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.