Double Down Brewer’s Whiskey

Maker: New Holland, Michigan, USA

Type: Straight Malt Whiskey

Age: 6 mos. (in “small” barrels)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper with thick legs.

Nose: A faint hint of leather up front, like walking into a furniture showroom. Sweet black licorice, caramel, a bit of alcohol.

On the palate: Full, voluptuous body. Like a porter on the palate. Lots of licorice, some more caramel and hard candy, maybe a little horehound.

Finish: same notes as on the palate, but with some slightly bitter clove and Chinese five-spice.

Parting words: This was the first entry into New Holland’s Brewer’s Whiskey series of small barrel, small bottle releases. Some of the acrid nastiness that very small barrels can throw into the nose is absent here. Instead, it’s like drinking a very spicy porter or sucking on black anise candy. A lovely whiskey, and one that is good sippin’ for the holidays. Highly Recommended.

Triple Smoke American Malt Whiskey

Maker: Corsair, Bowling Green, Kentucky/Nashville, Tennesee, USA

Style: Smoked American Malt

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with slow legs.

Nose: Young, sharp, small barrel, woodsy notes with a little bit of hardwood smoke and sweetness.

On the palate: Medium-bodied and sweet. With a bit of water, the sweet smokey wood flavors come through. A little cassia and nutmeg lurking somewhere in the background too.

Finish: This finish is where the smoking process pays off. The beech and cherry wood smoke give Triple Smoke a sensual, dare I say hedonistic finish. The peat, which only shows up in the finish, provides a pleasant, floral counterpoint to the other woods. The smoke lingers in the mouth for a very long time, taking on some tobacco notes before gently fading.

Parting Words: This is a very well-executed whiskey. The chocolate nougat notes of a typical American Malt are there, but they’re the O-line to the QB/TE/WR combo of the beech, cherry and peat smoke. Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of football recently.

My only disappointment with Triple Smoke is the nose, which has a definite case of Small Barrel Syndrome. It’s sharp and unappealing, but the taste and finish more than make up for it. Triple Smoke is not widely available, so next time you’re in Chicago, Kentucky or Tennesee, pick one up. I thought about trying it in some cocktails but it’s so tasty neat I couldn’t bear to. This is exceptional American malt in every sense of the word. Highly recommended.

Zeppelin Bend Straight Malt Whiskey

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Burnt orange with long sticky legs.

Nose: Prunes, cardamom, ginger, mace, cocoa

On the Palate: Full-bodied and sweet upon first entrance. Heavily spiced mincemeat pie, and then red wine chocolate truffles dusted with Dutch process cocoa powder. Yes those exist.

Finish: Hot, but then a dry chocolaty sweetness that too quickly fades.

Mixed: A highball of Zeppelin Bend and club soda on the rocks is pretty good, even if it does taste a bit like a watered down Choc-Cola. Other classic Scotch cocktails work well, too. A rusty nail has a nice bitter, spicey note that balances out the honey liqueur nicely, and a Rob Roy is quite good, even if it’s not quite sure if it’s a Rob Roy or a Manhattan.

Parting Words: American straight malt whiskey is has not been very popular historically, and as a result has not been made much by American distillers. Like a rye or bourbon, American malt must be aged in new charred oak barrels and must have a mash bill of at least 51% of the grain in question, malted barley. But where Big Whiskey saw no reason to tread, a few micro distillers saw an opportunity. Stranahan’s in Colorado led the way, followed by (among others) Pritchard’s in Tennesee, and New Holland in Holland Michigan. Bourbon and rye still excite me more than any other American whiskeys, but of the American straight malts I’ve tried, Zeppelin Bend is the best. This is another case in which a micro is doing what a micro should be doing: offering interesting spirits that the big boys don’t.

My Two Ounces: Public and Private Houses, part 2

When I joined 1789b, I was expecting a sedate and sober (in a manner of speaking) place where serious bourbon lovers could have a civilized discussion about the world’s finest beverage. What I found was different than what I expected.

At first I was surprised at the number of members who really didn’t seem to be all that interested in bourbon at all. Several introductory posts began something like this, “I don’t know much about bourbon but the co-founder of this site invited me to join. We got to know each other through the Cigar forums.” Odd, I thought, that a place that was supposed to be the home of serious boubon-peoplewas being populated by cigar people whose interest in bourbon seemed to be marginal. The opposite was true too. Ed Phalen, a pillar of the bourbon community, was nominated for membership. The public comments about his nomination were overwhelmingly positive. Then one of the founders of the forum posted that some members had sent him private concerns about Ed and that his nomination was under review. Then the whole thread disappeared.

Other aspects of the membership were curious. I was told that certain classes of people were deliberately excluded from membership. There were to be no people associated with “the industry” at all, even those who work at liquor stores were excluded. But one of the most frequent posters while I was there was someone who was for many years (and to my knowledge still is) an employee of Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD). Bloggers (should I have been insulted?) and professional writers on American Whiskey were also excluded to preserve the purity of the
forum.

