Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon

Today, we drink bourbon in celebration of the victors of Super Bowl 50.  Just like the Broncos that vanquished the Carolina Panthers last weekend, our spirit of choice hails from Denver, Colorado.

The Laws Whiskey House in Denver, Colorado takes great pride in their trade as craft distillers.  The whiskies they produce are distilled from (mostly) local grains: the corn is from Wisconsin, but the barley, rye and wheat come from Colorado.  Laws Whiskey distills the juice and ages it themselves, before bottling and selling.

The Laws distillery makes traditional straight bourbon, but for today’s taste, it’s the unique A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon we’re trying.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon

Now, bourbon by it’s legal description has to be made of at least 50% corn.  What makes up the other (up to) 50% is usually distillers choice.  Barley usually makes up a small percentage, with the rest being either a rye (spicier) or wheat (smoother).  Making a whiskey utilizing all four grains can be extremely tricky, as it involves balancing many flavors. Hence, there are very few four grain bourbons on the market.

It would make sense, however, that a craft distillery, with very good control on the source products they use, like Laws Distillery would be perfect to try this.  The Laws website is full of focus on the craftsmanship and patience employed.  Now their AD Laws Four Grain Bourbon is available throughout the country.  So how does it rate?

My take:

On first nose, I was surprised at the lack of sweetness.  There was an oak and leather, and a tinge of tobacco.  I also pulled a lot of baking spices that caught me off guard.  The Four Grain Bourbon is three years old, so I expected the sweetness of corn, but even after sitting out for a bit, the smell was allspice and oak, with a slight hint of dried raisin.

The Colorado distiller boasts that their whiskey ages year round, unlike Kentucky whiskey which ‘sleeps’ in the cold winter.  The fluctuations in Colorado mile high air supposedly keeps the whiskey maturing year round. I admit I was sceptical, but the nose certainly didn’t seem like such a young whiskey.

The taste was surprisingly mature too although not as tannic as the nose hinted at.  The leather and oak were most prominent, with a subtle tickle of spice, more clove than pepper.  But there was some sweetness now, albeit as a secondary flavor, with a hint of vanilla and the slightest bit of honey.  The mouth feel was medium – neither watery or creamy – and the youth of the drink showed through more in the second half, and subsequent drinks.  An ice cube opened up the flavor a bit, leaning toward the savory and added a bit of pepper.  It did taste young, like the individual elements weren’t fully absorbed, but it did taste like it was quality made.

The finish was medium, and had a bit of harshness to it.

Overall, its a unique and quality product by a craft spirit house that obviously cares about their product.  It is also refreshing to drink spirits that are more about the product and less about the story.  That said, this wouldn’t be a daily drinker for me – a bit too bitter, and a bit too young.  But kudos to Laws Distillery for their dedication to fine craftsmanship, and daring.

Dan’s rating: 7.8

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Back in the saddle…

Well hello, and happy 2016!  It has been a while, hasn’t it?  I’d like to say my absence wasn’t deliberate, but that wouldn’t entirely be true.  But the hiatus is over, I’m happy to say – I’m back from sabbatical – with a fresh mindset and some thirsty taste buds.

Before I dive back into reviewing whiskies, I would like to take a few minutes and speak to what it was that caused my blog vacation.  See, as I’ve written before, my love of bourbon was born of simple tastes.  I always liked whiskey, and as my tastes developed, I found bourbon whiskey to be my favorite.  The more bourbon I tried, the more I found I enjoyed differentiating the tastes that made each bottle so different, and so special.

I eventually found myself immersed in Bourbon culture too – and at just the right time, because the last ten years have really been a ‘Golden Age,’ so to speak, for bourbon.  The major distillers have created more and more unique, interesting products.  Masters like Harlan Wheatley and Jim Rutledge were crafting new and experimental brands with worlds of difference between them.  Bottlers bought up vast quantities of aging spirits, from storages as simple as MGP, and as complex as the various Stitzel-Weller and Bernheim reserves, creating new brands (some worth their weight in gold, like a JPS 17, and others simple as a 2-year-old, barely barrelled pour). And micro-distillers began popping up, with innovative styles, aging techniques and recipes.  The Kings, Wigle’s, Grand Traverse’s, Detroit City’s…so many new things to try.

But with success like this comes growing pains.  No sooner did I come around to bourbon than the Pappy Van Winkle craze took off, and then all of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. If you are reading this blog, you probably already know where it went from there.

