Best Values In Whiskey = Rum

There has been a good amount of frustrated venting taking place on the blogosphere lately.  I wrote a few posts a month or so back about how annoyed I was with the crappy products being released so far this year, and today John Hansell added a new diatribe about mediocre single malts dominating 2010.  Just a few days earlier, he posted a shorter rant about whisky producers seemingly forgetting that all we as consumers want are good whiskies at good prices.  More and more distilleries, like Bruichladdich for example, are pricing their new releases at higher and higher prices forcing the fans to either shell out or look elsewhere.  The key problem with this development is that most of what is being released is simply average. 

For that reason I have stopped relying on distillers to taste me on what is good, and I am circumventing them by searching out single casks that have yet to be tampered with.  However, if you are as frustrated with single malt distilleries as Hansell is, then I would suggest you look into rum - aged rum, more specifically.  With the recent surge of Ron Zacapa sales blowing out Glenlivet 12 (honestly, we're selling more than GL 12 and Glenfiddich 12 combined!), I am literally watching the rum revolution happen before my eyes.  Unfortunately, I have yet to get any more rums in that taste as similar to a Speyside malt.  Many rums are being aged for a decade or more in sherry casks making them viable alternatives to your favorite Glenfarclas or Macallan expressions. 

Today I just tasted two new ones from Dos Maderas (due into Redwood City tomorrow).  The Dos Maderas 5+3 is absolutely fantastic and if any one of you were to pick up a bottle you would probably be very surprised with how much you actually love it.  I love it because it is nowhere near as sweet as the Zacapa or even their own 5+5.  Aged 5 years in oak and 3 years in sherry, it begins with the classic sugar cane flavor and then seamlessly glides into rich vanilla and caramel.  I was very impressed.  The Dos Maderas 5+5 is done with the same formula except that the sherry barrels are Pedro Ximenez.  This is much more like the Zacapa style and is well made - brown sugar and sweet toffee abound!

Other options in the rum category include the Zafra 21 (which we have a sweet deal on right now) and the Appleton 12 which is designed to persuade single malt lovers away from whisky.  Rum is becoming a true alternative for single malt drinkers, and the price to quality ratio at this point is strongly in favor of the consumer.  Maybe we should taste rum at an event in the near future?

-David Driscoll



Maker's 46 - It's Good

I don't normally do reviews of new products, I realized today (unless it's something exclusive to us), but the Maker's 46 is a whiskey that people all over the world have been wildly anticipating.  If you didn't know, Maker's Mark was the only whiskey that MM made.  It had been their only product since they opened in 1959 - that's fifty years of the same thing over and over again.  Just the idea that they were toying with a new bourbon had people buzzing all over the blogosphere, and now that it's come to fruition there are many curious customers.  We simply couldn't wait for a sample to show up so we just popped one and poured ourselves a glass.  I was impressed - I expected it to be sweeter.

Maker's 46 is called "46" because of the catalog number given to the type of French oak used in the barrel stave aging process.  The whiskey is essentially the same as the normal MM, just aged addtionally with charred #46 planks added into the barrel.  The extra wood gives extra flavoring, much like John Glaser did recently with Compass Box's Spice Tree, and in this case it is to the benefit of the bourbon.  The flavors are rich and fat on the entry with a good load of vanilla and oak, but the higher proof (94) kicks in to help balance that out.  The whiskey is smooth, but not soft, and the wood flavor really jacks itself up on the finish where the complexity really hits you.  I got some faint banana flavors a few minutes after tasting.  

So, the point here is that Maker's 46 is good.  In fact, it's really good.  I'm happy that they succeeded with this project because I'm getting tired of the marketing blitz without the substance to justify it.  This is a bourbon I would happily recommend to our customers.

