Dec 29, 2015

tire-bouchon's top ten of 2015...

1. best dram: Black Art 04.1 by Bruichladdich

2. distillery of the year: Benromach Distillery

3. best brew: Sour Barrel #2 by De Prouf Brouwerij

4. brewery (brew project) of the year: Grimm Artisanal Ales

5. "best bang for the buck" of the year: Henry McKenna 10yo by Heaven Hill

6. best bar: Marpek Whisky, Prague

7. best restaurant: St. John Bread and Wine, London (2nd time...)

8. booze book of the year: Gin: The Manual by Dave Broom

9. booze trip of the year: Prague, Czech Republic

10. best new album to booze with: Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch by Dr. John

Dec 18, 2015

Henry McKenna 10yo...

Henry McKenna 10yo (50.0%): Ok, bear with me for just a second here: This bourbon I am about to taste is ten years old, bottled in bond, comes from a single cask and costs less than $30..!? Is it just me or does it sound too good to be true? I think we are all at the same page here: This is a hell of a good start to taste a whiskey. Now a little more specific information about what we have on the desk: Henry McKenna is a bourbon from Heaven Hill line up and the brand is named after an Irish gentleman who came to Kentucky from his homeland to settle in 1837 with the idea of distilling his own whiskey in his head. Today the bourbon in the bottle is distilled from a mash bill made of 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% barley like all other rye bourbons in Heaven Hill's portfolio. Therefore I am expecting a similar bourbon to Evan Williams single barrel editions which I am a fan of to begin with anyway. This particular bottle is bottled from barrel number 1732 which was filled on April 23rd, 2004. Let's pop it open this bad boy and write a few notes about it. Oh, no popping..! Plastic screw cap..! Another score... Color: Amber, orange blossom honey. Nose: Dark brown sugar, garam masala, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Sweet nose of toasted hard wood, vanilla and damp garden soil. Adding water opens it up: burnt creme caramel, dry haystack and clay. Palate: Velvety and thick mouthfeel. More dark sugar, warm raisin oatmeal cookies and old school cornflakes. Somebody poured an entire bottle of vanilla extract in this bottle. White pepper, more cinnamon and more cloves. Yeah, water thinned out the texture a little but amplified some nice rye notes. Black pepper, Toffifay Candy and buttermilk. Less vanilla more tannins and birch beer. Finish: Pretty long. Cloves and black pepper. Overall: Well this is a truly amazing bourbon... Heaven Hill did it again. Another great bottling under $30. Although the nose benefited from water a fair amount I wouldn't add it to keep its amazing texture on the palate. Ok, folks.. Let the hunt all over the country begin. It is not a bottle you will find in every corner liquor shop you walk in but pretty widely distributed. I guarantee that it  is worth the effort. By the way as additional info, this bottle from barrel #1732 is purchased from K&L Wines. If you are around Los Angeles area I would get one bottle for Christmas... It's a no brainer. Happy Holidays to everybody..!

Dec 11, 2015

Wine tripping in Santa Barbara County...

Refugio Ranch Vineyards

Morning sun at Refugio Ranch Vineyards
Line-Up at Refugio Ranch Vineyards

Pence Ranch Vineyards
Pence Ranch Vineyards
Pence Ranch Vineyards tasting room

Dragonette Cellars

Dragonette Cellars tasting about to start

On our way back to Santa Barbara

Dec 9, 2015

SMWS Cask 93.64 13yo...

SMWS Cask 93.64 13yo (57.4%): This cask was the best surprise of The Whisky Extravaganza Los Angeles for me a couple of weeks ago. The second I nosed the whisky I thought I was teleported back into the still room of Glen Scotia Distillery and I was placing my order minutes after... Well it's not a secret that I have a hell of a soft belly for Campbeltown and it certainly doesn't require a lot of convincing to sell me a bottle from there but believe me this one really got me... Since the new owners Loch Lomond Group took over Glen Scotia Distillery in 2014 things have changed there. The distillery is completely renovated, they introduced a new and revamped line-up, opened a new visitors center and most importantly the production techniques changed accommodating a significantly longer fermentation time up to five days (70hrs min.) and a very low and narrow middle cut range between 71% and 68%.* It looks like Glen Scotia won't stay longer as one of the best kept secrets of the whisky world anymore. The whisky in this SMWS bottle is distilled in April 2002 and bottled in 2015 from a 2nd fill barrel. Let's start with it... Color: Straw, lemon chiffon. Nose: Very muted without the water addition at this abv. Wet cardboard boxes, old newspapers and musty like a damp basement. Dead grass, dry cork and hardwood shavings. And now quite a few drops of water to open it up. Voila..! Moldy aromas are all over the place now: Black garden soil, hemp rope and old and decaying parquet floor. Your father's embarrassingly flashy leather jacket and old loafers from 1970's in a forgotten box in the attic you never ever shouldn't find. More wet cardboard boxes but filled with old shiny magazines now. Wet dog, ski wax and clay pots. Palate: Very hot without water: Caramel popcorn and burnt grain and that's about it... Again, water works like a miracle: Tung oil, vintage furniture shop and sea salt. Slowly but surely beach notes take over: Wet sand, dried seaweed, oyster brine and also some olives. Fading barbecue smoke, dry chamomile, cigarette butts and greasy soot. After allowing it to air for some time beautiful green and fruity notes evolve: Mostly Bartlett pears and Granny Smith apples. Finish: Long, warming and vegetal. Dry hay, white pepper, fireplace smoke and chamomile tea. Overall: It's an oddball and a very good one... This wet cardboard and moldy notes are becoming a signature for Glen Scotia for me. I definitely wouldn't call it the most balanced cask in your whisky cabinet but I loved it. A little restless and dirty and a pretty good companion to the cold winter months. It also could be a very tricky whisky when placed in a blind tasting line-up. I don't know why but I remember it being peatier from when I tasted it first at The Whisky Extravaganza Los Angeles but it's not that much. Well, what can I say: You got to love your whisky from Campbeltown...

