Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Side By Side Tasting: Balcones Distilling. Texas Rye 100 Proof & Texas Rye Cask Strength

Balcones Distilling
Texas Rye 100 Proof & Texas Rye Cask Strength/Tenth Anniversary edition
Pot Distilled 100% Rye/Pot Distilled 100% Straight Rye Whisky

Balcones introduced their first Rye whiskies at a distillery event in March of 2018 in celebration of their Tenth Anniversary. On that occasion, I was fortunate to attend my first ever press release, and I may have committed a faux pas – I was the only one to ask for seconds. I watched as the press slowly dropped water into the Cask Strength whiskey until it was lighter than the original 100-proof, and then they said it was too light to drink. Yes, I understand they were there to analyze the whisky, but good whiskey wasted is a serious faux pas to me. Plus, I am slow and judgment takes several drams. An important learning was that these two whiskies may share the same mash bill but they underwent different aging – they are not simply the same whisky served up at two different ABV’s.

Interestingly, Balcones tried to distribute the Cask Strength version, but their distributor said they made too few bottles and therefore refused to take any bottles for distribution. That proved a non-issue as Balcones sold all ~500 bottles in an hour and a half at their special rye event. It wasn't store owners showing up to buy all the bottles like ticket-scalpers for a concert, but it were consumers who quickly bought the bottle. Texas law only allows for an individual to buy two 750 ml bottles from a distillery in a 30 day period - so I always make certain to bring my wife for her two bottles too.

Balcones Distilling
Texas Rye 100 Proof
Pot Distilled 100% Rye Whiskey

Distillery: Balcones Distilling
Age: 15 months
Proof/ABV: 100 Proof/50%
Mash bill: 100% Rye (Texas Elbon, crystal, roasted & chocolate rye)
Average US Price: $40USD
Release: Ongoing

Score: 85/100

Chocolate, cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and only wee aromas common to rye. Touch of oak.

More chocolate with mellow rye spice plus smoke and charred oak. Begins bittersweet and ends with toasted oak.

More chocolate, coffee, pumpernickel bread and malty cereal.

Balcones Distilling
Texas Rye Cask Strength/Tenth Anniversary
Pot Distilled 100% Straight Rye

Distillery: Balcones Distilling
Age: 30 months    
Proof/ABV: 125 Proof/62.3%
Mash bill: 100% Rye (Texas Elbon, crystal, roasted & chocolate rye)
Average US Price: $80USD
Release: Distillery only – planned future releases

Score: 90/100

Mellow and smooth, and, if it had been a blind tasting, I might not have guessed on rye at all. Apples, pears, cherries lost in an orchard. Longer aging, brings more of the Balcones signature with heavier wood scents.

Chocolate returns and rye spices emerge along with an intense, woody signature common to Balcones whiskies.

Black pepper and other baking spices with a splash of vanilla served with oak.

The 30-month old Cask Strength Rye is more intense and flavorful, but those desiring a more rye forward profile may prefer the 15-month 100 proof rye. Although, we all have to settle with the 100 proof Rye for now, as the next Cask Strength Rye release is a not yet set. Until then, a couple of rye points to note:

Terroir definitely matters when it comes to the rye grain. The multiple rye mash-bills of these whiskies creates a nice complexity. The European chocolate rye deliciously makes its presence known. The Texas rye mellows the mash; rye grown in a northern climate exhibits more spice than mellow rye grown in a southern climate.

Terroir matters with respect to the aging. United States law requires that rye whiskey be aged in new charred oak casks, and the hot Texas summers quickly bring out the wood. Don’t judge the age of a Texas whiskey in the same way as a northern whisky. It wouldn’t take too many years spent in the cask before all you taste is wood, and even the Scottish distillers face challenges when using new wood to keep their whisky from being overly woody. Refill casks keeps the wood flavor at bay, but in the United States, by law, it couldn’t be labeled as Rye Whisky. Even a Finished Rye must start its life in a new charred oak cask.

Photo & Review By: Greg A.

The Adventures Of Whisky Pete - Part # 106

Some Whiskies makes you want to jump headfirst into the glass. Glenfiddich 18 holds a special place in Ol whisky Pete's heart

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Smooth Ambler Old Scout - 7 Years Old Rye

It’s no secret that I hold Smooth Ambler in high regard, and ever since I bought my first bottle from their Old Scout line, the American distillery has been a personal favorite of mine. Beside the point that Smooth Ambler “makes” a damn fine cup of whiskey, John Little and his crew serve as a textbook example of how things ought to be done.
I have nothing but the deepest respect for Smooth Amblers honest and straightforward work methods, and I love that Smooth Ambler refuses to wrap a smokescreen around the facts, that they are sourcing whiskey, or have brought in hired guns, to create some bull shit make believe story, to go along with their product, like other brands tend to do.
For as Smooth Ambler state on their website; We are completely open and transparent about the way we produce our spirits, whether they are House-made, sourced, or a marriage of the two.