I did my best to keep up, without resorting to asking for samples from the makers themselves.  As the number of bourbon-buyers expanded, it got more and more difficult.  Store owners would tell me stories of people calling them in the summer, to offer hundreds and even thousands of dollars over retail prices for the most limited bottles.  The list of hard-to-find bottles expanded too.  By spring of last year, I had accumulated a list of almost 100 bourbon or rye whiskies that we on my ‘near-impossible’ list.  There were the usual suspects, but the list had grown to include names like Elmer T. Lee, Old Weller Antique, EH Taylor Barrel Proof and Rock Hill Farms. Where I had gotten used to putting hours into searching out PVW or an Orphan Barrel release, I was now putting equal energy into finding anything not named ‘Beam’ or ‘Makers.’

As time went on, I also moved from the occasional Craigslist purchase to joining a number of Facebook “exchanges” where members sell or trade hard to find bottles among themselves.  Again, I watched as the posts went from people offering ‘an extra bottle’ to those who were buying the bottles strictly to “flip,” or make a quick (and often astronomical) profit.  More and more pictures were of bottles on a passenger seat, with the purchase having been made moments earlier.  Or even worse, still on the store shelf, while the flipper tries to determine enough of an interest to buy at all.  The final step was when the groups were taken over by raffles, mostly dictated by buying numbers in that weeks PowerBall drawing.  Suddenly, a $79 bottle that was already being ‘flipped’ for $200 was instead being raffled for over $300 in $10 increments.

Two things began to happen to me at the same time: I became obsessive about finding the hard to find bottles at all costs, at the same time as I started to loathe what popularity had done to the bourbon culture I had enjoyed. By last summer, I was having trouble bringing myself to open a bottle to try and review because I was worried I would be unable to replace it if I liked it.  Sure, the err in logic is quite obvious, but that didn’t stop the anxiety from building up.

So I took a step back.  I spent the fall and winter enjoying bottles I had opened, and not worrying about reviews, or where I would find the next rare bottle.  I talked to some local shop keepers without caring if they were going to offer me a bottle of Pappy (they didn’t) or sell me EC 23 at cost (nope).  I pulled down some of the fall releases, missed out on others, and even spent a relaxing day at the Makers Mark Distillery with my wife.

Most importantly, I came to my senses. As I spent the holidays visiting friends and relatives and enjoying bourbon, I missed writing about it all.  So I’m back, and I will be writing about the whiskies I can find, rather than worrying about those I cannot.  And I hope you stay with me, dear readers.  I did peek at the analytics – plenty of people are still visiting.  So let’s settle in, and pour a glass. I’ll see you soon.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny

It’s been a long summer for a baseball fan here in Detroit.  The Tiger’s have personified mediocrity this year and, with the small fire sale that we had last week (trading off David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Céspedes) and the surprise dismissal of team architect Dave Dombrowski, we’re settled in for a pennant chase-less autumn for the first time in quite a few years.

It’s at moments like this one can turn to drinking – luckily for me there is a cabinet full of nice bourbon’s for me to try and write about, regardless of the Tigers score.  So we get back into the swing of things with a taste of Heaven Hill‘s wheated entry, Larceny.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny

For those familiar with the blog, you know that I am a sucker for ‘wheated’ bourbons – that is, bourbons that use wheat instead of rye in the distillation.  Now of course rye or wheat are used sparingly in the distillation of bourbon proper anyway, but wheated bourbons have a more sweet, rounded flavor without much of the spicy punchiness rye brings as a grain.  Most of my favorite bourbons – W.L. Weller, Maker’s Mark, even Pappy Van Winkle (and the famous Jefferson Presidential Select 18 year) have been wheated bourbons.  So Larceny has an advantage right off of the bat.

Larceny is Heaven Hill’s entry into the wheated bourbon market, and they did so with a heaping helping of bourbon history and lore.  John E. Fitzgerald was a Treasury agent, responsible for watching and approving of the manufacture and storage of bourbon.  As the only man with the keys to the rick-houses, Fitzgerald supposedly had quite the palate, and would choose the finest barrels to…pilfer…whiskey from.  The distillery owner, S.C. Herbst, and many years later it’s purchaser, Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, honored the crooked agent with discerning taste with the brand name “Old Fitzgerald.”

Old Fitzgerald, to which “Pappy” introduced the wheat, was produced by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery until, the brand was sold in the early 90s to Heaven Hill.  In 2012, Heaven Hill began bottling Larceny as an homage.  A true “small batch” consisting of 100 barrels of 6-12 year old wheated bourbon bottled at 92 proof, they sent Larceny into the market, albeit limited.

Larceny is, for example, still largely unavailable in Michigan, and it was only on one of my trips to Kentucky I was able to wrangle a bottle of the very affordably priced ($26) bourbon.  So how did it taste?

Dan’s take:

Right off the bat, Larceny has a nose that declares its wheated mashbill.  There is maple syrup, and a nice oakiness right from the start.  Let the glass sit for a few, and it opens up a little more to a butterscotch, toffee and even a hint of honey.  Blending with the oak, it makes for a nose that leans into a deep sweet aroma.