*data sourced from Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016 by Ingvar Ronde

casks waiting to be filled at Glen Scotia Distillery June'14

still room at Glen Scotia Distillery June'14 before the renovation

Dec 2, 2015

Cutler's Artisan Spirits

densely packed still room
Nowadays every city has its very own hipster neighborhood... In this case it's called "The Funk Zone" and located in the old warehouse district of Santa Barbara. The whole area is filled with new fancy restaurants, dozens of wine tasting rooms, brew-pubs, art galleries, you name it. But last Friday night we were there to look for a particular address in the neighborhood: Cutler's Artisan Spirits

The owner and the head distiller Ian Cutler started the distillery in this tiny place in The Funk Zone in July 2013 but his story goes back way further than that and it is a good one: His family has been in the business for four generations. The Cutlers had 2 liquor stores in Oakdale, California. The first one, "Cutler's Family Liquor" (You can actually see the original wooden sign on the distillery's wall in the picture) opened in 1936 and ran until 1985. Bob Cutler (Ian's grandfather) took over in the late 1940's after returning from World War II where he served as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. His story inspired Ian to add the wings to Cutler's Artisan Spirits logo. Later in the early-mid 1970's Ian's father Chuck Cutler joined the family business. The second store was called the "Bottle Shop" and was located about a quarter mile down the road from the Family Liquor Store. The Bottle Shop opened in 1943 and closed in 1968. 

Cutler's Artisan Spirits line-up
Cutler's Artisan Spirits has three different kind of stills in the distillery. Two of them are currently operational: A small Jacob Carl 20L, 3-plate hybrid still and a larger 150 gallon still Ian designed and built by himself. The third small still is in the tasting room and is for display purposes only. This is where Cutler Family's story gets even better: It is the original farmhouse still from the prohibition era that his great-grandfather used to distill whiskey and brandy with his good friend Dan Donnelly who ran the moonshine operation in Oakdale, CA. Pretty crazy...

During our visit we tasted Ian's entire line-up. He has a vodka and gin he is distilling by himself, an American Blended Whiskey and Bourbon he is sourcing from other distilleries till his whiskey aging in casks is ready to be bottled and a quite yummy family recipe Apple Pie liquor. I am not a vodka drinker but I have to say that we were very impressed with his gin. It is very citrus forward with strong bergamot, tangerine, lemon and pomelo notes balanced with floral additions like elderflower, jasmine and rose. Highly recommended...

Cutler's Artisan "33" Straight Bourbon Whiskey
I also personally appreciated a lot, him trying to bottle a high quality American Blended Whiskey created with Bourbon and Light Whiskey only. It is a great attempt to save the very bad reputation of a unique American Whiskey style which suffered in years from the use of neutral grain spirits in many of the blends. His blend is smooth, easy going and would work perfect in cocktails.

The bourbon he bottles is branded as "33". It is a rye heavy straight bourbon sourced from an undisclosed distillery. As an outsourced whiskey it actually gives a pretty good idea what Ian's wants to see as his own whiskey on the shelves in a year or two.

But the surprise of the night came at the very end... When we walked into the distillery part, to the back room, we had the chance to sample his brandy straight from the cask. It still needs a little more time in barrels like his whiskey but it is a great product coming and I am sure that he will create quite a buzz with it. He calls it "Mission Brandy" and produced from the Mission grape varietal. The brandy is created in collaboration with Gypsy Canyon Winery and Ian believes that this particular brandy has not been produced in nearly 200 years since the missionary period of California. However he also admits he still have some research to do to confirm this.

So, if you happen to be close to Santa Barbara area this place is definitely worth the effort to visit for a spirit enthusiast. Don't forget to contact Ian before you show up and make sure that he will be there to host you. He is proud of his family's heritage, very excited about distilling and so much fun to spend time with.

Ian Cutler himself with his line-up in the tasting room