EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Review: Jim Beam Pre-prohibition Style Rye

Owned by Beam Suntory, Jim Beam Pre-prohibition Style Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey is distilled at the one of the Jim Beam distilleries in Kentucky and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $16-$25

In early 2015, Jim Beam launched a reformation of their straight rye whiskey. But, as far as anyone can tell, the only difference between the old Jim Beam Rye (with a yellow label) and the new Pre-Prohibition Style Rye is that the label is now green and the whiskey is bottled at 45% ABV rather than 40% ABV. However, we do know that because there is no age statement on the bottle the whiskey inside must be at least 4 years old. This is one of the odd quirks of US labeling laws in that any whiskey aged less than four years must say how old it is but, no age statement is required at 4 or more years. We also know that since this is a straight rye whiskey it was aged in new charred oak barrels and that it has at least 51% rye grain in its mash bill. The rest of the mash bill isn't public but a reasonable guess puts it at 51% rye, 44-39% corn and 5-10% malted barley.

Jim Beam Rye has been around for decades and it is likely that this so-called reformulation, upping the proof to 90, is an attempt to say relevant in the booming rye whiskey category.  Rye whiskey has enjoyed renewed popularity these past few years, in part due to MGP and Whistle Pig. MGP based in Lawrenceburg, Indiana was once owned by Seagrams and made their easily identifiable 95% rye, 5% barley mash bill to blend into Seagrams 7 and other whiskeys. However, MGP now sells their spirits (rye whiskey, bourbon and even gin) to other companies that bottle it and sell it. Some of the most well know customers of MGP Rye are Bulleit, George Dickel, Templeton and High West. Whistle Pig on the other hand is buying a 100% rye whiskey from Alberta, Canada and bottling it in Vermont. Both of these whiskeys demonstrated the boldness and potential of rye whiskey and as a result, bartenders and whiskey drinkers were inspired to re-embrace a type of whiskey that mostly fallen out of favor.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Immediately notes of vanilla and oak are carried up on a blast of alcohol, followed by baked apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. Once the whiskey has had some time to breathe a little, light fruity notes like blueberries or black currants comes through.

Palate:  The palate is sweet with a medium to full body and very harsh. After your palate adjusts to the alcohol, slightly spicy grain notes come through with strong oak flavor.

Finish:  The finish is short, slightly sweet and slightly spicy. Pleasant flavors of iced black tea are overshadowed by an odd note of raw dough.

Conclusion:  This is not a whiskey to drink neat. Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Style Rye has lots of oak flavor and lots of heat from the alcohol, underlaid with only the faintest hints of rye spice. It makes an OK Manhattan that seems to plays up more of the herbal character of the Vermouth. All in all, I will not be buying another bottle. 

Review: Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon

Owned By Gruppo Campari, Russell's Reserve Small Batch 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is distilled at the WIld Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $28-$44

In 1942, Austin Nichols, a wine and spirits importer began buying bulk bourbon from the Old Hickory Distillery in Tyrone, Kentucky. For about 30 years Nichols bought and bottled this bourbon under the Wild Turkey brand. Then in 1971, Nichols purchased the Old Hickory Distillery from the Ripy family and renamed it the Wild Turkey Distillery. At the time Nichols bought the distillery a native Kentuckian, Jimmy Russell, served as the Master Distiller overseeing the distillation and aging of all their whiskey. Russell began working working at the distillery sweeping floors and worked his way up, learning the tradition and practice of making bourbon from Bill Hughes and Ernest W. Ripy, Jr. 

Fast forward to 2000, Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie worked together to create Russell's Reserve Small Batch 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Russell's Reserve stands as a testament to the dedication and skill the Russell family has demonstrated in making some of the finest American whiskey over the past 60 years. One bourbon (75/13/12 corn/rye/barley)

Lastly, Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon  was one of nine bourbons I selected in a blind tasting of bourbons less than $50. Out of a group of 25 non-professional tasters Russell's Reserve received the highest average score making it our highest ranked bourbon of the night.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose has notes of butterscotch with soft warm aromas of oak logs burning, ripe pears, and light tannins.

Palate: The palate is silky smooth with very light heat and notes of sweet vanilla are balanced with oak and tobacco. The bourbon has a slightly fruity character similar to some brandies.

Finish: The bourbon has a long finish with notes of oak and bright Chardonnay.

Conclusion: Russell's Reserve is an excellent bourbon that is a delight to drink. This is the epitome of a well balanced bourbon and very impressive for a 10 year old 90 proof bourbon. Most bourbons of this age I find are over oaked but this is a great testiment to the Russell legacy. 

Review: Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

Owned by Kirin Company based in Japan, Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is distilled at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $28-$45

Four Roses Small Batch is made from vatting four different bourbons made at the distillery. Two of the bourbons are made from mash bill "E" which consists of 75% corn, 20% rye, add 5% malted barley, one of which is fermented with a yeast strain "K" which is meant to emphasise light spice and caramel flavors; and, the second is fermented with yeast strain "O" which is meant to emphasise rich fruitiness as well as light caramel and vanilla notes. The second set of bourbons are made from mash bill "B" which consists of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. And, once again each is fermented with yeast strains "K" and "O." Each of these mash bill/yeast strain combinations are distilled and aged separately. For the Small Batch bourbon, these four whiskeys are aged less than 7 years, vatted together and then proofed down before bottling. While many distilleries credit their yeast for making their spirits unique, Four Roses is one of the only major bourbon distillery that goes through the added work of propagating five different yeast strains to further control the flavor profiles of their bourbons.

Lastly, Four Roses Small Batch was one of nine bourbons I selected in a blind tasting of bourbons less than $50. You can read how it did here.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately on the nose are fruity notes and acetone. Underneath these initial aromas are notes of burnt oak and a strong presence of vanilla.

