Saturday, July 2, 2016

Review: 2001 Chateau de Briat - 14 Year Old

I'm really excited about this one.  The tasting notes from K&L made this sound big and bold but at 14 years there should still be some essence of the fruit left.  In general K&L knocks it out of the park with their Armagnac selections, let's see if the streak continues.

2001 Chateau de Briat - 14 years old, 47%, $70

Taste:  There is a lot going on in here.  Sweet light caramel up front which gives way to red fruits like strawberries and sweet raspberry.  The fruit is in balance with the oak.  I get cherry on the finish.

Conclusion:  This is pretty good.  It doesn't taste young, but it also doesn't taste old.  It is pretty balanced, there is fruit and there is oak but neither dominates.  From start to finish though it is on the sweeter side.  It is never cloying but the sweetness reminds me a bit of a Cognac, not quite that extreme but in the general direction.  I'm going to need to spend some more time with my bottle before deciding if this is a reorder or not.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: Suntory Whisky Toki

Summer is the perfect season for blended whisky.  Blended whiskey can be light and refreshing.  When it gets hot a lighter blended whiskey really hits the spot.  I don't drink a lot of it but I generally enjoy it when I do.  Johnnie Walker Black Label is a stand by for me when I'm at a bar with a limited selection.  As much as I enjoy Black Label though I don't think anyone does blended whiskey better than the Japanese which is why I was so excited to try the Suntory Whisky Toki.

Suntory Whisky Toki - 43%, $45

Taste:  Initially on first sip this is sweet with the soft vanilla of the grain whisky coming through and a little apple.  Then the smoke hits, not a lot but just enuough to let you know it's there.  The smoke never really fades but this transitions to a sweet, juicy white grape.  The finish is sweet and ashy with a little lingering white grape fighting with a bit of vanilla for attention.

Conclusion:  This is a really interesting blend.  It's light but still has some boldness.  This is a good, easy drinking summer whisky but has enough boldness to keep things interesting.  I really like this and will go back for more.  The price is reasonable for the quality, this is a blend that I would have no problem stocking in my bar on a regular basis.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Bernheim Wheat Whiskey

Bernheim Wheat Whiskey - 7 Years Old - 45%, $30

Taste:  Light and mellow.  This is fairly two dimensional, if I didn't know better I would think the proof was closer to 80, this has the smoothness and the muted profile of a whiskey of a lower proof.  There is a light caramel and some vanilla.  A touch of brown sugar.  More vanilla on the finish and the oak keeps things dry.

Conclusion: This is easy drinking and pleasant.  This is a good summer whiskey, not too bold but fun to sip.  There are a lot of bourbons and ryes I would rather have over this wheat whiskey but it's uniqueness as a wheat whiskey is worth something and for that reason I'm glad I have my bottle.  This is a whiskey that I enjoyed more for educational reasons than pure sipping.  This would fit nicely in a tasting as an educational element to highlight the effect of wheat in a bourbon or as a counterpoint to a rye.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Maker's Mark Private Select

Maker's Mark Private Select - 55.65%, $70

The Private Select is Maker's Mark's new barrel proof offering,  It is similar to Maker's 46 but it is a single barrel program for stores who get to choose the staves that are used.  Traditional Maker's 46 staves can be used but there are also several other choices that impart different flavors into the bourbon.  Each barrel will use ten staves and stores can choose from five different options when choosing each stave.  In the photo to the side you can see the selections that were made for this barrel.

Tasting Notes:  Wow this is really drinkable for the proof.  This is soft and creamy with loads of vanilla, like vanilla taffy.  There is a bit of cinnamon spice but it's in the background mostly.  This has a nice viscous mouth feel.

