Canadian Whiskey, Oregon Water, Bucking Bronco?

Pendleton Whiskey is somewhat of an enigma in the spirits world.  This is one of the fastest growing whiskey brands in the states, but honestly finding out information about the actual whiskey is difficult at best.  Pendleton is a woolen mill that sponsors many different Rodeos and has teamed up with Hood River Distillers in Oregon to celebrate these two historic Oregon institutions, the obvious next step: make a Canadian Whiskey!  I suppose this was less about logic and more about getting something out there that all the cowboys and cowgirls at the Rodeo would enjoy.  Now, we're not the biggest proponents of CanadianFancy Box Whiskey.  Generally, I find it to be mostly boring.  The Canadians keep most of the best stuff for themselves and what we see down here shows little signs of becomem more exciting in the near future.  Canadian whiskey is kind of like Cognac in that it's stuck in the old world, unwilling to adapt to a customer who has changed.  Given there are markets in this country where Canadian whiskey is very popular, just not ours. Canadian whiskey is mostly of passable quality, but bluntly uninspiring.  Young it has very little Pendleton Directors' Reserve 20 Year Oldcharacter, while the older stuff can't always stand up to the oak treatment.  There are several exceptions to the rule, including some of the bottlings recently rated on MA from Forty Creek (Kittling Ridge), to the top notch rye sourced by Dave Pickerell for Whistle Pig Farms. Pendleton 20 year is right up there with some of the best Canadian whiskey I've ever taste, but honestly I have no idea where it comes from. Most likely this comes from Alberta Distillery which is responsible for somePendleton Blended very highly rated bottlings that are not released in California.  I jump to this conclusion for no reason inparticular! The whiskey is imported to Oregon where it's brought to proof and bottled with distinctive bucking bronco label.  While I hardly ever get excited about whiskey bottled at 80 proof the Pendleton Directors' Reserve 20 year Canadian Whiskey 750ml ($144.99) is truly something special.  Created to commemorate the Pendleton Round-Up Rodoes' 100 year anniversary, the style is ultra rich and decadent.  Honey and vanilla are borderline overwhelming on the nose.  A soft oak spice backs up the intensity of fruit and sweet toffee.caramel on the palate.  Fully mature and not overly oak driven the Pendleton 20 year really shows an intriguing side of Canadian Whiskey.   I'm not the only one who likes it Spirit Journal gave it 4 stars and Patterson's scored it 95 points.  Of course you'll have to shell out some serious cashish for this highly limited bottling.  Last time we saw the Pendleton 20 year in this country (about 2 years ago) it was stupidly hard to keep in stock, so when people realize what they're missing the high price probably won't make a difference.  For those who want a glimpse of what the 20 year looks like, but don't want to shell out $150, you can always pick up the Pendleton Blended which is mighty fine for $25.

Pendleton Directors' Reserve 20 year Canadian Whiskey 750ml - $144.99

Pendleton Blended Canadian Whiskey 750ml - $24.99

-David Girard


Manditory Thanksgiving Post

Rather than be the 192nd blogger to write "What are you thankful for?" or "What are you drinking this Thursday?" and then wait for you to comment (as an obvious ploy to come up with something to post during a busy time), I've decided to make a list of what I am currently thankful for.  In all honesty, I don't really care what anyone is drinking Thursday unless they're going to invite me over :).  I do get a kick out of helping people pair their T-day dinner, so if you need some help come by the store.  While I do plan on having a glass of single malt after the meal, this holiday is all about wine for me.  Anyway, here are some things that have made me very happy as of late, and in true seasonal style, I am thankful:

- I am thankful that K&L is such a free and easy place to work, voice an opinion, and express your thoughts.  Last week couldn't have made that more apparent.  Truly thankful.

- I am thankful to work in an industry where close relationships with producers form into special projects of appreciation for one another.  That being said, thank you Steve McCarthy for making us an exclusive whiskey because I know you are getting called by other retailers who are annoyed you didn't do it for them (not that they ever even bothered asking you).  Thank you Lance Winter, Dave Smith, and everyone else at St. George for letting us have your 12 year single malt barrel.  Another whiskey that will likely piss off small retailers everywhere.  Thank you Davorin Kuchan for giving us every drop of Rusty Blade - no one knows how big this is going to be yet, so no one really cares.  Next year when you're in every trade magazine and blog because of this, they'll be furious!

- I am thankful for everyone out there who takes the time to care about what we do here.  It's easy to get excited about booze when everyone else gets excited with you!

- I am thankful that I have met over a hundred passionate whiskey people over the past year and that many of you take the time to share other aspects of your lives with me, and I with you.  It is truly a community in the spirits world and a friendly one for the most part. 

- I am thankful that many distilleries are lowering their prices to allow normal folk like myself to buy them during tough economic times.  Thank you Ardbeg, thank you Lahproaig, and maybe next year I can thank Diageo?

- I am thankful that we live and work in an area of the world that cares so very much about food and drink.  Thank you to all the people in the Bay Area who allow us to interact with your passion: Derek & Moira at Martin's West who have hosted many a whisky tasting, Jennifer at Slanted Door who has shared her cocktail mixing skills with us, Daniel at Alembic who has tailored drinks for our dinners, and every other bar/restaurant that helps keep people excited about this lifestyle.

