on which the city of Lexington was founded, and boasts to be the first (legally) produced bourbon within the city limits in quite some time. It also has a rather limited distribution chain, so availability no doubt plays into its cachet. The mashbill is also somewhat peculiar in that it meets the 51% corn standard, but it uses only malted barley as the secondary ingredient, eschewing the traditional wheat or rye.
The color is a wonderful amber hue behind rather pleasant packaging: the bottle is gorgeous, the label not so much (typography and text is a bit tough to translate at points). But as the saying tells us not to judge books by their cover, let’s go deeper. The nose offers up much sweetness: traces of fruit and butterscotch immediately followed by mild oak and sawdust. The sweetness stays throughout and really doesn’t let up through the entire experience, and the finish is like a 4th of July firecracker: short and… sweet. A bit of a bang mixed with caramel, bananas, bread, and a mild burn. Those liking drinking matters smooth and easy may find the experience enjoyable, but for those who want to know they’re drinking bourbon and not a bourbon-inspired liqueur, this may not be the best bottle to bring to the table.
At 40% abv, it’s pretty tame when compared to other bourbons at the $30 price point. There’s also talk of a rye expression arriving on shelves in short order, which shall hopefully add the much-needed punch and unveil greater potential than what’s showcased here. I’ll most likely revisit this again in another two years, when this trial is far from fresh in my memory.
C / $27 / kentuckyale.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
This has been sitting on the shelf of a local store for a bit and at a price of $13, I thought it was worth dropping the coin to give it a spin. Benchmark Peach is marketed as an offshoot of the venerable Benchmark whiskey brand, but it’s not a flavored whiskey: It’s a liqueur.
To borrow a phrase: It’s just peachy. Very peachy. It certainly lives up to tasting like a peach liqueur with a hint of whiskey rather than the other way around. This could be quite handy for mixers and cocktail recipes: perhaps for a peach-mint julep, fuzzy navel (we still have those, right?), or a bellini. However, as a standalone product it’s almost too overpowering. There are other varietals in the series (Brown Sugar and Egg Nog were also on the shelves), and reviews of these will be coming in due time.
The packaging might cause a bit of confusion and high expectations for Benchmark loyalists expecting the usual Benchmark juice with a hint of peach. It may be unfair to compare, but the association is inevitable, and bourbon drinkers may find themselves a bit disappointed. As flavored whiskeyish products go, it’s not the best available on the market, but it is certainly far from the worst.
B / $13 / greatbourbon.com
Diageo’s new $115 million dollar distillery cleared a major hurdle yesterday, receiving approval from the Shelby (KY) planning commission to proceed with construction. However, this didn’t come without a fight, as many local residents expressed concern about environmental hazards, wildlife protection, and property values. It should also be noted that Shelby County is a “mixed” county — meaning wet within the city limits of Shelbyville, but dry around the remainder of the county. This would have an effect on Diageo’s ability to create revenue through tourism/tastings. Still no word on the distillery’s Master Distiller, but there’s talk this will be coming in short order. More on this later, no doubt. [WAVE]
More information is coming out regarding the fire that seriously injured one worker at an Oklahoma distillery last week. Twister Distillery was using a type of still which required an open flame, which was on a wooden pallet. On a forklift. [Tulsaworld]
The Spirits Business reports that five businesses have come together to form the Michigan Distillers Guild in an effort to unify and continue to grow the state’s success in the spirits world. We wish them well and hope that they partner with the Michigan Brewer’s Guild to advance things for all in Lansing. [The Spirits Business]
And finally today in science news, researchers have determined that a person’s vision quality physically deteriorates after alcohol consumption, giving new weight to the terms “beer goggles” and “blind drunk” as a way of describing inebriation. [Science 2.0]
There’s a couple of problems with listicles that we’ll not get into right now (maybe later). However, Lifehacker (nice name) debunks 8 prominent alcohol myths using science as its base, and it’s worth perusing. We also highly encourage you to read the comments section afterwards, as it’s one of the rare times community contributions actually enhance the reading experience. In other science news, pregnancy tests are now going to be available in bars across Alaska free of charge in an effort to reduce fetal alcohol syndrome. [Lifehacker]
The Guardian files a report on a trend usually associated with the tobacco industry: Alcohol companies are now starting to fund charities in order to gain political influence. So far it’s a minor trend, but it will be interesting to see if this starts to become a widespread practice and how it will influence the future. [The Guardian]
To commemorate 75 years in business, Crown Royal has issued a special limited run blend (review forthcoming). Monarch will retail for about $70 and come in at 40% ABV. Elsewhere in Canadian new releases, it seems as if Alberta Rye Dark Batch is (finally) making its way to the states, with a much more energy-drink like packaging than its Canadian edition. [Hat tip to SKU for the spot on this new release]
And finally today in bourbon news, Janet Patton files updates on the restoration efforts at the Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries for the Lexington Herald Leader, and the Today show interviews Fred Minnick and Chuck Cowdery on the supposed Bourbon shortage that’s happening in Kentucky.