Conclusion: I'm going to have to do a side by side with the standard Maker's Cask Strength one of these days.  I liked the original Cask Strength but remember it being bigger on the cinnamon with an almost red hots like taste.  I get much less of that here.  There is a little bit of cinnamon but it's in the background, vanilla is the featured player here.  This is quite different from the standard Maker's Cask Strength, the aging with different wood staves really does impart a difference.  I'm not sure that I like this better than the standard Maker's Cask Strength but it's certainly good.  For the price difference though I would stick with standard Maker's Cask Strength.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: 1996 Giboin Fins Bois Cognac

1996 Giboin Fins Bois Cognac- 2015 bottling - 40%, $55

Nose: The nose is very light.  Slightly floral in a perfume sort of way.  I pick up some alcohol and a hint of oak with a little bit of butterscotch,

Taste:  The initial entry is light.  It is very easy to drink, It has a bit of acidity which with the lightness makes this kind of refreshing.  There is a little green apple in here and a bit of butterscotch on the finish which lingers nicely.

Conclusion: The price for this is very fair but it suffers from the proof.  I would love to try this at a higher proof as it seems a bit muted at 40%.  Still, this was light and crisp with a bit of acidity that makes this a great summer Cognac if there is such thing.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: 1994 Chateau de Pellehaut 20 Year Old Armagnac

1994 Chateau de Pellehaut 20 Year Old Armagnac - 2014 bottling - 48.5%, $70

This is one of my all time favorite Armagnacs.  Pellehaut was my first ever taste of Armagnac and the first bottle I ever purchased.  I have a certain nostalgia due to that but I also love the style and value of Pellehaut.  Pellehaut is a bourbon drinkers Armagnac.  They bottle at higher proof than most Armaganac producers and their expressions tend to be big, bold and full of oak but well balanced all while being very reasonably priced,  Pellehaut is a mark of quality, I have never been disappointed by anything from them.

Nose: This is extremely fragrant with a beautiful nose.  First up is caramel, then it's the fruit, candied orange and peach.  Oak is there too along with a little bit of cinnamon.  This nose packs a punch and I could smell it all day.  This makes my mouth water.

Taste:  It's like there is a party in my mouth.  Big thick honey flavor, sweet toffee.  This is sweet up front with an undercurrent of oak that keeps it balanced and helps structure the big body.  This is full of flavor.  The sweetness gives way to oak and finishes dry but this is never astringent.  The oak is extremely well integrated.

Conclusion: This is big, bold and flavorful.  Drinking this is like going home again.  It reminds me of why I first fell in love with Pellehaut and Armagnac.  This was worth every penny and then some.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Review: Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon (Green Label) - 6 Years, 90 Proof

Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon - 6 Years, 90 Proof - $10

Nose: Caramel, bread pudding, orange, a little black pepper.  The nose is a bit faint

Taste: This is a bit thin.It's surprisingly dry with a lot of oak given it's age.  I get a lot of oak tannin which gives way to some bitterness.  There isn't a lot of sweetness to balance it all out.  This is spice forward, I get some cinnamon, not a lot but it's there.  It finishes with oak and some toffee.

Conclusion: Often with cheap bourbon it tastes young and corn forward but this didn't.  There was a lot of oak in here and a good amount of spice, there was very little sweetness.  This won't knock your socks off but it was good, drinkable neat or suitable for mixing and is a nice juxtaposition from some of the other cheap bourbons.  This was well worth the $10 it cost.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: Very Old Barton 86 Proof

Very Old Barton 86 Proof - 43%, $12

Nose: Creme brulee, sweet lime juice 

Taste: Cream soda, nougat, a little lime zest, some cherry which gives way to a slight oak bitterness. 

Conclusion: This is nice and balanced. A good amount of sweetness, just a little bit of oak. It's not overly sweet, I think that has more to do with the proof than oak. This is good enough to drink by itself but also cheap enough to mix. There are higher proof versions of this.  This is good enough that I will be on the lookout for the 90 proof and bottled in bond.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Ancient Age 90 Proof

Ancient Age 90 Proof- 45%

Nose: A bit of corn, some alcohol and not much else.

Taste:  This tastes very young.  It's sweet on the entry, the corn is there and just a little vanilla.  The finish is astringent, this is where the alcohol really shows up.

Conclusion: This isn't terrible but also isn't something that I keep stocked regularly.  This is super cheap though and if I was looking for a mixer this would not be a bad option.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Review: Evan Williams Bottled in Bond

Evan Williams Bottled in Bond (White Label)- 50%, $15

Nose: Carmel corn.  Vanilla.

