It's Fall, which means it's time to start getting ready for tons of new whiskey releases. I saw that BevMo sent out a huge teaser email yesterday about the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (apparently they're also moving to the raffle system, so forget about walking in and finding one on the shelf). This in turn sparked about 100 emails and calls to K&L about our allocation. "BevMo has it," people whined. No, they don't. They're just preparing you for disappointment like we are. You'll have to jump through hoops, play their games, and prove yourself worthy, just like you'll have to do with us. Collectable whiskey is no longer something people just put on the shelf, at least not in California. When the biggest mass-market chain starts raffling off their BTAC, then you know you're in an entirely new era of booze consumerism.
But while the anxiety builds and people start wondering how they'll ever be able to continue on in life without a bottle of George T. Stagg (oh, the humanity!), let's look at a few things you can get right now that are pretty great, too.
High West K&L Single Barrel Rendezvous Rye Whiskey $69.99 - Easily the best rye whiskey we've carried in years. The extra 19 months in wood added extra richness and rounded this baby out, turning the normally-fantastic Rendezvous into a woodier, richer speciman. It's slam dunk rye whiskey, capable of standing with some of the best limited releases we've seen lately. It's not quite Sazerac 18 good, but it's pretty close. Three bottle limit per person, and I don't expect it to last through the week. I'm not even going to include a bottle shot or description on the product page because it won't be here long enough to justify doing so. Bottled at 100 proof.
During the build up to WhiskyFest, we had a visit from Canadian distiller John Hall, the founder of Forty Creek and a helluva nice guy. I had never tried any of his selections, nor did I know much about how they were made (because I don't know anything about Canadian whisky). In what little time I had to meet with John, I was really blown away by both his knowledge and passion as a producer, and how amazing these whiskies tasted. They're not Crown Royal, let's put it that way. John told me something very poignant when we spoke: "Scotch whisky was in the gutter, then there was a revival. Kentucky whiskey was going through a downtime, then they had their revival. Canadian whisky is ready for its own revival now. There's a new renaissance coming."I believe him. The Forty Creek whiskies have depth, and nuance, and real grain character. They're not just sweeter versions of LDI-style rye.
What really shocked me was the fact that Forty Creek distills and ages each grain separately (corn, rye, and barley) to create individual whiskies, which are then blended together. Thanks to John, we now have a Canadian whisky selection in Redwood City. Here are the three new selections we brought in this week. The following descriptions are John's own notes:
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve Canadian Whisky $23.99 - Using a selection of rye, corn and barley grains, Hall distills each grain separately in a traditional copper pot still to create a spirit that is bold and complex. The difference is that Forty Creek Copper Pot is amped up in flavour delivering a deeper and richer taste profile. Patient extra ageing takes place in white oak barrels, and careful selection of whisky stocks (John Hall, Forty Creek).
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve Canadian Whisky $46.99 - A few years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase some outstanding bourbon barrels from Kentucky. These barrels are excellent for ageing whiskies because they are “seasoned”. This means most of the fresh harsh oak tannins have been removed and what remains is all the good stuff, such as the softer oak tannins, wood vanillas, sugars and the toasty, smoky, spicy aromas, as well as the caramelized flavours from the heavy charring of the inside of the barrel. After ageing my rye, barley and corn whiskies in their own special barrels, I decided to bring them together as a meritage, and placed the three whiskies into the bourbon barrels. This double barreling allowed the whiskies to hang out together and take on the subtle qualities offered by the bourbon barrels to enhance the finishing of the whisky (John Hall, Forty Creek).
Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Canadian Whisky $54.99- I have worked with many types of oak barrels, first as a wine maker and then as a whisky maker. Every wood, whether it is from a bourbon barrel, port barrel, sherry cask, French, Balkan or American oak, creates a distinctive taste expression. As a proud Canadian whisky maker, I have always been curious what a Canadian whisky would taste like aged in a Canadian oak barrel, because most Canadian whiskies are aged in American oak.To my delight, I discovered some massive Canadian white oak trees that were growing only 40 miles from the distillery! They must have started growing just before Confederation in 1867 because they were 4 feet in diameter and over 150 years old. The selected trees were harvested from a sustainably managed forest employing the principle of “no tree before its time.” This forest has a mixture of young trees coming up in the understory, mature trees in full productive vigor, and old trees whose growth has slowed. These older trees block sunlight and rainfall from the younger trees and when over-matured, need to be removed. I thought I could give them a second career as whisky barrels. Canadian and American white oak trees are the same species. However, the cooler growing conditions in Canada result in slower growing trees that are more dense than their American counterparts. Consequently, the aromas and flavour profiles of Canadian oak are very different due to the Canadian terroir. This is truly an iconic whisky. Canadian whisky, aged in Canadian oak barrels, harvested from trees that first rooted themselves in Canadian soil 150 years ago during Confederation (John Hall, Forty Creek).
I really enjoyed both the Double Barrel and Confederation expressions, and I thought the Copper Pot was great for the price. They all have this chewy, kind of supple note that I usually find in wine-finished whiskies. They're very distinctive. You wouldn't ever confuse them with Scotch or Bourbon.
Davin de Kergommeaux, who knows more about Canadian whisky than everyone else combined, also has great reviews on his site here if you want more info.
Besides Canadian whisky, another booze subject I know very little about is Dutch Genever—the original gin. However, I was recently given a book called Genever-500 Years of History in a Bottleby Veronique Van Acker and it's full with all kinds of fascinating info. I knew so little about Genever that I didn't realize it's actually Begian; all the distillers simply had to move to Holland due to a 1919 prohibition law that lasted until 1985. In fact, part of the reason Belgian beer became such a dynamic industry is due to the ban on serving Genever. Genever actually has AOC appellations in both Belgium and the Netherlands where the grain must be grown in certain regions, or made in specific ways. I still have a long way to go before I become somewhat competent, but I am really into these right now. People have long asked, "How do I drink these? Do I mix a martini like normal gin?" The answer is: you can if you want to. But, apparently in Belgium, it's all about a beer and a shot. Just a glass of Genever, neat. Considering these are basically malt and grain whiskies with a bit of juniper, that makes sense. Some are aged in barrel as well, making them almost Irish-like in character. The ceramic bottles also have their own insanely-complex history. Hopefully I'll have some time to circle back and get more into this later because it truly is fascinating. It's enough to make you buy a bottle yourself, that's for sure.
The story of Diep 9 Genever is particularly interesting. During World War I invading German armies stripped Belgian genever distilleries of copper stills and piping, melting down the metal for shell casings. This brought traditional genever production to a halt, almost ending a national tradition in Belgium. The distillery's founder, Frans De Moor, lost his life in 1914 when he refused to relinquish his copper pot still to German occupiers. He was executed in full view of the public on the town's bridge and stabbed with a bayonet to ensure his death. After seeing Frans De Moor shot and stabbed to death, his wife, Anna, rebuilt the distillery in defiance. Four generations later, Stokerij De Moor continues to handcraft genever from first grain to last drop, preserving the time-honored tradition of using copper pot stills, premium grains, and all natural ingredients.
Diep 9 Genever Young Dutch Gin $29.99- Double-distilled in 52 gallon batches from rye, wheat, and malted barley with nine botanicals added. More like traditional gin in its character, the difference is mainly the lack of peppery flavors and a much richer, creamier profile. Lovely as a shot. Way too easy to drink at 35%.
Diep 9 Genever Old Dutch Gin $34.99 - Same as the above but aged in French oak for two years to add richness. This is also at 35% and drinks like a barrel-aged gin meets Jameson. I like it very much.
And lastly you've got the revamped fruit eau-de-vie portfolio from our friends at St. George. The Alameda distillery began as a fruit-based operation, taking the German traditions of Jorg Rupf and putting them into practice with local California fruit. What Lance and Dave have now done is basically subsidized and refocused the project in order to make the brandies more accessible. You now get the 750ml bottle with new label and classy new package for the old 375ml price. The spirits are just as fresh and amazing as before, and at this price you can afford to mix with them. I've been making pear Sidecars all week, and the Raspberry Smash I made this past weekend was dynamite. They've also added two liqueurs: a spiced pear and a high-acid raspberry. Both are crazy good.
St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur $32.99 - Like Xmas in a bottle. Watch out.