Hello and welcome again to the Drinkhacker Shopping List, our semi-regular list of the best and worst of what we’ve reviewed over the last several weeks. This edition finds us incredibly beer and wine heavy, ideal for those outdoor dinner parties and relaxing summer moments when the days are long and the drinks are (hopefully) properly served. Enjoy!
On Father’s Day, most dads are just perfectly content with a glass of their favorite spirit, a can of their favorite beer or a glass of their favorite vintage. However, there are some fathers whose palate run a bit more refined. Here are a few recipes which show a bit more effort than just another tie or poorly designed ashtray.
1 part UV Vodka
3 parts grapefruit juice
1 dash of sour mix
Mix and serve over ice in a lowball glass.
Basil Hayden’s Dad’s Day Off
(Created by Zachary Brian Taylor, San Francisco)
1 ½ parts Basil Hayden’s bourbon
¾ parts Lemon Juice
½ part brown sugar syrup
1 sprig of Rosemary
Combine Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, lemon juice and brown sugar syrup into a cocktail shaker. Remove rosemary needles from the bottom 3/4 of the sprig and add to the shaker. Save the top of the sprig for use as a garnish. Add ice to shaker and shake. Double strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with the remaining rosemary sprig.
(Note: Didn’t have any Basil Hayden’s in the house, but tried this with Knob Creek Single Barrel and it worked just fine.)
1 ½ oz. Ketel One Oranje
1 oz. Aperol
½ oz. fresh orange juice
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
3-4 dashes rhubarb bitters
Combine first six ingredients in a mixing glass. Shake with ice and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with a long orange twist.
After a rather tumultuous legislative session and some tense moments between all parties involved, Tennessee courts have concluded the hearing into Diageo allegedly housing whiskey made at the Dickel distillery in other states. This allegation specifically included neighboring Kentucky, where Diageo owns several barrel houses worth of storage and orphaned barrels.The state adjourned its hearing after the explanation was given that all while all Dickel bottled as such stays within state limits, some juice does make its way into Kentucky to be used in other products. In other Diageo news, Whisky Advocate got to sit down with Diageo reps and Tom Bulleit, who further expanded on details of its newly planned distillery in Kentucky.
In science news, a new laser-based device may make it possible for law enforcement officials to detect the presence of alcohol vapors in a moving vehicle. Privacy issues aside, this type of a equipment doesn’t seem like it will be readily available for a while, but the paper has no doubt piqued the interest of the National Transportation Safety Board. [Daily Tech]
With decision day coming this fall, Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom is becoming a very real and sobering prospect. Harper’s takes a look at what that will mean for an industry currently enjoying brisk momentum and robust sales. [Harper's]
And finally today, in a “making lemonade out of lemons” feel-good story, a farmer in Texas hasn’t been able to sell his black-eyed peas for much, so he’s decided to turn them into a different sort of cash crop: vodka. [Chron]
Smirnoff has announced the arrival of its newest travel-only expression. Smirnoff White will come in at about $35 for 1 liter and will feature Smirnoff’s new freeze filtering process, where the vodka is chilled below freezing point and then charcoal filtered. No exacting word on its release, but no doubt we’ll be seeing it at travel retail shops sometime this summer. [Breaking Travel News]
In equally freezing news: apparently there’s a group of enterprising folks looking to set up a distillery in the far north of Norway. And by far north we mean the Arctic Circle. With a population of 7 in the winter time, the village of Myken may not be a tourist destination the likes of Islay, but this experiment could prove to have some interesting maturation results. [Alaska Dispatch]
Clay Risen sits down with Buffalo Trace head honcho Mark Brown for a conversation regarding the latest rumors surrounding Eagle Rare, and to clear the air. The article claims the conversation covered a lot of ground other than Eagle Rare, so we hope that this is the first installment of many, as it would be interesting to hear what else was discussed. [Mash Notes]
Vermont Public Radio posts a feature on the state’s booming craft distilling industry, and introduces us to some of the distilleries in the region and to the class being offered by local colleges to further the skills required to distill. [VPR]
And finally today, for something a bit out of the ordinary, the Spirits Business reports that a 15 year old has launched his own gin line with his three siblings. Appropriately christened Sibling Gin, the four enterprising teens have all gained experience working at the family brewery and now look to expand into the gin world. It will only be available in limited release in Cheltenham, England before (hopefully) seeing a wider release. [The Spirits Business]
Howdy and welcome to this month’s edition of the A-List, where we look back at the best of last month’s reviews and ratings and compile them into n unbearably useful, printer-friendly graphic you may take along during your next trip to the store. This month brings a wide variety of options and price points from which to choose, including an incredible bargain for fans of Rose wine and one of the best coffee liqueurs currently on the market.