Taste:  Sweet corn and caramel which is balanced nicely by oak.  This is more corn forward but the oak keeps it from being too sweet.  The corn gives way to whispers of vanilla on the finish.

Conclusion: If someone asked me what a prototypical bourbon flavor profile was this would be pretty close to it.  This is very bourbony (if that's a thing).  That is by no means a knock on it, this is very good.  There are some cheap bourbons that are very good and terrific values, this is one.  Cheaper bourbons tend to be younger, and this is on the younger side but it's in the sweet spot of age where bourbon really shines.  I highly recommend this.

Good + Cheap = Value

Coming up will be my first break from brandy.  There are a lot of amazing whiskeys out there.  When it comes to bourbon there are bourbons that are very expensive and some that are very cheap.  I get just as much enjoyment from the cheap as I do the expensive.  While the special editions and limited editions get a lot of reviews one of my favorite segments tends to get overlooked: good and cheap.  Bourbon doesn't have to be old to be great, in fact the sweet spot is probably 4-10 years.  Even by 10 years bourbon is getting pretty oak forward.  I do love an older bourbon too, don't get me wrong.  I think Elijah Craig 12 (I haven't had the new NAS version yet) and Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond are both fantastic, and I have had some old and very oak forward bourbons that I quite enjoyed but as much as I enjoyed those I also have very much enjoyed some of the younger and cheaper bourbons.  Not all young bourbon is going to be great, or even very good, but a lot of it is and some of it is startlingly cheap and surprisingly available.

While I do plan to mix in whiskey (and whisky) on this blog and plan to drink all types of it (for man can not live on brandy alone) initially I plan to focus on the cheap and good for that is where value lies and these days value seems to be becoming the new true rarity in whiskey.  Coming up: value bourbon week.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Review: 1983 Domaine de Maouhum 32 Year Old Armagnac

1983 Domaine de Maouhum 32 Year Old Armagnac - 2015 bottling - 42%, $100

Nose: Leather, tobacco, earthy, pepper.

Taste:  This has a rich and savory taste.  This really sings.  The initial sip is engaging and has a bit of magic to it.  There is rich oak spice which overpowers the fruit.  The fruit is very muted, I get a little bit of plum wine but not much else in the way of fruit.  The finish leaves some carmel but overall this is dry and oaky.

Conclusion: This is bold and oaky and really tasty.  It's dry, this is a celebration of oak but it's still balanced.  This was very, very good.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review: Jacques Esteve Coup de Coeur Cognac

Jacques Esteve Coup de Coeur Cognac - A blend of 1979 and 1981 Cognacs, 2015 bottling - 40%

Appearance: A golden orange, somewhere between gold and amber.

Nose: A very sweet nose, some peach, a little orange and passion fruit.

Taste: Big peach up front, then some pineapple and rock candy sweetness but it's not overwhelming.  The oak is subtle but is there and helps to balance and dry out some of the sweeter notes.

Conclusion: This is very good and very well balanced.  It's deceiving at 40%, I would have guessed higher.  Very often I find spirits lacking at 40% but this isn't, it's still full flavored and full bodied.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Review: Domaine de Papolle 28 Year Old

Domaine de Papolle 28 Year Old 1987, 45% - 2015 Bottling

Appearance: Dark and brooding. Burnt caramel. A watered down Coca-Cola

Nose: Oak, spice and caramel. 

Taste: On the entry it's citrus, orange zest and candied lime with waves of vanilla and oak. The vanilla lingers on the finish leaving a strong cream soda taste. Really nice flavor.

Conclusion: This is well integrated with some lovely flavors. The oak is very present but never overpowering.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Review: Ladeveze Plant de Graisse Tenereze Armagnac 1998 - 16 Year Old Armagnac

Ladeveze Plant de Graisse Tenereze Armagnac 1998 - 16 Year Old Armagnac, 2015 bottling, 45%

Appearance:  Light gold, the color of sunshine. 
Nose:  Sweet fruit, a bit floral, alcohol is present but only slightly.  Has a nose more similar to a lot of Cognacs than Armagnacs.

