West Cork

Sunday morning, waking up.  Slight headache, perhaps that last one before bed was a touch much, but I hadn’t timed my Netflix to drink ratio properly.  Rookie mistake.  Breakfast, things to do. Shower and all that shit.  Sweet glorious coffee.  I told my father that I would come over for dinner and the fútbol games and all that, free food, good company.  Good plan, good day, sunshine, all of that.  As the caffeine starts to take hold my brain begins to fire on all 5 cylinders, like an Audi or something.  I’m not sure why they use 5 cylinder engines, but I also know I’m no V12.  Full speed ahead Sunday, sort of, not too fast.  I seek fresh air, beauty, nature.  32 degrees is lovely flannel weather, these woods are lovely, dark and deep, and this is a pleasant but small mountain and…holy shit what a view.  I crack open a Smutty and marvel at my glorious decision to trek through the snow on a crisp winter’s day.  Sunday morning coming up into a lovely afternoon.

Anyways, I carry on to the stated goal and make moves, hustling down the icy slopes to the valiant steed Cecelia and onwards to father’s home.  My father is a good man, good conversation and the like.  The Patriots are playing like absolute shit, and I assume Benedict Arnold must have something to do with it.  Fortunately I don’t really care, it’s football, and my mind is on the prize.  Bangers and Colcannon.  Wild Boar Andouille and po-tay-toes.  La vie en emerald, I shall wash it down for authenticity with Guinness extra stout (the bottle as stout as the contents.)  I gorge myself, as I am wont to do, yet I must also hit the road and I know.  With fare-thee-wells I hit the road and wend my way home to rest and digest.  In the event of pleasant day, crack bottle and nightcap—today’s prize needed to be one to suit the diet of the day, Irish Whiskey, which brings me (sadly only figuratively) to West Cork.

West Cork Distillers is a relative newcomer to the Irish Whiskey biz, one of many fresh brands to invigorate a once threatened, and still under-rated market.  Since their founding in 2003 it seems the Distillers have grown immensely, while sticking close to the roots and their own methods.  In under 13 years (at this writing) West Cork has expanded to include a second distillery, and has expanded sales into 35 countries across the globe, including, glory-be, the Democratic Republic of New Hampshire.  Also of note, as I steal all of this information so thoroughly professionally from their website, is that they are the only distillery in Ireland to malt their own barley, and one of few to use fresh spring water.  (In-text citation, plagiarism.)

Tonight’s West Cork offering, which I highly doubt will be my last, is their base-model blended.  The nose on this (mine is a touch stuffy) is strongly of citrus, to the point where I must ask myself if there is lemon oil in the soap I used to wash the glass—no?  Well then, lovely light lemony liquor with a hint of warmth at the base so faint as to be a possible mirage.  Shockingly I have confirmed I am not drinking straight lemon oil, which is a relief, because what I am drinking is quite pleasant.  The taste is lightly of biscuit, with a base of sweet grain note I’m inclined to call “sconey” because I’m rather fond of scones.  There is a light and pleasant vanilla, which after this many whiskey articles is starting to seem like a worthless thing to say, but it’s there dammit and it’s delicious. The lemon which dominated the nose is present, tingling round the edges of my tongue and flashing a tad with a deep breathe, truly a vaporous entity of the whiskey.  Finally, that warm note hiding so cleverly in the nose again is lightly present on the finish a touch of light brown sugar, and even a dusting of spice, which I can only attribute to the possibility the bourbon barrels they age in once head a high rye jewel.  Baseless accusations, I know.

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In short, this was the perfect ending to a pleasant day of Irish culinary delights.  Except I the bangers we had were far from traditional Irish, more Creole or something.  I have noted before, and I will note again, that Irish whiskies can be very difficult to rate, because they play a fine game of subtle eloquence, like a liquid Yeats.  As an entry offering, West Cork has done a lovely job of offering yet another fine piece to the canon of Irish liquor-ature, with a distinct and balanced blend, which only entices me to further explore their catalogue.