Another thing that was surprising was that in a forum that was supposed to be for “mature” persons, there was plenty of pettiness. Cheap shots at those excluded critics and bloggers abounded. There was even a thread entitled “John Hansell whining AGAIN” which was a response to this post from Hansell’s blog. Taking shots at someone unable to respond didn’t seem particularly gentlemanly to me.

1789b was most disappointing in how unbelievably BORING it was. One of the most active sub-forums was one devoted to food. Not bourbon & food, just food. Many of the threads were very similar to ones on SB.com, and not the interesting ones either. One of the most potentially exciting sub-forums at 1789b was the “guest of the month” sub-forum. Someone in the American whiskey industry was invited to join 1789b for a month and interact with the membership. The first (and only) month I was there the guest was David Perkins of High West distillers/bottlers. What could have been a very cool experience was nothing but a bunch of softball questions (“How do you find such great whiskeys?”) and more thinly veiled shots at whiskey writers (“What do you think of critics who say things about you?”).

In spite of all this, I stayed. The private bottlings that members of 1789b were getting together for their membership were just too mouth-watering so I decided to stay on to take advantage of those.

I didn’t log on for about a week and a half because I was so bored and annoyed with the forum, and my arthritis had just started to rear its ugly head. When I tried to log on again, I discovered that I couldn’t. I tried again the next day but I still couldn’t get in. So I sent private messages to my friends on SB.com who I knew were 1789b members (including one of the founders) to ask them if they knew what was going on. A few replied but they knew nothing. Neither founder never replied. I replied that I didn’t really have to time to post regularly anyway due to my schedule, which was certainly true. But I was also fed up with the forum and frankly a little miffed that I had not even received an email or message telling me that my account was about to be terminated. As far as I can tell, my account was deleted because I failed to post often enough to fulfill the forum requirements but I have still not received any official explanation.

In the end, I bear no ill-will toward any members of 1789b or the management, although I would like an explanation of why I was booted. I still consider most of the membership of 1789b to be friends and I understand the desire to filter out the “noise” of the internet. I just realized that I am not a gentleman’s club kind of person. I’m a saloon guy. I like the noise, I like the newbies, I like the trolls and most of the time I like the mods. Maybe there’s a place for 1789b in the online whiskey world. They certainly seem to have found their niche, but SB.com is my internet whiskey home and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

My Two Ounces: Public and Private Houses, part 1

Even its critics would admit that Straightbourbon.com is the online heart of American Whiskey fandom. It was founded over ten years ago by Jim Butler, bourbon aficionado and Silicon Valley scientific systems analyst. Butler still owns and operates the site himself. It is an online expression of the community of bourbon-lovers that formed at the gatherings that took place in Bardstown, Kentucky around the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. When the group got too big to meet in their rooms at the Bardstown Best Western, they moved the festivities to the gazebo behind the hotel. The Gazebo has been the spiritual center of this community ever since. The only rules for the Gazebo are that people bring at least one bottle to share (it doesn’t have to be fancy) and bring their own glassware.

The Straightbourbon.com (SB.com hereafter) forums share in the freewheeling spirit of the Gazebo. The chat room attached to Straightbourbon.com is even called The Gazebo. Anyone is welcome and as forums go, it is a pretty polite, easy-going place. It currently has over 7,000 members and by my estimation has close to 100 members who post at least once a week. I am a member there with a few thousand posts under my belt, mostly due to over a year of unemployment. I go by the enigmatic handle Josh (not to be confused with Joshua or Macinjosh).

There are other online bourbonforums and blogs, of course. There is whiskey writer Michael Veach’s Bourbonenthusiast.com forum. There are also the blogs of whiskey writers like The Chuck
Cowdery Blog
, John Hansell’s What does John know? and others. There are also the blogs of amateurs (in the true sense of the term) like bourbondork, sku’s recenteats, and this one. While they all have their place, none have the saloon feel of SB.com.

Not everyone appreciates the feel-wheeling atmosphere of SB.com, though. Complaints have been made about the shifting membership of the forum, the changed tone of the forum from the old days, and the usual complaints about moderators, newbies and trolls. Off and on there would also be heated (by SB.com standards) discussions about the at best gray-market sale and resale of whiskey by forum members.

In reaction to these and other complaints two long-time members of SB.com started a new forum called 1789b earlier this year. The founding of a new forum was nothing new, but what makes 1789b different is that it is a private forum. Membership is only open to those who have been nominated by another member and approved by the membership. If SB.com is a saloon, 1789b is intended to be a private gentlemen’s club in the classic sense of the term. The forum rules state that only mature, active members are desired and that members are expected to behave themselves. Most controversially, members are also required to refrain from any discussion about 1789b with those who are not members of 1789b. This has prompted a few sarcastic nicknames for 1789b from non-members including Super Secret Bourbon Club and Bourbon Fight Club (“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!”).

A few weeks into 1789b’s existence, I was informed that I had been nominated for membership. My first reaction was surprise. I assumed it had been created specifically to exclude people like me, but out of curiosity and consideration for a few friends who were members already, I joined. It was not what I expected. More on that later.