Taste: This has a lot of similarities to a Cognac while still retaining some of the rustic nature of an Armangnac.  The palate confirms the sweetness that was on the nose but it’s balanced by the presence of oak which dries it out a bit on the finish compared to the initial entry but this is still on the sweeter side.  There is a whisper of vanilla and cherry in here.  The palate is more sweet than fruity, the kind of sweetness you get from white grape juice. 

Conclusion: This is a pleasant Armagnac.  It’s good, not great.  For the price of $120 a bottle I think it’s overpriced, at $70 - $80 it would be priced right.  This was recently marked down to $90 at K&L so it’s getting close.  There are some good things going on with this but I never felt that it was very well integrated.  I’m enjoying my bottle but I don’t reach for it often.  This is sweeter than what I usually look for in an Armagnac so it could just not be right for my palate.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: Laird's Straight Apple Brandy - 100 proof

Laird's Straight Apple Brandy - 100 proof

Appearance: A little darker than straw, the color of apple juice coincidentally enough.

Nose: Bright, ripe, fresh apples.

Taste: Baked apple, Mott's apple juice, some oak spice and a lot of creamy vanilla on the finish. That vanilla finish lingers and is really, really nice.

Conclusion: Laird's is no longer bonded meaning that it is no longer all four year old brandy.  This is rumored to be a mostly four year brandy with some three and five year barrels in the mix.  Whatever it's a mix of it's full of really clean, juicy apple flavor and is very, very good.  I always keep a bottle of this around.  It's refreshing and a nice change of pace from grape brandies every now and then.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: Domaine De Jean-Bon 1995 20 Year Old Armagnac

Domaine De Jean-Bon 1995 - 20 Year Old Armagnac, 45%

Appearance:  Auburn, caramel.

Nose:  Some alcohol, a bit of caramel and even a bit of grape.

Taste: A little light and thin for the proof.  The alcohol makes its presence known throughout each sip.  Tastes of light caramel and some cherry.  It has a nice oak spice and leaves just a little sweetness but overall has a dry finish.

Conclusion: This is good but not great.  At 20 years for $60 it was a good value and in my opinion is worth the price.  This has some flaws but it s still enjoyable and I don't regret buying my bottle.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: Chateau de Pellehaut 14 Year Old Armagnac

The first bottle of Armagnac, and first bottle of brandy, I ever bought was an 18 year old Chateau de Pellehaut.  It was love at first sip.  I loved that bottle and while it is long gone, and that vintage has since passed, there have been several to replace it since and I continue to be in love.  Pellehaut has a house style that I really love.  They bottle with proofs high enough to leave some boldness and their expressions are generally pretty oaky.  Coming from the world of bourbon Pellehaut made for an easy transition to brandy.  They are still one of my favorite producers today.

Review: Chateau de Pellehaut 14 Year Old Armagnac - Distilled in 2001, bottled in 2015, 49%.

Appearance: A beautiful amber, light caramel.

Nose: Alcohol, oak spice, dry with some apricot.

Taste: A bit of sweetness up front, a brown sugar type sweetness.  A little vanilla.  The finish is dry with some noticeable oak which fades into a bit of astringency but not in an unpleasant way.

Conclusion:  This is more fruit forward than the other Pellehauts I've had which makes sense given the age.  There is a good balance of fruit and oak though this is drier and oakier than I would have ever guessed given the age.  At 49% this has some boldness.  The alcohol makes itself known.  If you are looking for a subtle pour this probably isn't it but if you are looking for something a bit more bold and just a tad rough around the edges this will do nicely.

This is a regular pour for me.  At $50 a bottle I think it's a fantastic bargain.  I try a lot of different brandies and there are so many to choose from that it's not often that I buy another bottle of the same thing from the same year but I went through this one pretty quick and the sight of the almost empty bottle made me sad so I bought another which is really the highest complement that I can give. This is right square in the middle of the axis between value and quality.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review 1: Ragnaud-Sabourin No. 20 Reserve Especiale Cognac

Ragnaud-Sabourin No. 20 Reserve Especiale Cognac - Grand Champagne, 2015 bottling of a 20 year old cognac.  

Appearance: Pale yellow-orange, like a hazy, smoggy sky.

Nose: Sweet peach and marmalade. A beautiful bouquet.