 

Appalachian Gap: Snowfall

It’s winter time in New England.  That means cold. That means waking up in the morning and losing feeling in your extremities before the hot water hits the shower head.  That means scraping stubborn frost off your windshield into line blow lines that your windshield wipers won’t even deal with, while your warm breathe fogs the inside of the windshield and the morning glare blinds you.  If there is one thing it means a lot of, that’s snowfall.  Except thus far this winter…we seem to have gotten off with just a touch of the stuff, enough to paralyze anything south of the Poconos for a week, but not enough for your average New Englander.  I’ve got a little secret, over Christmas, I was given a little extra snowfall, as it were, and of a kind I much prefer…

 

No, I did not get cocaine for Christmas, no feliz navidad Medellin over here, officer.  Instead I got my snowfall as it tends to come, sweep east from the moisture of the Great Lakes, dusting over the Green Mountains, and landing swift and pure in my lap.  I got my Snowfall from Appalachian Gap—Appalachian Gap Distillery that is.

 

Appalachian Gap is an outfit out of Middlebury, Vermont, a town which itself is a miniature mecca of drinking delights.  Otter Creek Brewing Company, Drop-In Brewing Company, Vermont Hard Cider (of Woodchuck fame,) Lincoln Peak Vineyard, and hell I just realized the coffee I drink every morning from Vermont Coffee Company comes from Middlebury.  Into this (presumably drunken) scene arose Appalachian Gap, whose spirits are as unique as the town itself.  They have staple spirits like Mythic Gin, which in this case isn’t an adjective, and Mosquito Fleet Rum, the even have Kaffevän Coffee Liquorbut they also have some far out drinks too, like a spirit distilled from corn, barley, and coffee, Kaffekask.  More inventive yet is their very Vermont take on tequila, Papilio, which is distilled from blue agave and…maple syrup?  Yes, maple syrup.  Next up, fermented and distilled Ben and Jerry’s liqueur. But none of those beverages are the subject of my article, because, if I’m honest, I haven’t had any of them.  Tonight, the forecast is Snowfall.

Snowfall

Snowfall, in my experience is an experience devoid of most of the senses.  Its sensation is numbness, its image is a blank yet lustrous white, its smell is an almost startling absence of smell, crisp, cold, pure.  Snowfall, however, is a stunning sensation.  The nose of snowfall is a wonderful and unique expression that does not draw easy comparison to anything within my frame of reference.  It’s light, vaporous, and has a full sweetness which is I can only think to describe as “pure.”  None of this aroma would give the slightest hint that this is 108 proof, which is stunning given that I am basically huffing alcohol fumes.  That unique characteristic of sweetness carries on into the first sip, opening up marvelously to display a pastiche of flavors, with a hint of warm cornbread opening into an almost taffy like note of round chewy sweetness with light fruity esters expressing just the suggestion of a banana note.  The finish, is like the glow of a woodstove, with a gentle warmth which engulfs the palate, and just a touch of rye spice dances on the tongue and down the throat, lessening with each breathe.

 

I’ll be honest, I tend not to drink too many white whiskies, because I find them frankly unsatisfying, and they’re just a step (or a filtration) too close to being vodka.  The same cannot be said of this fascinating expression.  I have to imagine that the mash bill of this spirit, 45% barley, 30% corn, and 25% rye, has a lot to do with how lovely it tastes.  That is not a normal mash-bill, and to my knowledge leaves this spirit, and its aged counter-part free of any legal classification beyond whiskey or delicious.  Yes, you heard me right my friends, there is an aged counterpart to Snowfall, and while I have not yet had it, I know that my next trip across the Connecticut River will find me on a search for at least one Ridgeline.