The taste was a little sharper than I anticipated – despite the lack of rye, the first sip had some bite to it.  The mouth feel was thinner than I expected for the recipe and age – it wasn’t thin like a young bourbon, but didn’t have the creaminess I expected.  That said, it had a great flavor – toffee was in front and strong, with tiny sparks of cinnamon behind it (which owed it’s presence to age instead of rye).  The drink was very smooth, and the toffee/vanilla with a little grit brought a smile to my face.

The finish was shorter than I expected, but very nice and smooth.  All in all, I enjoyed Larceny very much, but I suppose that’s not a surprise.  And for the price, I found it to be right on par with Maker’s Mark, and close to my beloved Old Weller 107.

Dan’s Rating: 8.3

“Instant Bourbon” – Red, White & Bourbon takes a look

Over at the great bourbon blog Red, White & Bourbon, they take a look at the recent debate about ‘instant’ or artificially aged bourbon.  We’ve tried a few of these – Jefferson Ocean 2, for example, and have a few others on deck like Cleveland Bourbon, but RW&B really takes an in-depth look at the methods, and controversy surrounding them.

Check it out – it’s a great read!

Red, White & Bourbon: The Fallacy of Instant Bourbon Claims

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon

I am extremely lucky in the fact that, because of my and my wife’s jobs, our situation and our hobbies, we get to travel a bit.  And aside from all of the usual joys of traveling – new places, sightseeing, and different foods, among others – we get to try regionally specific bourbons.  Trying something specific to a particular area is one of the things we enjoy the most, and with the explosion of regional distilleries in the past few years, the new things to try are more plentiful than ever.

I’ve focused on Michigan bourbons, Vermont bourbons, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, among others.  Today, I turn my sights to Missouri.  I went to college there, long before the whiskey renaissance was in swing, and returned recently for a good friends nuptials (more on the drink we shared at a later time).  I was pleased to see how many new and locally crafted whiskies there were (as opposed to sourced/bottled/labeled).  With that in mind, I picked up a bottle of something I had never seen before, and took it home with me to try: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon

First thing first – Mad Buffalo distillery has renamed itself since creating the bottle I purchased, going by Coulter & Payne Farm Distillery.  A little bit of research explains why – this is truly a family endevour, and the names are representative of the family lines that both moonshined in Appalachia and farmed in Missouri.  The family decided to make the Union, Missouri farm into a distillery in 2011.

Right from the get-go, they created a “ground to glass” model, the ultimate in sustainability.  They use only non GMO grains, and plant, grow and harvest all of the ingredient crops right there on the farm, before distilling them and even barreling them in wood made from trees growing on the farm as well.  This is the ultimate in artisan craft, and is respectable in every way.  Currently they are making a variety of whiskies under the Coulter & Payne name, as well as a vodka and moonshine under the “Crop Circle” moniker.

So how is the juice?

Right off the bat, there is obviously something different about this bourbon.  At 80 proof and an age statement of “under 4 years,” it has a youth and lightness in the nose – strong corn, a touch of caramel and vanilla and a little maple.  But there is something else, something…floral.  Almost perfume-y. There is an air of fresh mowed grass, and flowers, something distinctively earthy.  It certainly confused me for several minutes and gave me pause.

The taste did not clarify things.  Again, the corn was in front, with a soft sweetness expected in such a young drink.  There was a soft caramel, a secondary note, and the mouth feel was not particularly thick, and more watery.  As it spread out along the taste buds, however, there was a strange sort of bitterness to it that brought to mind certain kinds of bitter greens like spinach.  It was earth, and my wife and I struggled to put our finger on it – dandelion?  kale?  Was it just the difference of not being cut with that limestone Kentucky water?  The finish was short, but a slight bitterness remained.  I couldn’t get past it.

When I added ice chips, the caramel and vanilla disappeared all together and the corn and bitter was all that remained, with a touch of spiciness around the corners.  This taste was so distracting that I even checked my glass to make sure I didn’t have a little soap residue from the last washing.

I was bummed.  I love everything about what they are doing, from an artisan and environmental standpoint.  But with the bitterness, I am afraid this bottle is destined for the Manhattan/Sidecar collection.

Dan’s Rating: 6.3

Looking at the website, it looks as though the bottle I purchased was from 2014 or even 2013.  Since then, in addition to the name change, they have introduced a host of new products including a Single Barrel and a Cask Strength.  It is the cask strength I would most like to try, to see if the bitterness came from the water or was even limited to this particular bottling.  I strongly encourage them to keep making whiskey in these new, great ways, and I do sincerely hope to try it again with better results.

For more about craft distilling in Missouri, check out this article from Feast Magazine, 2012