Smooth Ambler, located in Greenbrier County in West Virginia, was founded in 2009 by TAG Galyean and John Little. Like so many new distilleries before them, Smooth Ambler needed a way to keep a steady income while they were waiting on their own distilled whiskey to come of age, so Smooth Ambler started to source their whiskey, from mostly MGP in Indian and bottle it under their Old Scout line. Besides their standard 7 and 10 years old bourbon, and their 7 years old rye, a variety of different aged, so called Very Old Scout and single barrel cask strength bourbons was released. But back in June 2015 John Little, the Vice President of Smooth Ambler, announced on Smooth Amblers Facebook page that; Effective immediately, we are pausing production of Old Scout Rye as it has existed. We have outpaced our projections for how long this stock of rye whiskey would last. Going forward, select iterations of Old Scout Rye will be available sporadically at our Gift Ship and in small allocations throughout some of our distribution area. Simply put, folks: we’re running out. At this time there is NO supply issue with regular Old Scout, Old Scout 10, Contradiction or Revelation Rum. Fast forward to September 2016 when news hit the street that Smoot Ambler also was running out of their bourbon surplus, and was forced to suspend their Old Scout 99 proof and their Old Scout Ten from their portfolio. 

January 31 2017, NBV Investments Inc. a subsidiary of Austin Nichols & Co. Incorporated of Pernod Ricard North America announced that they had bought the majority stake at Smooth Ambler Spirits Co.

Smooth Amblers portfolio now consists of their Old Scout American Whiskey, their Single Barrel, their Big Level and their Contradiction.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye – 7yrs
Straight Rye Whiskey
Batch No: 62. Bottle Date: 5/12/2015

Distillery: Smooth Ambler
Source: MGP Indiana
Age: 7 Years
Proof/ABV: 99 Proof/49,5%
Mash Bill: 95% Rye/5% malted Barley
DK Price: $63/400dkk
Release: Discontinued

Points: 88/100  

As mentioned, Smooth Amblers Old Scout Rye is sourced from MGP in Indiana, and it’s made from a mashbill of 95% Rye and 5% Malted Barley, being a high rye kind of guy, this rye should defiantly be right up my alley.

English butter fudge, raisins, figs and dill jumps right out of the glass, followed by leather and barrel char.

A bit of a rye kick at first with black pepper and clove, as the heat calms, it opens up and leaves room for peppermint, chocolate and caramel, but with a continuing rye pricking sensation at the back of your tongue.

Long finish with dark plum juice, black tee and dill.

Amazingly well-produced rye, that kick most other rye’s in the same price range, I have tasted to the curve. If you are lucky enough to stumble upon a bottle, just buy it, it’s as easy as that.

Photo & Review By: Hasse Berg 

The Adventures Of Whisky Pete - Part #105

Whisky Pete messing around with the Knob Creek single barrel samples 


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A.D. Laws Whiskey House - Bottled In Bond - Secale Straight Rye Whiskey

This Colorado, USA craft whiskey won the 2017 World Whiskies Awards for the World’s Best Rye. I had my first dram prior to the awards, and, though I haven’t tasted every rye in the world, I do think this rye is deserving of the accolades. It’s distilled and aged at Laws in Denver, Colorado from rye grown in a single season in Colorado, aged over four years, and bottled at 100 proof (bonded whiskey).  The mash bill is 95% rye, and 5% barley malt (the malt provides the enzymes to ferment the rye). USA law requires that a rye whiskey be at least 51% rye, and Laws is therefore a high-rye rye.

Prior to this whiskey, my ryes had been common American ryes that are less rye and instead a heaping of sweet corn. The spice of these ryes left me scared to try a high-rye rye as I thought the spices would sear my mouth. Afraid, I bought this Laws whiskey because I grew up in Colorado and I am a fan of Colorado crafts, and the fandom rewarded me with a whiskey that defied my expectations.

A bottle of this rye whiskey will always have a place in my whiskey cabinet, and it is recommended for whisky cabinets everywhere. Laws also sell a Straight Rye Whiskey, and while it is good, it does not achieve the heights of this Bottled In Bond version. If you have the option, go for the bonded!

A.D. Laws Whiskey House - Bottled In Bond
Secale Straight Rye Whiskey
Batch: B17

Distillery: A.D. Laws Whiskey House
Age: 4 years +
Proof/ABV: 100 Proof/50%
Mash bill: 95% Rye, 5% Barley malt
Average US Price: $75
Release: Ongoing

Points: 90/100

Signature note of rye. Plus, grassy and floral aromas with a surprising note of sweet, salted caramels. Unexpected calm.

Smooth. The typical rye spice is there but without any disorienting heat. Plus, there are oranges and honey yielding an unexpected sweetness rather than all spice.

A wee, and hiding, sweetness covered by leather, tobacco and chocolate. The sip has a long finish that lasts and lasts slowing down the want for the next sip – a delicious, well-paced dram.

This rye sold me on high-rye ryes as a unique and special category. Others, with low rye and loads of corn are too close to bourbon and perhaps not as special. There are malted ryes without barley malt to initiate the fermentation that are intriguing. There are 100% ryes in the USA that use enzymes to kick off the yeasting process (enzymes that are not allowed in the UK), and, though I cannot taste the enzymes, I struggle with the usage of enzymes. Laws approach is a more natural approach and for now I side with the UK rather than my home country, USA. There is good reason Laws won the best in the world!