Uisce Beatha Real Irish Whiskey

Every thirty seconds the slow wash of tires passes across my right shoulder, over to the left, behind my neck, out my left ear into the hallway.  Spinning forward to my right periphery a red illumination shines from the grove of a black disk, spinning, spinning, spinning, and moaning… “you betta come on / / in my kitchen / / babe it gonna’ be rainin’ outdoors.”  It’s a misty, chill December shower.  Inside, in the mellow warm candle light with Marrakesh smoke on the air, every thumping bass note on old Bobby Johnson’s thumb seems to urge the floor to tickle the increasingly numb souls of my feet.  The draining circulation in my fingers makes for spasmodic and pained typing.  Perhaps more pained because I’m still not sure what I mean to say.  It is rare this late in December, in this Northeastern clime, to still be awaiting our first snowfall.  And yet we are.  And still—warm enough to rain, winter enough to frost—I’m ready to embrace an instinct familiar to other mammals, hibernation.  This in-between weather, this wet and confused New Hampshire December, I imagine is how most of winter must pass in Ireland.  As ancient coal stoves burn, turf stoves, even, I imagine many among the Irish fight the mammalian instinct of hibernation in turning to one more human.  I imagine on a night like this, sometime in the 14th century, some tonsured monk drink a fluid warm from the still, and he said to his brethren, “this is the water of life,” uisce beatha.

 

From these words, uisce beatha, comes the modern word for the sweet nectar and societal scourge, that is whiskey.  Of course, if you’re reading a whiskey blog in your free time, I probably don’t need to tell you that.  But if you learned something, well, the more you know.  Why do I bring this up, with unnecessary verbosity and noir musings?  Well, because someone done gone made an Irish whiskey, and guess what they’ve called it…yousebetya, Uisce Beatha.

 

It takes a fuckin’ fully functioning spleen to go and brand your whiskey as its etymological root. Before you say anything, the spleen does have a purpose, look it up, smartass.  Now while we’re on the point, I’ll give you some brief background.  Apparently this whiskey, Uisce Beatha, *redundant* is a product fresh from the mind of John Paul DeJoria, who is best known for bringing the world Patron Tequila and Paul Mitchell shampoo.  One of these things is not like the other.  I think I’m just going to leave your mind lingering on that without further comment.  Anyways, the Patron Mitchell guy happens to be a cofounder of a company called Rok Drinks, which has decided to churn out whiskey under its original moniker.  Sadly, I cannot figure out where the juice these “Rok Stars” are using to make this whiskey, but they have clearly disclosed that it is blended of whiskies aged at least 4 years in former bourbon barrels. That’s about is far deep as I’m going a googling tonight, so let’s get to the point—I’m seriously flagging in the life department and giving that hibernation thing some consideration.  Let us put some life in my blood.

Uisce Beatha

The nose on this is delightfully rich, honey was a given based on the color of the whiskey, but there are pleasant dimensions of richer molasses and dark fruit, a touch of spice and maybe even a hint of hazelnut.  The base note which seems to first hit the tongue and then lingers steadily throughout the palate is something akin to a sweet but gristy whole grain muffin.  On top of this are layers of flavor, including a more fully expressed cinnamon spice—which I’ll be bold enough is from the barrel of a high-rye bourbon—some light citrus, and the ever Irish honey sweetness which is more than usually subtle in this expression, I imagine due to the bourbon barrels. The finish is very light, with an almost cold breath around the edge of the tongue passing and leaving just a grassy sweet reminiscence of loving life on the tongue.

So, does this young upstart, new to the market from the mind of a tequila slinging hairdresser live up to its Gaelic name? Well, it certainly is whiskey, that’s an accurate start.  Beyond that, it’s a pleasant whiskey, distinct from the many other expressions in the field, with a refreshing complexity for its youth.  Yes, I do feel a bit less like sinking into hibernation, I feel a bit more blood running in my fingers and toes, and I may in fact be on the verge of having a touch more life.

Monkey Shoulder

Sometimes life is a bitch.  Sometimes the inane and unrelenting shit spray coming off the fan is blinding, and there’s so much weight on your shoulders you have to shimmy out of bed first thing in the morning.  That’s not my excuse, but it does occasionally happen.  Me, I’ve had a touch of the writer’s block, but in order to treat an illness, you have to identify the cause.  It didn’t take too long before I was able to source this, it was a severe lack of motivation.  Weariness.  Apathy.  Unfortunately, a lack of motivation and apathy are hard to treat, because it’s in the nature of the condition to make you, ya know…not give a fuck.  Oh well.  Well, it has taken a couple of volleys to break me past this blockade of mine, but here we are, on the other side.

