Monday, September 22, 2014

Tom's Foolery Straight Bourbon Whiskey: Craft Whiskey With Integrity

It’s not everyday that I get the chance to review a brand new bourbon. Tom’s Foolery Distillery in Chagrin Falls Ohio has been receiving critically acclaim for its Apple Jack for sometime now, but is on the verge of releasing its first whiskey. Tom’s Foolery Straight Sour Mash Bourbon will be on store shelves first in Ohio, around October 2014, with a Straight Rye Whiskey to be released in spring of 2015.

So I am abandoning my usual practice of placing this in my tasting notes and adding it here. Tom Herbruck has been laying up some really exciting bourbons and ryes here in Northeast Ohio and some of those are Straight, a minimum of two years old. See Tom's story here at his website 

As a founding member of the Cleveland Bourbon Club I had the foresight to invite Tom to be a member. I reveal this fact in the spirit of full disclosure, because some might take my review to be somewhat biased. That said, in the evening of September 15, 2014 Tom presented the Straight Sour Mash Bourbon (Batch 1) and his Straight 100% Rye Whiskey.

Tom’s Foolery Straight Sour Mash Bourbon (Batch 1)

Mash Bill 70% Corn 15% Rye 15% Malted Barley
Double Pot Distilled
Char No. 4 (Independent Stave Company 53 gallon)
No temperature control rickhouse with metal siding.
Small Batch Bourbon of five to six specifically selected barrels.
Bottled at 90 proof (45%ABV)

Nose: The nose of this two year old may not explode (What two year old does) but its age reveals notes of saddle leather, wet oak, and there is a surprisingly little ethanol for such young bourbon.

Taste: This bourbon has a full mouth feel but not overly viscous. Light honey, vanilla cream, and orangesicle through the mid-palate. It finishes with mint and clove and tobacco.

Overall Impression: Quite frankly I had great trepidation going into this tasting because I know the distiller so well. Plus it’s a two-year bourbon. However, it’s a great straight two-year bourbon. Granted its not yet a big bourbon with huge flavor, but it will probably get there. This two year old is subtle and well balanced showing potential for growth through maturity. Flavors are showing themselves already and in good portion. What is striking is the lack of bitterness, metallic, and that new make ethanol taste. This is a nice first release, worth drinking and owning. It is definitely a real Straight Bourbon.

PS. On September 18, 2014, I had a chance to sample Batch 2 of the Tom’s Foolery Straight Sour Mash Bourbon. This batch is less leathery and more floral with rose and hibiscus. There is more maple sweetness, vanilla cream, red-hot cinnamon, orange cream with a white pepper and clove on the finish. This batch is fuller in its flavor and even has a deeper richer color.

While I was impressed with Tom’s Foolery Bourbon, I was not prepared for what came next.

Tom’s Foolery Straight 100% Rye Whiskey.

Mash Bill 85% Raw Rye 15% Malted Rye
Double Pot Distilled
Char No. 4 (Independent Stave Company 53 gallon)
No temperature control rickhouse with metal siding.
Tasted as single barrel
Bottled at 90 proof (45%ABV)

Nose: This Rye presented itself with dusty nose, orange blossom, candied mint and vanilla cream

Taste: Cinnamon candy, anise, clove, and fennel.

Overall impression: Wow this is an amazing Straight Rye. There are couple of new two year old ryes out there that are good but in my opinion this beats them. This is an exceptional rye. Its full with a great mouth feel thick and rich. This is a completely complex rye whiskey and only two years old. Again, Wow! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A.H. Hirsch and The Original Michter's Distillery

I first had A.H. Hirsch about 7 years ago when I was but a babe in the woods of the bourbon forest. To be honest I knew it was special but I had yet developed my whiskey palate. I was a bourbon/whiskey neophyte and frankly I am probably still a neophyte by comparisons. However, it did not diminish my appreciation of that fine bourbon and my fascination with its origin's began.