Palate: On the palate the first flavor is a sightly astringent green note that is then followed by light heat on the tongue. After the heat dissipates, you notice both a sweetness and a big wallop of spice.

Finish: After swallowing the bourbon lingers for a long time with clear notes of oak and vanilla.

Conclusion: Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a nice bourbon, though not my favorite. That said, Four Roses Small Batch is well balanced and easy to drink bourbon well worth its price tag.

Review: Henry DuYore's Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distilled by Ransom Spirits, Henry DuYore's Straight Bourbon Whiskey is bottled at 45.65% ABV

Price: $30-44

Ransom Spirits was founded by Tad Seestedt in 1997 and in 2008, the distillery moved to its current home on a forty-acre farm in Sheridan, Oregon. While Seestedt distills a variety of spirits, his Old Tom Gin is probably his most successful and widely distributed product. Henry DuYore's was first released in 2012 and has a mash bill of 56% Corn, 31% Rye and 13% malted barley. The whiskey was made using a hand-hammered, direct-fired French alembic pot still. Henry DuYore was aged a minimum of four years in new American oak bourbon barrels, with some percentage finished in French oak barrels. I am using the past tense here because Seestedt recently told me that he doesn't plan to keep making this bourbon. However, he told me that he still has a few barrels of it quietly maturing which he will eventually release as a special extra-aged edition.

When I organized a blind tasting of bourbons under $50 Henry DuYore was the only craft spirit in the group and the only bourbon not from Kentucky. Despite being the odd man out Henry DuYore got a lot of positive marks and it was was the second highest ranked bourbon among all of the tasters.

So why didn't it catch on? While I don't know for certain, I suspect there are a couple of reasons. First, it ain't your pappy's Kentucky bourbon. In the last few years the conversation about bourbon has largely been dominated by those coming out of Kentucky. This makes some sense since 96% of all bourbon is made in the Bluegrass State. And, even though not all Kentucky bourbon's taste alike their version of a high rye mash bill is something around 20% +/- not 31%.  Nor are any of the Kentucky bourbons made using a direct fire alembic still. All this to say, Henry DuYore is a bourbon, and it doesn't taste like anything coming out of Kentucky. While this isn't a bad thing, I suspect that those who bought and drank Seestedt's bourbon, didn't exactly get what they were expecting even thought he bourbon in the bottle is very good.

The second reason I think Henry DuYore might not have caught on with drinkers is its label. One of the strongest marketing tools whiskey makers use to sell their products are stories and often those stories or some portion of them are on the label. The Henry DuYore label is an odd mixture. The central image is of a faceless man, presumably from Virginia, the label says the spirit is distilled by Joad Spirits not Ransom and the side text starts off by telling the reader that the person who made the whiskey isn't named Henry DuYore. The story this label weaves is of a faceless man with a fake name is selling you bourbon by a distillery you've never heard of before. This combined with a non traditional tasting bourbon profile might partially explain why Henry DuYore failed to find an audience. 

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose is very pleasant with strong notes of vanilla, leather and oak undergirded by aromas of malt and caramel.

Palate: On the palate the flavors are complex and well balanced. The bourbon is both sweet and earthy with a subtle spice kick on the back of the tongue from the rye. The oak character has a slightly resinous quality to it which evokes an image of being in a slightly damp coastal forest.

Finish: After swallowing the whiskey, the spice slowly tapers into a long and light finish of caramel, vanilla and tobacco.

Conclusion: Henry DuYore's Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a a very lovely  spirit whose flavor falls outside the mold of Kentucky Bourbon. This bourbon is  well balanced, nuanced and slowly evolves both in the glass and on the palate. It's a shame that this bourbon isn't being made any more however, those lucky enough to find a bottle can drink a glass of America history that is a mighty fine bourbon.

Review: The Maturation of Distilled Spirits

Hubert Germain-Robin, The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience (Hayward: White Mule Press, 2016), 146 pages, $35.00. ISBN: 9780996827706

Hubert Germain-Robin comes from a long line of Cognac producers in France. But after years of training in traditional methods of distillation and maturation he moved to California to explore new possibilities. Free of the strict laws and traditions of Cognac, Germain-Robin was able to experiment and take chances in some areas while keeping the most effective traditional methods of making brandy. What resulted were some of the finest American brandies ever produced.

Germain-Robin’s newest book The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience, is the follow up to Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion. In the new book Germain-Robin walks the reader through the entirety of the maturation process, from the oak that goes into the barrels, cellaring, proofing, blending and bottling the finished spirit all focused on the central theme of vision and patience. However, at 146 pages this book is more akin to a seminar than years of apprenticeship. To fully capture the wealth of knowledge that Germain-Robin learned over his lifetime of work would probably be near impossible, but the purpose of the book is to invite the reader into thinking about the active role the cellar master takes in guiding the maturation of the spirit as it sits in barrels for years or even decades.

The Maturation of Distilled Spirits is a good place to start for any distiller who wants to explore and employ traditional methods of maturation. Each chapter offers a brief explanation of a variety of maturation techniques, some of which are common in Cognac but completely novel for American whiskey. Following the theme of vision and patience, Germain-Robin explains the important role of the cellar master and how their choices and decisions serve both themselves and future generations. While creating a spirit that can age for 70-plus years is an obvious skill, so too is the patience and ability to know when to allow barrels to keep aging, when to transfer them to glass demijohns, and when to blend and bottle these older spirits.

Germain-Robin is a proponent of what some are calling “Slow Distillation,” a movement that looks to encourage the production of great spirits made from high quality ingredients with traditional techniques. U.S. craft distillers can learn much from masters like Germain-Robin and develop new traditions that will allow future generations to reap the benefits of their vision and patience.

Originally published in Distiller (Winter 2016): 151