Let me first explain the circumstances in which I have been able to overcome the apathy.  A couple of weeks ago, a great and inspirational friend of mine came to visit me in my new home, a nice little cozy space that I’ve settled into with the result of additional weariness, because, moving does that.  Anyways, my friend, we’ll call him Winston Legthigh, also tends to write, and has a very thorough understanding of what it’s like to wrestle with words until they get you in a chokehold and strangle you until you pass out.  Mr. Legthigh, additionally, happens to be one of those friends who encourages the creative instinct, praises your driveling mind and understands that “you must lift him up, and never knock him down.”  Anyways, Winston gave me a good shove in the right direction, while simultaneously understanding that it isn’t there, and there ain’t no use fishing in a bathtub.  Then we got drunk.  A couple of times, it was great.  Given that this tends to be a whiskey blog, and not usually the pointless meanderings of a poor writer pontificating on the writing process; we decided that doing some tasting notes would be in good order for getting my good for nothing freeloading sphincter back on track.

Our muse, in this strange venture of reigniting the spark-plugs of my ½ horsepower heart, was a worthy one indeed, and one I’ve heard often mentioned of late.  Monkey Shoulder, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.  See, I’d purchased this Monkey Shoulder as a portion of the stocking of my lovely bar in my new digs, enchanted by the bottle with the inlaid little monkeys, and even more so by the reviews I’d read of this whiskey which promised that it wasn’t just a charming name and bottle, but a credit to mid-priced blended scotch as a category entirely.  Since mid-price tends to be my budget, I snapped at the promise of this distinctly styled dram.  Enter two, slightly beyond mildly intoxicated fools, a sheet of paper, and here we are.

Before I compile these mad rumblings into a coherent review of a fine offering in the world of Scotch, let me give you an excerpt of our source material, to provide a glimpse into what we’re working with… “Earth, sweet mud of the bleeding fuckin dead. Let’s edit this tomorrow, else every other word will be a curse.”  Ben, eh, I mean Winston…is a faithful scribe, bless his heart.  Anyways, here’s an actual review, based on true events.

Over the course of our, shall we say, “extended tasting,” my compadre and I found this nose the most mysterious element of the whisky.  At first we noted an orange peel note, one which was mellowed and mingled with a touch of light smoke and oak must, which slightly reminded me of a very pleasant composting smell, for some reason. Later in the night, perhaps our senses were heightened, or perhaps deeply and troublingly impaired, another note reached the nose, opening up that smoky note into something deeper recessed within the memory of any diehard New Englander, that of smoke rising off of a stuck on ice.  Well, beyond that there are of course the constancies, a touch of straw and honey, and on more sober reflection, maybe a hint of elderflower to my current taste. For some reason we were also very pleased with the appearance of this pour, noting that the legs in our Glencairn glasses reminded us of those of a super-model, and the color was a touch richer than your average light honey, I believe the bullshit phrase I used was closer to a first-running maple syrup…but not that heavy.”

Of course, as things would go, we were not merely content to sniff at this, and we were sure to make a thorough go of tasting, indulging, delighting in our work, and of course this meant many tastings.  A thirsty taste revealed rich honey notes, as well as a bit of dry oak and soft grain, which seemed to ripen, revealing a sweet almond note and perhaps some plum.  Perhaps we were deluded, but that’s what we thought anyways.  The mouthfeel was, per our very legible and descriptive notes, a soft-honey velvet consistency, rich, lightly oily and pleasing.

Finally, we note the finish, which is where our guest contributor seemed to have the most… unique…perspective.  As we inhaled, passing the elixir onto its final resting place, Mr. Legthigh noted that the burn was light and localized, a point which I could not disagree with, and which he stated hit “…right between the tonsils.  [The] Same spot you would use to self-induce vomiting.”  Well said, old chap.  The final aftertaste was rich, and lingered gently several minutes on the palette, with a touch of smoked meat revealing itself.

