For the Love of the Hunt… and for all the people out there that have pissed off their spouses for liquor store detours.

My wife thinks I’m nuts. Why do I find incredible enjoyment walking into random liquor stores when I’m on vacation or places I’ve never been before. Is it a disorder? I just have this incredible invisible force compelling me into these stores. I can’t help it. Most of the time I walk in, look around, and walk out… but then there are times when I’m there for an hour.

Hunting in 2019 (and going forward) makes me appreciate commercial fisherman on the East Coast even more… it’s over hunted, you have to go twice as far to get half the load, and every once in a while you get scolded so badly by your spouse for ignoring your children (or dragging them in with you) that you almost want to quit. But then this happens:

Here’s the story. I’m in upstate New York visiting a cidery and I forgot I had to mail a letter. I pull over to the post office and across the street appears to be a closed down liquor store. I walk over and they have a doorbell, it says “push hard.” I do. Twice. A minute later a little old lady walks out the next door and comes over, introduces herself, unlocks the door and lets me in. It’s mostly very low end stuff, but above the shelf, about 7 feet above the floor, I spot a dusty Rebel Yell. I reach for it and she says it’s not for sale because no one would want anything up there because it’s all been there since they bought the store in the mid 1970’s. Jackpot. I say I’d really like to buy it and she says, ok, but it’s probably gone bad (Turns out the Rebel Yell was a 1983, I found that out from some trolls on Facebook, but that’s a story for another time). I climb on a box and behind the Rebel Yell is an Old Fitzgerald 1976 decanter. Two Stizel-Weller bottles?? There were a few other lesser decanters and I paid cash and went on my way. I gave them more than they were asking for them because I felt bad they didn’t know what they had. But these things were sitting in plain sight for 45 years. Reminds me of Godfather III: “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

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I’ve never seen Stitzel-Weller bottles on a dusty random shelf before… only in glass cases for thousands of dollars. I don’t ever expect to again… but I know they must still exist.

I did another hunt a month ago and the take is below… I didn’t buy anything at MSRP, but most was below secondary. I’m going to sell some, trade some, and drink most. I didn’t get everything I wanted this Bourbon season, but hopefully with the multiples I got, I’ll be able to trade my way into my deepest desires. That’s the only way to do it these days and as far as I am concerned there is no stigma to it. Anyone who thinks there is, probably isn’t going for the stuff I am going for anyway.

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The closest I got to MSRP this year was $200 for a Stagg from my local guy I do a lot of business with. Patronizing your local guy, making friends and staying on them is still your best way to get the best price on the allocated stuff. But for those who need more, the hunt is still alive and well and there is just enough out there to stock the bunker, and keep the dream alive for next year!

Full 2019 Pappy Lineup Reviews…

I recently shared a tasting with a friend and client…. here are my notes. He’s not the same experience of taster that I am but on average he agreed with my conclusions. If anything he had a lower score for the rye and higher score for the older Pappy’s. The reviews are in order of my tasting… enjoy!

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The 13yr rye has an epic nose, better than both BTAC. The spice of Handy with the complexity of Saz…. and I haven’t even tasted it yet. It a touch hot but not bad on the palate, but the mouthfeel is a little lacking. The flavors are good but it just falls off a little too soon. The nose was epic but the follow through just missed it for me. Still wonderful, but not worth the price. 94/100 (When I went back to this after the Pappy 15, the nose was still great but the mouthfeel was even thinner than before)

Pappy 15, always a crowd favorite…. creme bruele, toasted corn bread and cinnamon toast crunch on the nose with hints of dusty wooden age surrounding it, so you know it’s older. Really nice mouthfeel, good tannins and oil coating the entire mouth with butterscotch, toffee and graham cracker flavors oozing into spaces between my teeth. This knocks it out of the park. The finish goes on for 3 minutes or more. I wish this was affordable. 98/100.  I’m a buyer of this one… send me a DM please…

