Newbourbondrinker’s 2018 Top 5

This year had so many great releases even though the level on social media complaining has hit an all time high… don’t worry, I will be putting out my top 5 disappointments soon… but it’s the holidays so I’m only going to be positive today!  Instead of ranking them this year, I’ve decided to go with five different categories and give the overall winner for them… Disagree?  Hit me up on twitter @newbourbondrink or facebook @ newbourbondrinker or instagram @steaknbourbon

Best Overall Bourbon: Barrell Craft Spirits 15yr Bourbon Gray Label.  For a straight down the middle Bourbon, this one can not be beat.  It also edged out everyone else from Fred Minnick’s blind tasting for Forbes’.  It got a huge score from me and everyone else.  The only downside is the limited case amount.  The one thing you can be certain, is if you see any gray label Barrell Craft Spirits product on a shelf, grab it!

Best Wheated Bourbon: William Larue Weller 2018 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  This one was easy, and tied for best overall with BCS, but split out the wheaters.  The finish, so long, so good.  If you can grab the 2017 or 2018 of WLW BTAC, for any reasonable price at all, pick it up.

Best Rye: Thomas H Handy 2018.  Another BTAC, but 2018 was tough for Rye, as the releases we not as strong as 2017.  The Lot 40 cask Strength 11yr was not as good as last year’s 12yr and higher priced and lower proof; Kentucky Owl Rye was also good but not quite as good as the first release.  THH stood out among it’s peers, but only by a smidge.  The secondary prices have continued to creep as well which is annoying for those of us who drink a lot of Handy.

Best Small Bottle Release: Elijah Craig Grenade… it’s a gift shop only release, but readily available on secondary.  It trades at close to BTAC levels given it’s only 200ml, but it’s sooooooooo good.  Grab one if you are ever in Bardstown, or just lift one on secondary.

Best Rum: Appleton’s Joy 25yr.  This was probably the hardest category to rate to be perfectly honest.  So many great releases: Foursquare 2004, Foursquare 2005, Barrell Rum Tale of Two Islands, Barrell Craft Spirits Rum Gray Label… all could have taken these honors, but Appleton’s 25yr comes out ahead.  Retailing around $220 and still available, this rum has crazy flavors and notes that rival any whiskey.  Looks great on the shelf too.

There it is for 2018… it was a great year, so many amazing drams and I look forward to what 2019 brings.  Happy New Year!

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Bourbon and Charity… special thanks to New York Shaving Company!

The Bourbon Community has always been really great about giving back.  We recently had our third annual Bourbon at the Barbershop special charity event that we hosted at The New York Shaving Company.  We raised over 3k for local children’s charities and everyone had a great time.  Take a look at the photos below, but let’s just say that everyone felt they got their money’s worth.  We had 80% of the BTAC collection, Al Young, Willett Family Estate, a couple great Barrell Bourbon releases, Garrison Bros. Cowboy, Lot 40 Cask Strength, Wiser’s 35yr, EHT Four Grain, Kentucky Owl Rye, Appleton’s Rum 25yr Joy, Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition, Elliot’s Select, JPS 25yr and more!  It was the best heel party I’d ever been to!  Thanks again to New York Shaving Company for being an amazing partner!

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Barbershop Tasting w/ ECBP B517 ECBP Hirsch 20yr

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Lovely event at the New York Shaving Company today with friends, clients and three delicious whiskies…

Elijah Craig 18 bottled 2.4.17 Barrel #4339, 90 Proof
When first opened it was tight and very medicinal. After an hour it opened up with nutmeg, Christmas tree, butterscotch and almond butter. Tastes lovely with a touch more oak than I would have liked. Mouthfeel medium. Of all the EC18s I’ve had, this one is in the middle. Solid but not amazing. Still good price for the age though. 88/100