Monkey Shoulder

I can’t say that we’ve brought you any closer to the point with these insightful words of ours. What is there to say, really, for Monkey Shoulder?  Well, it’s a pleasant Scotch, a gentle entry into the category, and welcoming for those who are not exactly wild about peat.  Additionally, it’s very multi-dimensionally, and artfully blended to make a consistently intriguing taste, and at a fair price point.  It’s also delightfully named, if you like monkeys—and if you don’t like monkeys, you’re really just a self-loathing sonuvabitch.

Tincup American Whiskey

Let me first make multiple apologies.  First off, I haven’t posted in a good while.  To be honest I’ve been in a rough state for the last month or so.  It started when I sprained my ankle hiking, and intensified when after a weekend in Montreal I came down with a chest cold.  Which I took to Charlotte the next weekend and let intensify with the help of some super powered allergies. Believe it or not, I have taken many days off the drink in the effort of trying to heal these ills.  Then again, as you can gather by my travels I did have some pretty good drinking time in there, over the course of a very tight schedule.  None of this was conducive to me writing reviews.  My second apology is that I didn’t make any acknowledgement of the 4th of July.  I’m sorry, I was just enjoying it too much, with the barbecue and beer and Sam Elliot in The Frogs, I kind of forgot.  Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, onto business, and a post 4th celebration of a couple fascinating American pioneers—George Stranahan and Jess Graber.

The George Stranahan epic begins in Aspen, Colorado in 1990 when he started the Flying Dog Brewpub.  Now, us younger lushes take a good brewpub for granted, so let us acknowledge that when Flying Dog was founded in 1990 it was one of the first brewpubs in the Rockies since Prohibition.  The avid reader or writer may also find it intriguing that among the bars regular patrons was an aging political journalist and lunatic named Hunter S. Thompson, well known for violence, drugs and insanity.  As Flying Dog grew, it became a bit more than your average brewpub, gaining mass distribution, but always keeping its gonzo edge with obscene names like “Raging Bitch Pale Ale” and “Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout.”  Since those early days there’s been a move to Frederick, MD and the loss of the Hunter himself, but Flying Dog keeps going strong, and so has George Stranahan.

The way I see it, George is probably a good deal of drinkers, or at least the ones that count.  He can’t be tied down to one fuel.  Sure, I love craft beer too, and I know there’s enough variety in that world to keep my palate entertained forever, probably—but a man needs more than one hobby.  Like I imagine many of my readers are, George shared his love of beer, with a love of whiskey.  If you don’t like whiskey, you may be on the wrong blog.  In 1998, serendipity struck in Colorado.  On what we’ll pretend was a stormy night with dramatic flashes of lightening and shit, George Stranahan’s barn took alight.  As they tend to do, brave and daring firefighters answered the call to save this barn, and among them was a young volunteer, Jess Graber.  Somehow, amongst the smouldering ruins, Stranahan and Graber bonded, and developed a brotherhood that can only be explained by a blood borne element…whiskey.  From the smoke of Stranahan’s barn rose a greater Phoenix, conjured by Stranahan and Graber, and Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was born.  I’m not going to go too in depth on Stranahan’s, mostly because I’ve never had it, but we’ll pretend that it’s because I’m saving it for another article…should someone send me a bottle.  Hint hint, nudge nudge.  What I will say is what I know; they were a pretty early player in the microdistillery boom, with a unique product that came from aging barley based whiskey in charred oak in a fusion of single malt and bourbon styles.  Like Flying Dog, Stranahan’s was a breakaway success.