Old Rip Van Winkle 10yr…. another favorite, usually the best value of the bunch…. to be fair I had this after the 15yr which probably wasn’t fair…. nose is great, much fresher than the 15yr but not young in the bad way… getting tons of orange peel, chocolate covered orange peel, dried orange peel with cloves stuck in them… oh and a little bit of butterscotch and buttered, toasted brioche. Mouthfeel is awesome, might even edge out the 15yr… flavors lovely too. So… how does it stack up? The nose is very good but not insane. The mouthfeel with the heat component might be the most perfect balance I’ve ever experienced. The finish is long and good but the flavors from the Pappy 15 are more complex and enjoyable. This is my favorite Rip 10yr in a while though… 97/100.  I’ll be trying to hunt for this one…

Lot B… 12yr… generally people’s least favorite one… the nose always is older then the statement and this one is one different… forest mushroomy floor, No 2 pencil shavings, ginger snaps, dried cherries and Rollos. Mouthfeel is not bad but not great…. a little thin and falls off quickly. I guess they get points for consistency? Still enjoyable but this one you should trade for a 10yr if you can sucker someone into that trade… 87/100

Pappy 20….. interestingly light and floral on the nose, lightly toasted wheat toast with Nutella lightly spread across. Mouthfeel is a little lacking and the flavors go a touch bitter on the finish. It’s still enjoyable and complex but doesn’t compare to the 10, 13 or 15… 90/100

Pappy 23….. oldest for last but is it best? You can tell from the nose it is the oldest. Definitely wood forward but lots of tertiary notes of chocolate, leather, candy and almonds. Almost no heat at all and the mouthfeel is pretty good. Not a lot of oil but a good amount of enjoyable tannins. Finish is less sweet but not bitter, I’d consider it savory. It’s good. No, it’s very good. It’s the oldest, but it’s not the best. Trade this one for 2x 15yrs. 94/100.

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The BTAC Reviews…. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2019

Clearly these are all amazing whiskies. I get a lot of negative feedback on how I can possibly grade some of these so low. I take into account prices when I do, so if it’s a secondary $500 bottle but tastes no where near that, the score will suffer. Hate my system or love it, thanks for reading. All clicks are good clicks, right???

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Sazerac 18 / Saz18
Good but subtle nose. very subtle rock candy, subtle hints of mushroom umami, watermellon Jello , #2 pencil shavings, orange clove. Reminds of Saz18 past but less vibrant. Moderate mouthfeel, starts slow but builds up over time. Clove, Skittles and graham crackers on the tongue. The finish is pretty good and doesn’t drop off… it still gives you that 18yr dry dust just in the back of the tongue to let you know it’s the oldest of the bunch. This is one of the better Saz18s from a taste and finish perspective, but the nose is a little lacking. The tanked stuff is still the best. Easy drinker, but still really complex. 95/100. Not going to chase given secondary prices.

William Larue Weller / WLW 128.0
Rich deep nose with moderate heat, spicy ginger snaps, cinnamon raisin toast, allspice, teddy grahams and a touch of Panettone in the background dipped in tawny port. Big mouthfeel, tannins cover all over. The initial taste is a little bitter though which is disappointing. The finish is long but never goes sweet as I hoped it to be. It’s a big wheater, but just comes up short for the Weller name. Nose is better than the taste. I will say that this bottle had been open for three days and I have the feeling of you left it open for a month it might grade much better. 93/100. Not going to chase, last two years were much better.

George T Stagg / GTS 116.9
Crazy sweet and smooth nose. Rare for a Stagg to not give you at least a soft punch in the nostrils. Deep dark butterscotch, Cherry Cola, Juicy Fruit, stewed blackberry currant and a hint of cedar closet. Quick spicy hit up front that melts into an easy velvet caramel blanket over the tongue. Very long finish. The lower proof is noticeable on the diminished heat, especially if you side by side the 144.1. The finish is very long and it’s enjoyable. If people negatively judge and price this based on lower proof I’m happy to buy them… 96.5/100. This one has been the cheapest on secondary the last two years, I’ll try to grab a couple of these.

Thomas H Handy / THH 125.7
Spicy and moderate heat on the nose. Blondies, red hots, cloves, with a hint of vermouth. Biggest and hottest of the initial tastes, a real mouth roof grabber. Lots of the cinnamon red hot flavor with more spice to follow, although it is a little one dimensional for a Handy. Finish is pretty good though. 93/100. Will not chase, the previous releases are much better.