Hirsch Selection American Whiskey 20yrs, 96 proof
Distilled from Bourbon mash 2.27.1987 in Illinois and bottled in Weston, MO. I’d never seen this on the shelf before and for $100 I thought it was worth the gamble. This was another one that reeked of nail polish when first opened but after sitting for an hour evolved. Sweet nose of marshmallows, Skittles, stewed carrots with brown sugar, portobello mushrooms and cake frosting. The taste is quite a bit more bitter than the nose though with only an ok mouthfeel. The finish loses the sweetness almost immediately. The promise on the nose fades almost immediately; too bad. 80/100.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B517 124.2 Proof WA 2017 #1
Great color and awesome powerful nose. You can tell it’s Cask strength but doesn’t burn your nostrils either. Brown sugar cookies, lots of wood, creme brûlée, cinnamon, allspice and graham cracker s’mores. Terrific mouthfeel on this one, totally coats the tongue in all the right places, lots of sweet and savory flavors for a long finish that never gets bitter. The heat is there but incredibly smooth for the Proof. This is an excellent Bourbon. I wouldn’t have it as my number one, but adjusted for price it’s up there. Absolutely worth picking up if you can find it close to retail (under $100). I paid $80 for this one. 96/100.

Top 5 Whiskies of 2017!!

This year has seen secondary prices continue to go up, and primary prices also increase.  I’m on so many Facebook groups about people complaining about this, but I wish people would just be realistic.  Sure, the special releases are getting a little out of hand, but the standard release products are also the best they have ever been.  Now, this list happens to celebrate the best of the best, but I will also pay homage to the under $100 list soon, for the perfect holiday stocking stuffer.

This is the first year that I do not have a rye on the list, but Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 001 was so close it deserves an honorable mention.  MSRP of $130, and secondary in the $175 range made it reachable for most people and it was a standout. I picked four Bourbons and one Rum for the list, and they are all so good, you could easily pick any one of them to be #1.  I did another blind taste test with all five spirits last night and decided based on that final test that I couldn’t put them in order, but each one was the best for a certain criteria (cop out?  probably… but it was just too difficult).

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Most Underrated by the Critics: E.H. Taylor Four Grain was one that I liked from the very beginning although was panned by the Bourbon community.  The MSRP of $80 is pretty irrelevant for this one, but the secondary started at $325 and fell all the way to $175 before Jim Murray dubbed it the number one bourbon of the year and secondary now is $350-$400.

Best Lower Proof Bourbon: Four Rose Al Young 50th Anniversary was dubbed early on at the odds on favorite to win number one of the year, yet no large publications awarded it the honor.  Again, MSRP of $150 was pretty irrelevant, but if you could get it there you were lucky.  Secondary was pretty stable at $350 all year for this one.

Best Higher Proof Bourbon: George T. Stagg 2016 was a scorcher at 144.1 proof, yet in the right glassware was epic.  Again MSRP of $90 for BTAC is irrelevant, and secondary for this one ranged between $375-$525.  (For those who complain that I should be talking about the 2017 GTS, it also would have make this list)

Best Value: Barrell Bourbon Batch 011.  By far the least expensive of the list with an MSRP of $89.99, but after winning the number one Bourbon of the year from San Fransisco Wine & Spirits, the secondary basically doubled and you are now lucky if you can find it for $150-$175.

Best Non-Bourbon: FourSquare 2006 Single Blended Rum Double Maturation was one that you could only get at auction and prices were between GBP 150-300 depending on whether you bought it before or after Fred Minnick’s book came out.  This was one of the perfect rum’s that Fred rated in his book, and once you taste it, you will understand.

Agree? Disagree?  Continue the discussion on Twitter @newbourbondrink or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/newbourbondrinker/  Cheers to 2017 and a great 2018 to come!

And Now the Conclusion of My Phone Interview with Reid Mitenbuler…..

Part IV Conversation, and the conclusion, with author of the book Bourbon Empire, Reid Mitenbuler

NBD: So you were pretty critical on small barrels in the book…

MB: Small barrels are like crack. Once you start using them and have distribution, it’s very hard to change. Places that start from the get-go have a hard time switching to large barrels and longer wait times. And once it’s working, it’s very hard to change. There are a lot of guys who start up an outfit, build a brand and sell it off. These guys are marketing first, and the product is the second consideration. Now, a lot of that is changing. I’d use Few as an example. The first time I tried it, I didn’t like it, but every time I try it is getting better.  Their product can be wildly different from bottle to bottle.