Like Stranahan, it seems Graber is not a man to rest on his laurels, and his newest creation is a tribute to a different generation of Rocky Mountain pioneers.  Tincup, so Jess declares, is a whiskey made in tribute to the prospectors of the Colorado Mountains, the whiskey drank, and the tin cups they drank from.   We’ll start with the obvious on Tincup, and judge the apple by looking at the tree…or something.  Anyways, it’s a damn cool bottle.  Inset in the glass we are advised (in case we didn’t know) that this is Colorado whiskey, made from pure Rocky Mountain water.  The big stand-out and, if we’re honest, the gimmick; is the little tin cup that perches on the top of the bottle, stamped with the pick-ax company logo.  Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick…but its damned cool, and a rather unique approach to branding your company.  I may have to drink a few more bottles just to have a set of these little things.  Inside the bottle, so I’m advised by the neck tag, is Rocky Mountain bourbon (though they don’t call themselves such) from a corn, rye and barley mash, which spent an unspecified amount of time in American White Oak.  So, we must ask ourselves—how far does the apple fall from the tree?  (That is really a meaningless maxim to reference in this situation.)

Tincup

The nose on this actually makes that cliché ring a little truer; it smells quite a bit like a sweet, heavily spice apple crisp.  It’s a touch mouthwatering, and notice I avoided making some kind of American as apple pie statement?  On sipping this whiskey I find it to be quite delicate, with a rather light body that opens up well with a warm caramel center, just a hint more of crisp apple or pear and a nice backing of earthy cinnamon / nutmeg from the rye.  The finish is correspondingly delicate, with not a hint of burn at the mellow 84 proof, and just a touch more spice, some lingering oaky dryness and a hint of a brown sugar and dark fruit taste that holds to the tongue.

Overall, this whiskey is a very well balanced, rather unique expression, with a nice interplay between airy flavors and rye spice.  With a bottle down I’ve found that this whiskey holds a light dash of bitters beautifully, and is gentle enough that even casual whiskey drinkers could enjoy a few fingers neat.  In the end, Tincup comes as a pleasant surprise at a democratic price point, and pays a fitting tribute to the tin cupped Rocky Mountain miner, and even more so to the pioneering “spirit” of those early brewers and distillers of Colorado, including George Stranahan and the brains behind this fine product, Jess Graber himself.

Rebel Yell Small Batch Reserve

I am going to start off this article by making you all a promise.  I will not make any obvious Billy Idol references.  I make no promises about history references, either way.  With that out of the way, let me begin.

As my frequent readers have led me to believe, I am some kind of poet laureate of the poor man’s hooch. Well, my friends, let me fulfill your dreams.  You see, I’m not entirely sure (because, alcohol) but I’m pretty sure Rebel Yell was my first bourbon.  Clearly this was a successful foray, as you likely have noticed I have gained a touch of an affinity for bourbon.  Now, I’m not sure when the last time I have regular Rebel Yell was, I imagine it’s been years, but let me state for the record, I enjoyed it.  Is Rebel Yell great whiskey?  Feck no.  But as Faulkner famously observed: “there is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.”  That’s like piss whiskey populism, or something.  Well, it just so happens that while Rebel Yell is one of those fine $15 whiskies, there is better whiskey available—and under the Rebel Yell banner none-the-less.  Don’t they call that the Stars ‘n’ Bars?

I’ll be brief in my profile of this spirit.  You have your standard Rebel Yell, perhaps a private of the infantry, which howls at 80 proof for $15 and achieves the general goal of getting you intoxicated.  Rebel Yell Small Batch Reserve, honestly doesn’t differ terribly a lot in concept.  Kentucky made bourbon, with wheat as the secondary grain is purchased from an undisclosed distiller and bottled.  Neither have a age statement, but I’d say it’s a good guess nobody is really sure.  At $20 we’re not too picky.  Small Batch Reserve bumps up to 90.6 proof, which is a significant perk in the getting drunk field.   Those are the stats, which beg the question; does bottling a Small Batch Reserve edition ensure that the south will rise again, under the banner of Rebel Yell?

Just the smell of this whiskey harkens back to the glory days of southern pride…no wait, it doesn’t.  It smells like whiskey, more particularly some dark brown sugar, vanilla, perhaps some light tobacco and just a touch of dry wood.  That’s okay, I imagine the antebellum south smelled like swamp, sweat and injustice.   Tasty tasty time… The first note is one of overwhelming honey that rolls from the tip of the tongue on down with a pretty rich mouthfeel.  Once a breath of air passes over the palate a touch of heat is exposed that rises with a somewhat acid note that quickly gives a like burn on the tonsils with an interesting cherry note seems hidden in there underneath some vanilla.  The finish is heavy on the honey, which coats the inside of your mouth pleasantly, but has a touch of a medicinal note hanging about.