My quest for all things A.H. Hirsch began with countless internet search which lead me to the first and one of the most comprehensive articles about the Michter's Distillery its origin and its whiskey. Yvonne Bomberger Fowler also had a blog of her own and the pictures on both sites helped guide me to the old distillery site. One of the best books on this whiskey is "The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste - The True Story of A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Distilled in the Spring 1974.  Made and Bottled in Kentucky" by Chuck Cowdery and all bourbon lovers should read it. 

I promised myself that if my travels took me anywhere near Harrisburg, Pa I would pull out the maps and try and find the site of the Old Michter's Distillery (DSP-PA-17). This post is not about the history of the distillery near Schafferstown, Pa, others have done a better job. This is about my trip that brought A.H. Hirsch and my love of bourbon full circle for me.

First, let me start off by saying that in all of the writings about Michter's Distillery no one has ever given an address. I plan to remedy that here 215 Michters Road, Schafferstown, Pa. So as I started out my morning from Grantville, Pa I only had a vague sense where it was. So imagine my glee when I was greeted this street sign.
Rout 501 and Michter's Rd south of Schafferstown
 However, my new found joy in my orienteering skills soon turned to disappointment when I rounded the turn and was confronted by this vision. Was I in the right place? I must have miscalculated? Did someone just move buildings here? What's going on?

I don't know what I was expecting. I had read many stories and posts on forums discussing the deteriorating nature of the old distillery but surely I had not succumb to the wrecking ball? But after checking Google Earth, Google Maps, and comparing photos from various websites I was indeed in the right place.

I was saddened by obvious fact that the main distillery building was torn down and the distillation column house, a tall standing structure marking the presence of a distillery, was also now gone. The only thing remaining from the column is the rectifying cap that has been saved and placed out back.

If you look closely you can see the footprint of the old distillation building. I parked my car on the concrete pad of one of the old rickhouses and walked down the road for a closer look. It is sad to think that with the still now gone the possibility ever resurrect the Old Mitcher's is gone forever.

As I walked around the former grounds of Michter's Distillery you could hear cows mooing from the buildings in back. If you walked up on the ridge next to the old rickhouse locations you could see corn growing shoulder high.

Water still flows in a small stream right through the center of the complex. This is farm country with its rolling hills, flowing water and fields filled with corn and other grain. However, this is also bourbon country with everything right here to make that great farm commodity whiskey!

So A.H.Hirsch is the dodo bird, its a dinosaur doomed to extinction though consumption. Sure a few collectors will have bottles that they will pet and put on display but one day it will be gone.

As I strolled about the remains of the now deceased distillery the words of whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery started to circulate in my thoughts. We should not lament that the gold age of bourbon may have passed us by and fear not because good whiskey is being made everyday somewhere by somebody we just have to discover it.

And as a strange twist of fate or perhaps a salute to the ties that bind I got to thinking of Tom Herbruck, a friend, a distiller and a bourbon enthusiast. Tom and Lianne Herbruck bought the demonstration still once used at the Old Michter's from David Beam.

 Over two years ago David Beam and Dick Stoll (the man responsible for setting the mash bill that would become A.H. Hirsch) helped the Herbruck's install the still and set up a mash bill. As of the writing of this article those whiskies are straight so indeed someone will make the whiskey. . .

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Whistle Pig - You Says its Canadian eh

After years of double speak and utter nonsense Raj Bhakta finally comes clean in an interview that was to run in the summer but was release by Whisky Advocate this evening. The story was broke by Robert Simonson, and will run in the upcoming issue of Whisky Advocate here:

Whisky Advocate: A Revealing Chat With Whistlepig's Raj Bhatka

In it Bhakta admits that the source of Whistle Pig's whiskey is Alberta Distilling, which is a Beam Inc. (Soon to be Suntory) company. The same company that Dave Pickerell worked for when he spent 13 years at Makers Mark. Finding the source was probably about as easy as picking up the phone and talking to one of his former Beam co-workers and asking what they had lying around. 

So why all the years of total BS stories and deception. Simple the owners of Whistle Pig don't think much of us as consumers. It's better to lie to us than tell us the truth. And why come clean now after years of deception. Well it seems that they were losing the marketing edge especially after Raj's idiotic interview on Bloomberg.