NBD: So are you working on a follow-up book?

MB: I’m working on something involving the entertainment industry, but it’s very preliminary and unrelated. I actually had been working on Bourbon Empire for over ten years and the timing was very fortuitous. Whiskey was blowing up and I was already working on the book. Most whiskey books come from the perspective of an educator, trying to teach about whiskey or about tasting. My angle was to be a storyteller of the industry, through whiskey. There was a lot of details that I cut out, I could have gone full geek, but I felt I would have lost of lot of the broader readership if I did that. I could have gone in incredibly detail on barrel aging and the different type of grains, but the story of the industry would have been lost. I learned more about connoisseurship of wine from reading The Billionaires Vinegar compared to a lot of the books on tasting that I’ve read. I had that in the back of my mind when I was writing this. I felt that you could get a better sense of why older isn’t always better from telling a story.

NBD: Or if you want a really expensive lesson on why older isn’t better, you could just pick up some of the Orphan Barrel Series… Or they can just come over to my house and try them too.

MB: Yeah, I know, and I didn’t put this story in the book, but there is a group of master distillers from all the big places in Kentucky, and they all meet for lunch a few times a year. They all bring fun bottles for everyone to try. There was one of these meetings and one of them pulls out this 23 year old bottle. And these guys are masters, these are the guys from all the big distilleries. The guy who is relaying this story to me says he tastes it and says it’s like sucking on a pencil. He thinks it ‘s just not that good, not balanced, too much wood, it’s gross. He makes eye contact around the room and his buddies give him a look that the whiskey is just beyond the pale. He then looks across the room and the other half their eyes are rolling back… but maybe the other guys are being polite or maybe they honestly like it. It’s a bottle that everyone knows by the way…

NBD: Reid, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. The book was great and I hope everyone reads it.

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MB: Thank you.

Reid Mitenbuler Part III: Pappy, Podcasts & Golden Age of Whiskey?

Part III Conversation with Reid Mitenbuler

NBD: So are we in a Golden Age of Whiskey or are we in a bubble?

MB: A little bit of both. I was talking to a friend about this about whether we are in a true golden age right now. If I could go back to any age in whiskey history, when would I go back? Part of me would go back to the early 2000s. It’s not just about Pappy—I’ve had plenty of Pappy. I had a friend who had a lot of it and anyone who asked he would give them a mini bottle. Half the people would think it’s good but it’s no big deal, while the other half’s eyes would roll back in their head and basically die. In the 90s it was the same with Scotch, you wouldn’t think twice about buying 18 or 20yr old because it wasn’t that expensive. Then you had the 60s, with the Whiskey Lake and the big glut years. Back then you still had more producers with different varieties. The 50s and 60s was perhaps another golden age. Today, I would argue we aren’t in a golden age because the demand is far outpacing the supply. To be in a golden age you need the ability to walk into a liquor store and the good stuff is available and you don’t have to do this big hunt for it. But we could be on the brink of one. People aren’t talking about gluts, but producers are coming up with more supply, and maybe in a few years we could get to a more balanced supply/demand dynamic. When the craft distilleries get better, get rid of the small barrels, age their stuff longer, then, we could be on the cusp of another golden age.

NBD: It seems that a lot of people are investing in new distilleries or brands, do you think now is the right time to invest in one?

MB: A lot of people have asked me similar questions, and I think it is a little late. There are a lot of people who have established the marketing and branding—branding is huge. It might be more important than the product itself. I was looking at a new brand that crowd-sourced $86k and were boasting about it.

NBD: You can’t open a distillery with $86k.

MB: I was looking at that number and thinking they need to multiply that by a hundred to do it right. From a business perspective, $86k, you can romanticize, but you can’t pay your bills with that. I look at some of the more promising craft distilleries and they are extremely well funded. It looks like there is family money behind a lot of them. I was ordering burgers with a friend of mine at a bar and we orders beers from Firestone-Walker brewery, and the story behind it is it’s the Firestone Tire guys. He could do whatever he wanted with it, and he didn’t care about the money, he just wanted to make awesome beer.

