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Review – Michter’s Whiskey

Posted by Reese on 2015-02-18 @ 09:19pm

When I first started experimenting with cocktails with Cocktail Hacker Emeritus, Aaron, I knew very little about spirits at all.  I had a scant few bottles that I would consider favorites and a slightly larger few that were my house choices for cocktails.  I distinctly remember one of the times I was hanging out with Aaron we make a special trip to Denver in search of Michter’s American Whiskey.  Aaron had a more developed taste for whiskey at the time and had been trying different bottles.  He’d settled on Michter’s as his favorite (for the time at least) and he was woefully out.  I went along happily (any trip to a liquor store is a good one) and ended up with a bottle on my shelf as well.  This story, albeit rambling and a little pointless, came rushing back to my head when sample bottles of Michter’s came through my door.  And, I can now say with conviction and considerable experience that Aaron was on to something those years ago.  This stuff is damn good.

Michter's US*1 Lineup

Michter’s US*1 Bourbon (45.7% ABV) – The striking amber/brown color catches your eye and draws you in.  Despite the higher than average proof, the aroma bears little to no raw alcohol smell.  Instead, it speaks of caramel, vanilla and the smoothness of the whiskey.  The flavor, as you might expect, follows suit.  The flavor is rich and full with hints of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch.  Fruit and slight notes of oak and smoke play throughout as well.  The finish is long and mellow with a distinct sweetness.

Michter’s US*1 American Whiskey (41.7% ABV) – The amber color speaks simply to the nature of this whiskey; powerful and complex.  The aroma of the American Whiskey is more forward than the Bourbon with more fruity qualities and the caramel and vanilla you’d expect.  The flavor too is more fruity (dried/candied fruits) but interestingly less sweet (likely from the second fill on the barrels).  This spirit seems more purely whiskey to me.  You can taste the grain notes and there is a sub-channel of rye spiciness and holiday spices running throughout.  The medium length finish is lightly dry with the vanilla and holiday spices floating along through the end.  Only as the flavor fades did I pick up the gentle oaky notes of the barrel.

Michter’s US*1 Straight Rye (42.4% ABV) – Honey brown in color with fruit and spice throughout the aroma.  There is an interesting tangy note to the nose which hints at the complex flavor to come.  There are, of course, the spiciness and holiday spice qualities that you want in a great rye plus deep fruit flavors that remind me of sherry finished scotch.  There are also the expected vanilla and caramel, but with more depth and complexity.  The flavor is truly full and rich extending into a long, complex and smooth finish.

Through all three of these whiskies, you can taste the lower proof that the whiskey enters the barrel (103 proof).  It gives the finished product more depth and sweetness since less water is added to bring the spirits down to their bottle proof.  Now, granted, I’m a giant rye nerd, but I really enjoyed Michter’s Straight Rye.  For me it has a complexity and depth that a lot of ryes on the market right now don’t bring to the table.  That said, all three of these whiskies are great.  It was almost a little hard to review them.  I wanted to keep the secret to myself and protect the bottles I might be able to find. :)

PS – The Old Fashioned I made with Michter’s US*1 American Whiskey was perfect in its simplicity.  Amazing how little fooling around great spirits need to make great cocktails.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Locavore Vesper

Posted by Reese on 2015-02-05 @ 08:19pm

Last week, while chatting about cocktails, a coworker reminded me of the classic Vesper.  Loved by James Bond, enjoyed, but not truly loved, by me the last time I mixed it up and reintroduced to the world during Casino Royale this is a cocktail I should love.  Strong measure of gin, some bitterness and a bit of vodka to round it all out.

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.
Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”
Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, Chapter 7, “Rouge et Noir’

Sounds about right, but the last time I had issues with the Lillet.  The original recipe calls for a Kina Lillet, which is no longer made.  Lillet Blanc, while very tasty, doesn’t have the quinine bitterness (the kina) found in Kina Lillet.  Thankfully, Cocchi Americano has made its way into the American market.  Cocchi (pronounced COKE-ey) Americano brings back the cinchona quinine bitterness and makes the Vesper awesome again.

Having so many great spirits options close by, I decided to co-opt the locavore trend and go with a local gin and vodka.  The gin is one I’ve talked about here before, namely Roundhouse.  And, the vodka I chose, Sno, comes from J&L distilling, the makers of my also deeply loved Fyr liqueur.  Typically, I reach for a vodka that is completely pure and free of any flavor.  That’s generally what it’s there for anyhow.  In this version of the Vesper, I wanted something with a little more character.  Sno fills that need perfectly.  Distilled from sugarcane, Sno has a character similar to some white rums, but its mouth feel is where it really shines.  Adding a silky quality both on it’s own and in the cocktails you mix it into, Sno definitely isn’t just a filler vodka. *

Locavore Vesper

This time, the Vesper has really stepped up.  As you’d expect, the gin is the star.  But the vodka adds a wonderful fullness to the flavor and a velvety texture.  It’s hard to put into words, but absolutely distinct.  The Cocchi Americano adds exactly the bitterness that I looking for the last time.  In fact, my added orange bitters weren’t needed here.  This is one of those truly pure cocktails that have been moving more and more to the fore on my list.  And, like any martini, the Vesper is highly configurable simply by swapping out the gin and vodka for your favorites.  If you haven’t mixed up a Vesper, you need to.  In advance, you’re welcome.