I hope everyone has a fantastic meal this week.  David OG and I will likely be posting all this week, so this by no means signifies we're signing off for the holiday.  Just wanted to get into the spirit a bit.  Big news all week as our barrels come in.  St George should be here tomorrow!  Mannochmore 28 year on Wednesday!

-David Driscoll



Interesting Van Winkle Notes

I'm often asked about the Van Winkle bourbons (why they're supposed to be so good, who makes them, etc.) and I found that there was onc question that I got asked this year which I was unable to answer: "If Stitzel-Weller closed in 1992, then how is the whiskey still 15 and 20 years old?"  I was pretty sure that all of the stocks were sitting in stainless steel vats (so that they remain 15 and 20) just waiting to be bottled every year.  I knew that was the case with the Sazerac 18, but I wanted to make sure so I emailed Preston Van Winkle to find out.

Interestingly enough, I was right about the 15 and 20, but wrong about the others.  Apparently, the Pappy 15, 20, and 23 are the only entries that are still being sourced from old Stitzel-Weller reserves, making them true Pappy whiskies.  The 10, 12, and 13 rye are now whiskies that were made either at Bernheim or at Buffalo Trace, so they are new generation Van Winkle whiskies from Preston and Julien, rather than reserves. For those of you who are clueless as to what I am talking about, I'll fill you in quickly.  The "Pappy" is the grandfather of Julien and Preston who made whiskey at Stitzel-Weller distillery which closed in 1992.  When you see the Pappy smoking his cigar on the bottle, you're drinking his distillery's whiskey that is still sitting in a tank and is being slowly bottled over the years.  However, it will eventually run out, which is why Preston and Julien have been making new Van Winkle whiskies at Buffalo Trace.  They don't have any 15 or 20 year old bourbon yet to sell, but it appears they do have 12 and 10 year old stock because that is what you are drinking this year (and maybe for the previous few for all I know).

-David Driscoll


These Things Do Not Make Sense

Writing about the Compass Box Flaming Heart earlier caused me to kick around the same train of thought that usually runs through my head when I think about vatted malts.  Why the lack of enthusiasm?  It can also be difficult to recommend indy bottlings to customers who want something directly from the distillery.  What's the problem?  Here are some of the usually arguments I hear against certain whiskies in bold, with my counter-response in italics.

I like single malts, not vatted malts, because I want to taste the style of the distillery.

A somewhat valid point, except for the fact that most distillery bottlings are vatted versions of their own whiskies.  It's not like Ardbeg 10 is one single ten year old whisky from Ardbeg.  It's a blend of different Ardbeg whiskies of various ages, from various types of casks, with various flavor profiles.  People go crazy for the Uigeadail, which has some sherry-aged whiskies and some bourbon-aged in the recipe.  The flavors of any particular whisky is completely lost in the marriage of the malts.  All that matters is the resulting flavor - that's why Bill Lumsden is the creator and Rachel Barrie is the blender.  A more accurate snapshot of a distillery can be found in an independent bottling or single barrel expression.

I also don't like independent bottlings because I want to taste the style directly from the distillery.

An argument I could understand would be one that is hestiant to trust the quality of the barrels being bottled.  The distillery likely is keeping the better barrels for themself.  However, they are not bottling single expressions because they are creating a house style - like Coca-cola or Pepsi.  A person who is uninterested in vatted malts because of the lack of purity should therefore be most interested in indy bottlings - they are the purest examples of a distillery's style.  It's like getting a movie star without their make up - maybe that's not a good thing, but if you want the red carpet look, then you want the blended or the vatted.  If you want to learn about a whisky's character, you need the indy bottlers.

-David Driscoll


Best Whisky In The Store Right Now?

Wowee wow!  There is a slew of whisk(e)y available in our store right now, and our barrels haven't even arrived yet!  Next week there is going to be even more and I'm not sure where we are going to put all of it.  Then you've got small quantities of single barrel Ardbeg showing up out of nowhere from Chieftain's (congrats to those 17 of you who got one this morning).  Then we've got all the Pappy and BTAC stuff that just came in today - it's insane!  With all the hoopla, it's easy to forget about some of the less prestigious, but nevertheless fantastic bottles that have arrived.  As much as I thought about buying a bottle of Pappy 20 today, I passed.  Not because of anything other than the fact that for about the same price, I could get the Flaming Heart from the masterful John Glaser.  Made with whiskies from the villages of Brora, Port Askaig, and Mull (which is pretty much a roundabout way of saying Clynelish, Caol Ila, and Tobermorey) this vatting is something to truly treasure.  Hints of smoke from the Islay, hints of minerality and wax from the Highlands, and the sea smell of Island malts.  Because for some reason people don't like vatted malts, these Flaming Heart bottles will likely trickle out, slowly gathered by those who really appreciate a fine dram, while the phone calls continue to pour in for the big trophies.  If you've ever been curious about Compass Box however, this is one damn fine bottle of whisky and there isn't very much of it.  I'd venture to say that at this very moment in time, taking price point, value, quality, and exclusivity into account, it might be the best whisky available in the store.  It might be.

-David Driscoll