So in terms of my rankings, and I apologize I wasn’t able to try the ER17 this year… but I’m going Stagg, Saz18, WLW, THH. I think I’ll be an outlier but that’s what my palate is telling me. I will also like to say even though my scores are not high, these are still some of the best whiskies on the planet and you should try them if you can.

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My 2018 Top 5 Best Available Bottle under $100 or how best to say “no I can’t get you any Pappy at retail”

OK… so I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets this question all the time from friends, family, co-workers, etc…. Usually it starts out like “hey, can you get me some Pappy?”… yes I can, you want a ORVW for $450-$500?  “Oh, I though you had the hookup, can you get it for me at retail?”  No… I can’t get it for myself at retail… then eventually we just arrive at the Seinfeldian response of “well, why don’t you just tell me what you want to pay…”  So, here is my list of the best bottles that are available and can be purchased for under $100 in 2018… I changed some of them from 2017’s list for some reasons including eliminating certain bottles like ETL, RHF, BTAC, Stagg Jr, etc because the MSRP just rarely is the price you see in stores, at least in the Tri-State area…  These are in no particular order.  I also realize every is going to have a different list here, and please add anything you think should be on here in comments!  Happy New Year everyone!!

Buffalo Trace… yes, the original one that retails for $30.  It’s the same mashbill that goes into bottles that are 1k’s of dollars in secondary, same distillery.  Whether it’s straight or in a cocktail, it’s lovely.  Always make sure you have at least one of them on your bar at all times.

Barrell Bourbon Batches… I’ve never had a batch I didn’t like.  I’ve had some that I’d LOVED.  The only one that was impossible to find was Batch 011, because it won best Bourbon of the Year from San Francisco Wine & Spirits.  At least one batch is usually available at my local store, it looks great, a perfect gift and a wonderful drinker.  You will not be disappointed.

Foursquare 2004 or 2005… cask strength, usually $60-$90, and yes, it’s a Rum!  Aged in Bourbon barrels and others, non-chill filtered, so much flavor.  These guys are the real deal.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof… I almost didn’t put this on the list, but it seems like this is more frequent this year and I usually see it on the shelf.  I’ve never had a bad one, and I’ve had quite a few good ones.  I prefer the old bottle design, but if they are making more of them with the new bottle, I’m OK with that.  Last year I had Old Weller Antique on the list, but given I can never find it anymore without texting my local liquor store owner ahead of time, I’m bumping them for ECBP due to 2018’s availability.  Should be around $60-$70.

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Bourbon… didn’t make the cut last year, just squeezed in this year and at $65, a solid member of the list.  I find that the first crack is just ok, but if you leave it open for a few months it gets a lot better… if I were to re-rate it, I’d say it’s a solid 92.  Worth having on your home bar.

You don’t need to buy Pappy or BTAC to make the people on your list happy!  Anything on this list will show you know your whiskey and you care about making your friends and family happy.  Happy New Year!

Hidden Gem or Obnoxiously Priced? Lynn, MA

Lynnway Liquor at 702 Lynnway in Lynn, MA 01905.

Take a look at some of these bottles… total unicorns, but the prices are way above secondary.  The owner wasn’t in to discuss, but his employees were pretty obnoxious and misinformed about them.  On the other side, maybe they were just the owner’s collection and he was showing off.

On the main shelf had quite a few good things at reasonable prices including Stagg Jr under $50 (most of MA has great deals on Stagg Jr for some reason), Jos. Magnus, Barrell Bourbon…  But in the cabinet along with some unicorns was Michters 10… they also overpriced Weller…

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When I peered into the owners office and saw three bottles of Weller CYPB.  Three!  The employee was pretty annoying about it, wouldn’t call the owner.. there was also a ton of EHT Barrel Proof and some other stuff.  Always annoying.

Anyway… If I’m ever up there again I will stop by this store and hope the owner is in to talk… but I’m not paying 5k for some old Black Maple Hill nonsense…