Locavore Vesper
1 1/2 oz Roundhouse Gin
1/2 oz Sno Vodka
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
Lemon Twist for Garnish
1) Combine gin, vodka and Cocchi in a mixing glass
2) Add ice and stir until well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
4) Garnish with a lemon twist

PS – I went back to stirring.  When you gin and vodka taste so damn good, it’s better not to over-chill them.

* I may be partial to this particular bottle because I helped bottle it. But other bottles of Sno are equally great.

Review – Seven Stills of SF – Whipnose Whiskey

Posted by Reese on 2015-01-29 @ 06:01pm

Whipnose WhiskeyI drink sample a lot of whiskey and enjoy every last drop.  In all of those samplings there are aromas, flavors and general experiences that run throughout.  Vanilla, caramel, spices, oak, whiskeyness if you will.  So, when a new whiskey comes through my door I expect those basics in varying quantities and qualities.  Whipnose Whiskey from Seven Stills of San Francisco turned that whole expectation on its head.  The description of how this whiskey was created is best left to the Seven Stills distillers.

Whipnose is the first in Seven Stills’ Collaboration Series.  For this project we partnered with Pacific Brewing Laboratory, located in San Francisco.  We started by distilling each of Pac Brew Lab’s beers to see if we could make a unique whiskey, and as soon as we tasted the whiskey made from their double IPA we were blown away.  Shortly after we brewed 60 barrels of Whipnose IPA, and distilled it into 165 gallons of whiskey, and aged it in new American Oak Barrels.

The name “Whipnose” aptly describes the whip of hop aroma this whiskey opens up with.  The taste is rich malt, dark dried fruits (plums, prunes), light vanilla, toasted oak, and finishes with a smooth, lingering maple syrup.

That whip of hop aroma they mention is absolutely true.  It blew me away as well.  I would never have expected the hop aroma and flavor to carry through to the whiskey so directly, but it’s there with conviction.

The aroma hits you first with hops – citrusy, floral, exactly what you’d expect.  Then you get classic whiskey aromas of vanilla, caramel and notes of dried fruits in the background.  The flavor is unlike any whiskey I’ve tasted.  In my notes I wrote “quizzical look” and if you picture a dog turning it’s head to the side, you’ll know exactly what I looked like.  There is fruitiness like crazy in Whipnose, both citrus notes from the hops and dried fruits (cherry, prune).  You get the standard whiskeyness of vanilla, caramel and oak as well, but the fruit is the star.  The floral aspect of the hops is there as well, but more of a background player.  Finally, the finish is light and slightly sweet with a very pleasant hint of bitterness from the hops.

This is a whiskey I would slow sip and enjoy the complexity as it warms in your hand.  But my brain wouldn’t let it go at that, I had to try it in a Boulevardier.  I went with 2:1:1; Whipnose, Sweet Vermouth and Campari and it was a stroke of genius.  The resulting cocktail retained the floral aroma of the hops and the citrus and bitter qualities of the Campari teamed up with the same in the Whipnose.  The complex herbal qualities of the vermouth round it all out.  If it’s possible to mourn the passing of a cocktail, I certainly did when my glass went dry on this one.

On the very large plus side, a second release is in the works.  Hopefully soon!

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

This comic is far too appropriate not to share.  Remember to make good decisions.


Review – SIA Scotch Whisky

Posted by Reese on 2015-01-12 @ 09:33pm

SIA Blended Scotch WhiskyI think we can all agree that whiskey is definitely an acquired taste.  For some of us, myself near the head of the line, that acquisition process is very quick and soon turns into a full blown love affair.  For others, they never get it.  I’d dare say, some folks are likely baffled by why people drink whiskey at all.  Carin Luna-Ostaseski, founder of SIA Scotch Whisky was firmly in the “I’m not sure I get this” camp when she first sampled Scotch with friends.  Thankfully she had a determined friend who quizzed her on her favorite cocktails, wines and foods.  Armed with this new knowledge, he was able to guide Carin to whiskies that she truly enjoyed.  This realization that whiskey has many facets, began her journey to bring to market a new Scotch whisky tuned for the palate of her target audience, whisky virgins and enthusiasts alike with a modern palate.  Finally, to bring her dream to reality, she appealed to the masses on Kickstarter and their funding told her she was on the right track.  And now it’s here.

SIA Scotch Whisky (from the Scotch Gaelic word six) shows itself as a light honey/amber color.  The aroma is awash with hints of dried fruit, fruitcake and sherry with herbal/medicinal notes floating in the background.  The flavor brings a subtle sweetness of caramel, vanilla and a hint of fruit.  There is a bare hint of smoke and medicinal peat that lets you know you’re drinking a Scotch whisky.  The finish is long and light with hints of toasted cereal grains and honey.

This is definitely a lighter whisky and I can certainly see where it would appeal to whisky virgins.  SIA doesn’t punch you with peat, smoke or aggressive flavors.  But, I can see the appeal for whisky enthusiasts as well.  You get nuances of a lot of Scotch whisky regions but the whole remains harmonious.  I can definitely see myself reaching for a dram of SIA when I’m looking for something lighter that still brings an interesting flavor spectrum.

† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.