(Rob’s note: It was an incredible month for bourbons, with two of my favorites of 2014 (thus far) appearing courtesy of Wild Turkey and Four Roses. The WT should be in stores soon, while the Four Roses may already be gone, depending on where you live. At this point, Jim Rutledge seems simply unstoppable with the high quality efforts he’s putting forth.)
Brown-Forman reported this morning that it had a very strong 2013 with a final quarter pulling in a 17 percent net income increase over Q4 2012. A spokesperson attributed the success to its Jack Daniel’s brand (and its offshoot varieties like Tennessee Honey), which rose 8 percent overall for the year, as well as an increase in sales for its super and ultra premium brands such as Woodford Reserve (up 25% for the year). Sales also proved to be strong globally for the most part, with the only notable decreases coming from France (-16%) and Mexico (-4%). [Associated Press]
Marketwatch interviews Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes on the state of industry competition, and lets slip a little bit about the company’s future intentions regarding Bulleit Bourbon, and its non-intentions for Johnnie Walker. [WSJ]
Shanken News Daily reports that the acquisitions by Campari of Canada’s Forty Creek Distillery and Italy’s Averna Group is complete. Adding to its already stacked portfolio, Forty Creek came at a price tag of $182 million and shows the company’s commitment to Canadian Whisky. Averna was purchased for a mere $141 million. [Shanken News Daily]
And finally today in science news, nuclear physicists are joining in the noble cause of detecting wine fraud. It’s a short read, but certainly one of the more intriguing articles we’ve read all week. [NPR]
June 4th marks the arrival of the holiday we’ve all been waiting for: National Cognac Day!
A quick primer on Cognac:
– It is a variety of brandy.
– It is produced in the wine growing region of Cognac in France.
– Like bourbon, it has certain requirements in its distillation process. It must be made from a specific varietal of grape, twice distilled in copper pot stills, and aged a minimum of two years in French oak barrels.
– There are numerous grades and distinctions into which Cognac may be classified, including by age and geography.
Without further ado, we present two cocktails involving Cognac for your consideration.
1 ½ part Courvoisier VSOP
½ part Campari
½ part sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine the VSOP, Campari and Vermouth in a shaker over ice. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and add bitters. Garnish with an orange slice.
Pommes et Raisins
2 parts Courvoisier VS
3/4 part fresh squeezed lime juice
½ part mint syrup
Top with hard cider
Shake and strained into a pilsner glass. Top with hard cider. Garnish with frozen white grapes.
Welcome to another edition of the Drinkhacker Shopping List, our semi-regular compendium of the best and worst beverages we’ve covered over the recent weeks. This time around we’ve had plenty to go around in every category, including some exceptional A-rated offerings, especially in the bourbon category.
We’ve also had a few expansive tasting reports for your consideration:
Rhone Rangers 2014
Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2014
Blue Chip Wineries of Paso Robles, 2014
Rogue brewery co-founder Jack Joyce passed away yesterday at the age of 71. Via Oregon Live:
Following a career as both a small town attorney and Nike executive, Jack and some friends founded Rogue in 1988 in Ashland, Oregon. From the outset, Jack set Rogue on a path of innovation, creativity, and rebellion. Rogue made hoppy, flavorful beers and was told that no one would drink them. Rogue made a wide range of beers and was told no one wanted variety. Rogue sold 22oz bottles of beer and was told no one would pay a premium for a single serve beer. Rogue opened multiple pubs and breweries and was told that it would be wise to follow a more efficient and logical business plan. Rogue took the road less, or perhaps never, travelled. Rogue was the first U.S. craft brewer to send beer to Japan. Rogue won 1,000 awards for product and packaging excellence. Rogue worried about getting better, not bigger. Rogue began distilling. Rogue began farming. Rogue remained dedicated to its small town roots and made sure to give back to its local communities. Rogue started a Nation. This was all vintage Jack. He was the true Rogue and will be missed by us all.