Photo & Review By: Greg A.

The Adventures Of Whisky Pete - Part #104

Gotta love the Tun bottlings from Balvenie!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Tasting: Stauning Young Rye - February 2018 Release

Sadly Stauning Whisky has become one of those distilleries where the majority of their releases are being bought by whisky flippers and resold to gather dust in whisky collector’s basements. I was fortunate enough to buy this year’s edition of Stauning’s Young Rye at retail price when it was released back in February. But the madness of it all, effects that it is now - only half a year later - being flipped for more than thrice of the original cost price. Even the Danish whisky retailer whisky.dk has been holding on to a portion of their Young Rye’s, so they were able to up mark them up to 1699 dkk, and sell them a few months after the original release date. It certainly seems that everyone wants that lemon.

Stauning whisky was founded back in 2005, by a group of nine whisky enthusiasts, who, how crazy it might sound, converted an old abattoir into their distillery, using the floor on the old cold store for floor malting. The old meat grinder was turned into a grain mill, the pickling vat was used for fermentation, and the smoke-oven was being fed with grain instead of meat. The peat for the smoke-oven was and still is from the nearby Klosterlund Museum, where they exhibit and work with peat, as people have done in Denmark since the Iron Age. Back then, the distillery was running on two small Spanish made pot stills.
In late 2007 Stauning whisky moved from their humble surroundings into a nearby farm, but the old farm had to be renovated before production could start. Since all nine founders were working fulltime jobs, the renovations took place during the weekends and evenings, and a lot of the distillery equipment was developed by themselves, like for example the mash tub and the grain-turning machine. Finally, in May 2009, the whisky production could start at their “new” distillery, and two years later the first batch of Young Rye was drawn from its barrels.

In the summer of 2013, a surprise call came into Stauning distillery. Distill Ventures was looking for a distillery - on the behalf of Diageo - to invest in, and they wanted to meet with the fine folks from Stauning Whisky. Two years later, in 2015, Stauning signed with Diageo and the construction for a new distillery began.
Distill Ventures was founded back in 2013 with the purpose of investing in independent spirits brands to help them scale up quickly. Stauning joined the Distill Ventures portfolio together with Australia’s Steward Whiskey, and just a few weeks ago it was announced that the American distillery Westward is joining Distill Ventures.
The new Stauning distillery opened its doors the 25 of August this year, with a goal to produce around 900,000 liters of whisky per year. How this new marriage with Diageo/Distill Ventures will turn, out only time can tell, but while we wait, whisky investors are spending their time running around town like crazy, to buy the last remaining bottles from the old distillery while they are still out there, because they reckon that they will be worth a small fortune years down the road. Actually, one of my local whisky pushers have had a full display of Stauning’s previous Young Rye and Kaos for years, but when the news of the Diageo takeover hit the street, people from all over the country were calling, wanting to buy the bottles.

This year's standard edition of Stauning’s Young Rye is bottled at 43,3% ABV. It’s an outtake of 2541 fifty Cl. bottles, released February 2018, along with a cask strength and a rum cask finished version.

Stauning’s Young Rye is made of both malted Rye and malted barley. Stauning doesn’t reveal the exact grain portion; they only state that the majority of the grain used for their young rye is malted rye. The rye and barley are locally grown and floor malted entirely in-house. Stauning mature their Young Rye in new white oak barrels, again the barrel size is unknown, and Stauning uses everything from 32 - 228 liters barrels, so your guess is just as good as mine.

Stauning Young Rye - February 2018 Release
Danish Malted Rye Whisky

Distillery: Stauning
Region: Denmark
Mash Bill: Malted Rye & Barley
Age: Distilled 2014 – Bottled 2018
Proof/ABV: 86,6 Proof/43,3%
Cask: New White Oak Barrels
DK Price: $77USD/495Dkk
Release: 2018. Limited 2541 bottles release (Yearly release)

Points: 87/100

Grain forward and earthly. A fistful of dill coming right at you, followed by old hay barn and just a single drop of lime juice.

This one got traditional Danish rye bread like my grandmother used to bake them, written all over it. It got that great viscosity you usually find in much older whiskeys. It’s thick, medium oily and chewy. Once you get past the dominating rye bread taste, mint and a bitter fruit juiciness steps into the picture with pineapple and bitter orange.

Salty blackberries and dill that turns a bit musty towards the end, which tips the balance a tad.

Overall Impression:
Since the majority of American rye whiskies are made from a mash recipe with an 51% - 75% rye portion – depending of the brand - with corn and malted barley being used as the secondary grains, we have grown a custom to a sweeter rye whiskey profile than
a “pure” rye whiskey like Stauning Young Rye has to offer, and I believe most American rye fans need a bit of time to adjust to its tasting-profile, but it certainly pays off in the end.

Photo & Review By: Hasse Berg