Whistlepig Whisky CEO: Raj Bhakta

 I perceived the brand as having no integrity and if a Whisky has no perceived integrity how can you look upon its yearly releases with anything but skepticism. 

Well finally a victory for the whiskey consumer. Now if we can only get the real story behind Larceny and Forgiven. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Stitzel-Weller Distillery to start making bourbon again! Well maybe. . .

Stitzel-Weller Distillery to start making bourbon again! « Whisky Advocate

The news that Diageo was going to reopen the Stitzel-Weller Distillery was reported last January but we have seen very little progress on that front. Diageo seems ready to raid the old Stitzel-Weller rickhouses for a few exclusive releases. Plus they are announcing two brand new bourbons from new make. However, with Four Roses pulling their contract to supply Bulliet one has to wonder where Diageo is going to get its new make. Perhaps this is year we see some action.

A Race to the Bottom Shelf: Look Past the Screw Cap and Enjoy These Exceptional Bargain Bourbons

A Race to the Bottom Shelf: Look Past the Screw Cap and Enjoy These Exceptional Bargain Bourbons

A few months back I was ask to recommend some bourbons that you can get at your local state agency here in Ohio. I was also asked to recommend some inexpensive bourbons. I still unapologetically love the Old Ezra 101 (7yr).

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Masterson's Unleashes Unblended Canadian Whiskey on US Whiskey Drinkers

The title of this entry just about says it all. I am a huge admirer of Masterson's Rye. It is an exceptional whisky. You will notice that there is no "e" in this whisky because in fact its Canadian. It's no secret that the Canadian's love their Rye whisky and in fact "Rye" and "Whisky" are used interchangeably up north. 

However, with the meteoric rise in Rye's popularity in the US and its shrinking stocks in US rackhouses many have looked north for a steady supply. Masterson's is not alone. Whistle Pig has a Canadian source and so does Pendleton. Canada makes more Rye grain based whiskey than another country. Why is this?  Davin De Kergommeaux Canada's foremost whiskey commentary has explained that in Canada whisky is produced by mashing and distilling all the components separately.  Rye, Malted Barley, Corn and Wheat are all separately mashed, distilled, barreled and aged. So in Canada Rye is for blending to achieve a good flavor profile in their whisky and they make a lot of it. So much in Alberta that they can sell off supplies to be bottle as straight American Rye and not even feel the pinch.


So when I saw a recent web posting on Masterson's Wheat Whisky and Masterson's Barley Whisky I became suspicious. Are we really being sold Canadian Whisky blending components as stand alone whiskey? Well the answer appears to be yes. I know what you are thinking . . . What about Whistle Pig and Masterson's Rye those are great whiskies? Yes they are and perhaps is was pure luck or serendipity that this type of Canadian Rye was rediscovered. 

I guess my point is this, have we reached a point in the story of the come back of whiskey, that whatever it is and for whatever it's intended purpose if it's whiskey we will slap a pretty label on it and charge a premium. Commentators and tasters are not raving about these two "new" Masterson's. So have we reached the point that someone has to shout "the emperor has no clothes"? I think so.

Don't package and sell me components of what was intended to be blended whisky and tell me its good and certainly don't charge me a premium for a bulk, stock and high volume whisky. Be a wary whiskey/whisky drinker. Know what's in the bottle before you buy. 

While I'm sure that the distillers have put great time and effort is to making the Whiskies that make up the Masterson's line, imagine what a talent Canadian whisky blender can do with those components. Simply put these Whiskies were not meant to be bottled individually. But in or zeal to scarf up every last drop of the highly aged whiskey and in our head long tumult to stuff our basements with next aged whiskey we haven't stopped to asked ourselves whether it is worth the asking price. We seem to want to figure that out later. So Masterson's is asking a premium price for their new Barley and Wheat Whisky. Are they worth it at $65.00? Those same whiskies in the hands of skilled blender make up some of the premium Canadian Whiskies (aka Rye). For the same money you could enjoy a an Alberta Premium, an Alberta Dark Horse, a Gibson 18, Wiser 18 or Legacy. Do yourself a favor before you spend $65 plus on any of these individual component this try an equivalent price point in a Canadian whisky you will probably find the Whisky it was meant to be.