A tip of the glass to a pioneer, and from all of us here at Drinkhacker, our sincerest condolences.
The Pew Charitable Trust offers up a long and informative read on the current state of craft beer sales in America, and how it poses a potential threat to bigger beer companies. We’ve been touching on this subject here and there in Reads over the past few months, but this article brings everything up to date quite nicely. [Stateline]
Because it’s a slow news day, the Wall Street Journal profiles James Nielsen, the 34-year old who did the unthinkable and ran the “beer mile” in under 5 minutes. Apparently, the first ever championships are scheduled to be held later this summer. We’ll keep you posted. [WSJ]
Infamous Indiana whiskey distiller MGP announced yesterday via press release that it will be expanding its core offering to include 14 new spirits from which clients may choose for their bespoke bottling. Eight of these new 14 will be flavored whiskey options including black licorice and butterscotch flavored whiskeys. The other six include two new rye whiskeys, a 95% wheat whiskey, a 100% barley malt whiskey, and two bourbons, one produced with 45% wheat, and the other produced with 49% barley malt. Watch for reviews in, oh, three to seven years when other folks start bottling these things. [Press Release]
Finally today, we were super excited to receive a link to something called BeverageGrades, a new and somehow “objective” metadata web resource to help us pick out new bottles of wine which using several different scientific criteria, thereby rendering the need for subjective critical opinion obsolete. We’re pleased to report after numerous attempts at selecting different types of wine, we got exactly what we were looking for.
While other columnists and pundits bemoan the loss of innovation from the millennial generation, there’s a group of students looking to become the exception to the rule. Three enterprising young folks are developing Prime, a new beverage guaranteed to eliminate hangovers. While it will help with the next morning, the group claims that it will not help the user in avoiding bad choices the night before. The group has set up an indiegogo campaign to help develop the product further. On a most excellent TV side note, the team of college students also has a chemistry student named Walter as one of its founders. Looking forward to seeing where this goes!
In other science news, we took a break from enjoying gin and tonics, strawberry mint juleps, and other concoctions to read this outstanding piece by Jordan Devereaux, aka the Cocktail Chemist. It’s the first of what could very well be a multi-part piece on the actual chemical effects alcohol has on the body. It’s incredibly heavy on the science, but well worth the read — having a Wikipedia tab up for certain elements of the discussion helps as well. Excellent stuff. We’re looking forward to part 2. [Chemistry of the Cocktail]
A new study to be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research is making the case that folks mixing alcohol and energy drinks do so for purely hedonistic reasons. This one may seem quite obvious to anyone who has spent a weekend surrounded by people at a dance music festival. However, looking for the surprising connection, researchers found that:
“People who drank A+EDs to sober up were actually at an increased risk of experiencing alcohol-related injuries and harms… This finding is interesting because it could mean that consumers are incorrect if they are assuming that drinking caffeine might reduce their intoxication.”
So: Alcohol gets you drunk, no matter what you mix it with. All clear? [Science Codex]
Finally today, the New York Times takes craft beers down to the microscopic level and examines the genetic map of the beers. Not as science-heavy as some articles on yeast and genetic origins, but it certainly highlights the promise and potential of future innovations in yeast strains we may be enjoying in the not too far off future.
In some circles, it’s the official start of summer. In others, it is a time to pay reverence and salute those who have dutifully served in our United States Armed Forces. Whatever your occasion, we’ve taken the liberty to try out all of the cocktails suggested below and present them for your celebratory consideration. May you have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend!
1 ½ oz. Ungava Gin
1 ½ oz. Campari
1 oz. sweet vermouth
Orange twist for garnish
Add all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish
with an orange twist and serve.
3 parts Milagro Silver tequila
2 parts lemon juice
2 parts simple syrup
2 parts sparking water
5 parts Hibiscus Tea (1 tea bag per 16oz hot water)
1 part ginger juice
1 part Lillet Rose
Build ingredients in a punch bowl over a large ice block. Garnish with lemon wheels. Stir well for one minute to dilute. Serve to your guests in a rocks or punch glass and enjoy.