-David Driscoll


New Club Whisky - Another Fantastic Murray McDavid

Well here we are again - another new Murray McDavid deal!  It's probably hard to keep getting excited about these, but they are such a consistant product and people really like them.  This is going to be my favorite of the bunch, but also the most controversial.  There's already a small disagreement brewing in the Redwood City store, however, I should say that the people who liked it are the people who really drink a lot of whisky.  Those who didn't like it are the more every other month, Speyside selection fans.  What that tells me so far is that this is for experienced drinkers only.  Here are my tasting notes:

Highland Park 14 Year Old, Murray McDavid, Chateau Lafite Cask Single Malt Whiskey $75.99 (CLUB PRICE $65.99) - Once again, Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan brings us another masterful bottling, blending legendary names from both the wine and whisky worlds.  This peach colored Highland Park expression has more smoke than the distillery bottlings do and when married with the exquisite claret influence of the Chateau Lafite barrels, the enhancement is truly marvelous.  Subtle hints of peat mark the entry before giving way to dried cherries and red fruits.  The mid-palate shows honey and then an earthy note before finishing rich and long, yet completely dry.  There is no kiss of sweetness to be found, only the classic campfire of the Island malts melded effortlessly with the flavor of Bordeaux's finest wine.  This is perhaps the most interesting and well-made of all the red wine enhanced whiskies we've seen so far.  An amazing whisky at a fantastic price.

I'm really curious to see how this one goes over.  I've tasted it four times now and each time I've liked it more than the previous one.  It keeps changing from peaty, to oily, to dried fruits, to earth and honey, to petrol and beyond.  It's the least obvious of the three MMc club whiskies, with the Springbank Yquem being universal and simple and the Bowmore rich and smoky.  This Highland Park is unlike any other HP I've ever tasted and that is the point of these bottlings, in my opinion: to bring something new to the table.  I have a feeling I'm going to get some flack for once from some of you, but I stand by my decision to go deep on this one.  I hope you all feel the same!

-David Driscoll


Yet Another New Fantastic Gin...From The Shetlands!

Great bottle, great label, great reviews, great gin.  I'm not sure how much more gin we can sell, but who am I to decide when enough's enough? I'll leave that up to our cocktail-crazy customers, and in the mean time I'll keep supplying numbers and info.  I just got back from the distribution office down the street and got my first taste of the brand new Blackwood's Small Batch Gin $34.99.  Made on the Shetland Islands of the coast of Scotland, this vibrant and spicy gin is macerated in botanicals that are all indiginous to its home: elderflower, wild water mint, sea pink, juniper, meadow sweet, coriander, and violets.  It is also bottled at a whopping 95 proof so it is much more intense than your normal everyday gin.  The nose and palate are alive with pepper and juniper.  Gone are the citrus peel and lavender of the modern style, and in full effect is the kick.  This is a gin lover's gin for sure.  Double Gold Medal at the 2009 SF Spirits Festival.

-David Driscoll


Maker's 46 - In Stores Tomorrow

I know there's been a big hoopla about this, so I thought I'd pass the word along that I just ordered it this morning and it should be delivered early tomorrow.  Maker's 46 is the first new product from Maker's Mark since their first bottling in 1958.  In that time they have created an exeptional new whiskey through innovative aging techniques once again.  This bourbon features a secondary aging using barrels containing "seared" french oak staves.  Adding a depth that is not matched by the original Maker's Mark.  John Hansell says, "This is original "Red Wax" Maker’s Mark bourbon that received additional aging in barrels containing internal "seared" French Oak staves. The original Maker’s Mark, being a wheated bourbon (instead of rye, which is typically used in addition to the majority of corn), is a rather mellow, easy-to-drink bourbon. The French Oak staves in "46" add firm, complex, dry spices (lead by warming cinnamon, followed by nutmeg and clove), herb (a suggestion of Green Chartreuse liqueur, perhaps?), and some polished leather "grip", which dovetails well with Maker’s trademark layered sweetness (caramel, vanilla, a hint of honey). I’m also picking up some dried fruit in the background.  The seared oak stave influence is somewhat aggressive but never to the point of being excessive. (Note: that this is a pre-release sample with a smaller batch size than the ultimate final bottled product. There could be a slight variation in the flavor profile with the final product. If there is, I will adjust my tasting notes and rating.)" 90 pts - Advanced Malt Advocate Score.

David Driscoll