Rebel

So will Jefferson Davis be adorning future dollar bills, ya’ll?  No, clearly not, that’s absurd.  But the weekend I bought this whiskey was spent cruising around the campus of Yale in an angry ’85 Camaro with seats that didn’t match, a questionable paint job, and a likely broken carburetor—which seems entirely appropriate.  While a step up from your standard Rebel Yell fare, this is still at its core a low shelf sluggin’ whiskey of the sort that makes you feel a bit more rugged for drinking it.  So while I may not be riding with Quantrill’s Raiders like Jesse James, with a bit of this in me I feel like my buddy, his Camaro and I could scare the piss out of some preps.  Or make them piss themselves laughing…it’s all the same when you’ve had a few.

Glenmorangie 10: A Memorial Day Tribute

For some reason for special occasions we raise a glass of something fine.  I’m a big proponent of this.  At times, however, these occasions necessitate solemn reflection and respectful remembrance. Today is such a day—Memorial Day.  On a day such as this, rather than raise a glass it may be more appropriate to pour out a dram to those fallen.  In spite of my political beliefs, which wars I believe were necessary and which were essentially criminal, today I pour a glass out to this country’s fallen soldiers.  As it seems scotch is often the choice for such tributes, tonight I too shall consume scotch. I’m not pouring any out though; I’d prefer not to get booze in the carpet.

My beverage tonight is a bottle of Glenmorangie 10 year that my mother and stepfather gave me for my birthday.  Since my birthday is in March, clearly I’ve been saving this review for a special occasion…Or a night when I can convince myself  to write; tonight it just so happens these things coincided.  Anyways the 10 year is Glenmorangie’s base-line baby, aged in old bourbon barrels and presumably providing the base that all their special offerings build off of.  So, is this bottle a worthy tribute to the roughly 1.4 million U.S. soldiers who have died in combat?  Shall we taste?

Morangie

The Nose on this whisky is quite interesting, with grassy notes, a heavy citrus presence that reminds me of a well-made margarita and, finally, a peach cobbler with ice cream note that seems to come in after I’ve stopped inhaling.

This scotch is somehow walks a line between very light flavors and a rather rich body, with soft vanilla dominating throughout, just a touch of caramel in the middle and a hefty share of green apple / pear notes near the end that brings just a touch of tart astringency to the palate.  The finish returns with a bit more acid and astringency that remind you of that citrus nose, and wipe your tongue off like orange oil on a guitar fretboard.  It’s pleasant, crisp and surprisingly refreshing—perfect for a cool night while I walk the fine line of chilled toes and open windows.

So let’s go back to the theme of the day, and the question I previously posed— is this bottle a worthy tribute to the roughly 1.4 million U.S. soldiers who have died in combat?  Can anything be?  I highly doubt there’s a bottle of bourbon worthy of a man’s life, and I love nothing more than bourbon.  As a tribute however, this stands up as well as any, and I feel it fortuitously matches the weather of this Memorial Day as well. So, tonight I drink to those who gave the last full measure of devotion to this land, so that we may live to drink another day.  I pour out a dram to thee, right into my thirsty mouth.

Knob Creek Rye

Knob Creek needs no introduction.  They even have freakin’ commercials now.  So no gimmicks here, let’s cut to the beef.  Knob Creek Rye labels itself as patiently aged, meaning I have no idea how old it is.  I don’t really care.  I do care that I scored it on sale for $35, like a true booze-hound bargain-hunter.   I also care that it’s 100 proof, I like that.  In fact, I need that—I’ve got a scratchy throat and a sprained wrist—poppa needs his medicine.  Unlike Knob Creek, I don’t have ample patience today.  So I’m going to cut past the usual drivel, which you likely skip over anyways, and hit some tasting notes.