Taste: Bursting with sweet fruit flavor, some orange and maybe pineapple upfront, some caramel but restrained and never overly sweet, just a hint of bitterness as oak makes an appearance on the finish.

Conclusion: I really like this. Nicely complex and hits all of the right buttons, plenty of fruit but the oak is there too yet not overpowering. At 43% there is a good amount of flavor but with no alcohol heat.  This is everything I want in a Cognac.


I've been a whisky drinker for a long time.  Back in my early college days I was something of a vodka connoisseur.  I had the desire to taste and try numerous vodkas to really pick out the differences and nuances.  I've always had this kind of curiosity but looking back it was a much less rewarding experience trying all of those vodkas than it has been doing the same with whisky and brandy.  At the time though I had no desire to try whisky, what I had tried was bottom shelf blended American whisky and I had no reason to think whisky could be much better than that so I stuck to vodka.  Brandy was even further from my mind, I thought of brandy as sickeningly sweet with few redeeming qualities. I had no idea just how wrong I was.

I was saved by Johnnie Walker.  Sometime during college I was invited to a Johnnie Walker tasting by a friend of mine.  It was an eye opening experience for both of us and wholly converted me over to a scotch drinker. I was a dedicated Black Label drinker and to my mind it didn't get much better than that.  Much as with my prior vodka experience though I had a curiosity to try new things and this led to trying the entire Walker line and eventually branching out into single malt scotch which was a world I stayed in for a long time.

Bourbon seemed somehow inferior to scotch.  This was misplaced but was a long held belief of mine which goes back to my terrible experiences with American whisky in college.  I didn't know the difference between bourbon and blended whisky and I didn't know about the strict quality of bourbon either.  Further driving my belief that bourbon was inferior were age statements.  Most entry level scotches were at least 12 years old while that was about the high end for bourbon at the time.  Older must be better right?  I didn't understand the differences that climate had on aging or the difference that using new oak versus a used barrel would have.  What finally brought me to bourbon though was my love of bourbon barrel aged beers.  Bourbon barrel aging does something magical to beer, something that scotch barrel aged beers never seem to be able to match.  Realizing this was the impetus I needed to finally give bourbon a try.  It started with Four Roses Single Barrel and I've never looked back.

Of course my love for bourbon didn't stop with Four Roses Single Barrel, it grew from there.  Along the way though, while I continued to educate myself about bourbon, I became curious about all kinds of other spirits.  There are a lot of fantastic whiskeys in this world and I really grew to appreciate and want to try all different types from American malt whiskys to Japanese rice whisky to whatever I could get my hands on.

It was through this journey that I found what these days are my two biggest influences.  When I was living in Los Angeles I stumbled across the K&L Spirits blog and SKU's Recent Eats blog.  I'm not sure which came first but together David Drisoll (of K&L) and SKU (obviously of SKU's Recent Eats) educated me not just on whisky but on Armagnac, Cognac, Calvados and all kinds of brandy.  This was a whole new journey and what ultimately led to me creating this blog.  I got so much out of reading what both of them wrote which only increased my curiosity and led to me wanting to learn more.  But there isn't a whole lot more out there, at least not that I've found.  The spirits blogs out there really seem to be heavily whisky influenced (let's face it, even this one is going to have a lot of whisky talk) but there are few doing quality writing on the incredible modern world of brandy.  While I can't promise quality writing I can promise reviews and discussions on brandy.  I don't know that anyone will get anything out of what I write but I hope one day someone will stumble across my blog, much as I did SKU's, and decide to take a chance on their first bottle of Armagnac.

Hello world.

Welcome to my blog.  I plan to use this space to share my thoughts and experiences on what I'm drinking.  I have a real fondness for whisky and brandy (specifically Armagnac) so this blog will probably focus mostly on those with some occasional deviation.  The world has a million whisky blogs but, in my opinion, not nearly enough blogs that talk about brandy.  That was really the genesis of me taking the effort to start this blog.  I wish there were more people talking about what I like to drink so I'm going to do my part and add to the conversation.  While there are already a million whisky blogs and the world probably doesn't need one more of those I figure no one is actually going to read this anyway so think of this blog as my personal journal and feel free to take a look at my innermost liquor related thoughts.