Spring Lemon Aide
(Created by Bobby “G” Gleason, Suntory-Beam Master Mixologist)
1 part Jim Beam Honey
2 parts fresh lemon sour
4-6 fresh blueberries
1 small (reasonable) splash of simple syrup
Lemon wheel for garnish
In a mixing glass, muddle the blueberries with a splash of simple syrup. Add the Jim Beam Honey, lemon sour and shake with ice then fine strain over fresh ice in a tall glass then top with club soda. Garnish with fresh blueberries and a lemon wheel on the rim.
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
1 ½ oz. pear vodka
1 oz. peach schnapps
4 oz. lemon-lime soda
1 mint sprig
In a cocktail shaker, add Lucid Absinthe, pear vodka, peach schnapps, lemon-lime soda and ice. Shake
and strain into a highball glass. Garnish with a mint sprig and serve.
The company may be running short on supplies of its flagship brands (Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace), but Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley is keeping busy putting out more limited runs of the Experimental Collection branch of the Buffalo tree. This time around finds the crew toying with warehouse floor location, a well-known factor in determining the speed at which Kentucky whiskey ages. From the press release:
The barrels aged on the first floor of Warehouse K resulted in a bourbon with a delicate flavor, subtly sweet, with a very mild oak taste.
Barrels aged on the fifth floor of Warehouse K yielded a bourbon that tasted of sweet vanilla and a light caramel, coupled with light wood flavors.
The ninth floor of Warehouse K resulted in a bourbon with a deep aroma. The flavor was of a roasted nut sweetness paired with green pears and figs.
“Through this experiment, we learned that something as simple as varying which floor a bourbon ages on does bring out different flavors in the bourbon, said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. “The higher floors had slightly deeper, woody notes as well as more varying fruity flavors.”
This round should be available later in June at the usual asking price of $46 for a 375ml bottle. Review to come.
Drambuie is up for sale. The legendary Scottish liqueur currently owned by Suntory is available for an asking price of around $169 million, according to the Financial Times. No word on any buyers yet, but this one isn’t likely to be on the market for too long. [FT]
The next installment of Bonham’s whisky auctions is set to take place later this month in Scotland. Amongst the items up for bid are a 50 year old Glenfiddich and a bottle of The Macallan Millennium Decanter 50 year old. Start saving your quid now, because if it’s anything like the last auction, things are sure to heat up quickly. [Scotland Now]
And finally today, the sports obsessed city of Cleveland seems to be having a great string of luck. CBS is reporting that one fan is taking it to the limit with a new beer dedicated to the latest QB draft pick, Johnny Manziel. There’s no word on whether Johnny Manz’ale will be made readily available to the public, but it’s no doubt a nice welcome for yet another quarterback destined to contribute to the Cleveland Curse. [CBS Sports]
Ready for another lawsuit? Totally ignoring the fact that the descriptive classification “pit bull” has been around since before the 18th century, rapper Pitbull is filing a lawsuit against New Amsterdam for marketing a cocktail christened the “Pit Bull” (fans of semantic detail please note: there’s a space between the two words). If his litigation skills are anything like his rapping ones, this headache may be around for quite some time. [Billboard]
From one dog to another, the profile of Bulldog Gin has been on the rise as of late and thanks to a recent distribution deal with Campari, there’s no sign of it slowing down. The Shout does a quick profile on the company’s history, and how it’s been making waves in recent competitions. [The Shout]
Elsewhere in the world of gin reads, the New Statesman takes a quick look at gin’s role in the history of British colonialism. It’s a quick read, but enjoyable from a historical perspective. Much like Fred Minnick’s story of the role of women in the history of whiskey, there’s definitely promise for future scholarship along these lines. Here’s hoping someone picks up the ball and runs with it from here. [New Statesman]
And finally today, on its way to stores is the third release in the (un)limited edition Orphan Barrel Bourban project. Rhetoric, a 20 year old bourbon, will feature juice distilled at both Bernheim distilleries and aged in a completely different warehouse. Diageo has recommended it at a retail price of $85, but no doubt folks will be upcharging from there as hype and demand accelerates. [Previously on Drinkhacker: our review of the first two whiskeys in the Orphan Barrel series]