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

Curse my allergies…After a deep huff I’m able to cut through and get a touch of cinnamon, some herbal notes and a touch of fresh sawdust.  The first impression on my admittedly hefty sip was how gentle this is, not only as a 100 proof rye without a dragon’s breath, but as a rye in general.  Rather than strong hefty spice notes Knob Creek has played a bit more with a softer cinnamon spice muffin like note, a rich caramel middle and, as their “age statement” would imply, a generous dose of balanced oak.  This bit of oak leaves the rye just a touch dry as it finishes over the palate but it lingers well with floral, ginger and spice notes that just lightly massages my phlegmatic throat.

Summation points?  While the price point, even on sale, is a touch high, this is a fine drinkin’ whiskey.  Knob Creek Rye is a refined and balanced rye, so balanced that it mellows down it’s rye spice and high proof into a benchmark for a mid-range rye.

A. Smith Bowman: Bowman Brothers Small Batch

Whiskey marketing tends to flow down a few narrow channels.  If you’re walking down the whiskey lanes browsing around, it isn’t exactly hard to see this trend. You wanna sell whiskey?  You gotta have a rugged heritage.  It’s okay if it’s mostly rubbish, just pick a name of a distiller from the 1700s and slap on a word that makes you think Davy Crockett would drink this between eating bear hearts—boom, you’ve nailed the market.  Given whiskey’s image, you’d think it caused your body to develop more testosterone.  If it did, I’d probably look like bigfoot.  Anyways, tonight’s drinking comes courtesy of a company that has clearly mastered this technique, A. Smith Bowman Distilleries of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The product: Bowman Brothers “Pioneer Spirit” Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey.   Long name, I know.  Here’s the thing, this whole marketing spiel I mentioned, it seems to be a more modern trend.  The funny thing is, unlike the names smacked on labels, such as Elijah Craig, this name actually has something to do with the company’s heritage.  Furthermore, Bowman seems to be ahead of the curve a touch—he started the distillery in 1935; in fact, the original distillery location in modern day Reston, Virginia is on the National Register of Historic places.  Then again, Bowman was just naming the distillery after himself, much like Jim Beam; he just happens to have famous relatives…

The namesakes of this bottle, the Bowman Brothers, were intrepid American Revolutionary War Veterans and, no bullshit, pioneers.  They led families west to the wild frontiers of Kentucky (like someone else I mentioned…) to settle communities in two counties.  You probably know Kentucky well for one of its fine exports as well, bourbon.  I’m sure there’s no connection.  Where the hell was I going with this?  Oh yeah, A. Smith Bowman ain’t just another new name on the shelves playing a tired marketing ploy—they were around when whiskey’s marketing ploy was “it gets you drunk.”  Now they have to tell you to drink responsibly, how sad.  As usual, all of this is tangential though—let’s talk juice.

Supposedly, from what I call “research,” Bowman Brothers is made from a Buffalo Trace Mash, about 15% rye, that is triple distilled though a copper still.  What does that smell like? It’s very light, with a crisp apple note leading in, a delectably smooth vanilla middle, and just a dusting of rye spice at the end, almost like apple crisp and ice cream.  I’m kind of hungry now.  Okay, Girl Scout cookies down and I’m back—let us taste! (As if I haven’t already had two drinks.)

Bowman

That rye note is actually pretty up front on the first sip, considering its low station in the mash.  The middle is where this whiskey really shines, with a very rich vanilla flavor that’s rather unusual—did I buy the special release aged with vanilla beans?  Nope, my blood ain’t that rich.  There is also a pretty great chewy, sweet, maple-syrup-over-snow thing as the foundation.  This is enjoyable stuff.

What’s the point here?  Well, one, this Bowman Brothers is a pretty interesting, light and lovely whiskey.  Also, all the marketing money in the world isn’t going to give your brand any legit heritage.  Finally, it seems to me that Virginia pioneers probably taught the people of Kentucky a thing or two about the art of whiskey—even Washington was a distiller—and if this is the kind of whiskey Virginia is still churning out, I think they still know what they’re doing.