NBD: I’m sure they make money, they make phenomenal beer and their limited annual releases like Parabola, Velvet Merkin are always great.

MB: Yeah, and I’m extremely impressed by them. My friend basically said they weren’t too worried about the money side of it because of the funding, and he just wanted to focus on making the best product. The guys out there who have the capital are in it to win it to make the best possible product.

NBD: Seems like the way you used to spend a lot of money if you were rich was buy a vineyard and start a winery. The old adage of how to make a small fortune in the wine making business is to start with a large fortune.

MB: Yeah, or as a retirement project for a lot of guys.

NBD: Do you listen to any whiskey podcasts?

MB: I was just on WhiskeyCast and was also on Mark Bylok’s podcast, that was pretty fun. Mark Gillepsie is very professional, very nice guy. He has a career in news and he is very polished.

NBD: I listen to both of those and I agree Gillepsie’s WhiskeyCast is very professional, but I derive more enjoyment from Bylok’s; it’s just more fun. My wife also will allow me to play his in the car because she likes Jamie Johnson—mostly because Jamie says she goes to bed early and my wife can barely stay up past 9pm.

MB: Ha ha, very funny.

I will post Part IV, the conclusion to my interview with Reid Mitenbuler, later in the week.

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Reid Mitenbuler Part II: Bunkering, Weller 12, Barrell Bourbon & Unicorns

Part II of my phone conversation with Reid Mitenbuler:

NBD: So what is your special occasion bottle, hidden in the back of the bar, so your friends don’t drink it when they stop by?

MB: For that kind of stuff I have the Stagg, the special stuff from Buffalo Trace. Thomas Handy, the old Hirsch, that kind of stuff.

NBD: That’s a pretty good collection.

MB: Yeah, but I don’t bunker though. I have a lot of friends that have dozens of bottles just filling up a closet. I went through a phase where there was a lot of stuff I wanted to try. So I had a million kinds of bottles that were half full, but then as prices started to get a little crazy and people started hoarding bottles… I’d be talking to certain store owners and they’d say that people would walk into the store and as soon as something would get released, they would buy a case. And that is the kind of thing that is causing a shortage. There isn’t a real shortage, bottles are just sitting unopened in the basements and closets of all the whiskey geeks.   Just sitting there, unopened, the shortage isn’t real.

NBD: I know exactly what you mean. I tried to get Weller 12, and I couldn’t find it anywhere in the area, I had to trade someone for it on Craigslist.

MB: Right, because people are hoarding it. Speaking specifically about Weller 12, I went to a few liquor stores and the owners would say that when they would get it in stock, some people would just buy all of it. It’s annoying. It feeds on itself. People have this mindset that when the good stuff comes in, it’s gone. It never used to be that way. A lot of old time whiskey geeks complain and talk about the old days. The Van Winkle Lot B used to be my Friday night drink, but I used to get it for $38 a bottle. And when you were finished with it, every liquor store had it. So what I did was stopped buying booze for a long time and just was drinking down my open bottles—plus we were moving so that helped. So I no longer have a huge collection. I fee like I disappoint people sometimes when they ask me for my favorite, as if I’m going to reveal some big secret. I’m not trying to be cute, but stuff like Old Grandad and standard Buffalo Trace is very good.

NBD: I tend to prefer cask strength stuff these days. Speaking of standard stuff, I had the Maker’s Cask Strength and I thought it was really good.

MB: I tried that shortly after it came out and it is really good. It has a pretty heavy punch to it, so I would definitely bring it down with a little bit of water.

NBD: It seems that most of the special release cask strength stuff is the hardest to find, like the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and I’ve seen another one on the shelf, Barrel Bourbon.

MB: Yeah, I’ve tasted a couple different expressions of Barrel Bourbon that I had at a tasting. I thought Batch #004 was great. It has the wine thing going on with the different batches like vintages.

In Part Three Reid will let us know whether he thinks Bourbon is in a golden age or a bubble….

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