Collingwood 21

Maker: Canadian Mist, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada (Brown-Forman)wpid-20150206_163642.jpg

Style: 100% malted rye Canadian whisky finished with toasted maple wood.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Bright orange

Nose: Rich and bright. Dried orange peel, vanilla sugar cookies, cut oak, ground walnut.

Palate: Soft and mild. Grade A maple syrup, faint notes of clementine, maple sugar, oak.

Finish: A little oak and potpourri, then softly fades into a gentle sweetness.

Parting words: The nose on this whisky is truly amazing. It’s complex, elegant and beautiful from beginning to end. Wood is very much present, both maple and oak, but it’s never overbearing. Everything is seamlessly integrated. I could just sit and smell this whisky for hours.

Then there’s the taste and finish. Anticlimactic would be a polite word for it. Neither is bad, but they don’t even come close to matching the promise of the amazing nose. This is yet another Canadian Whisky that is held back from being the world class spirit is should be by being bottled at 40%. At 45% or, God forbid, 50% this would be world class. As it is, it’s a sad reminder of what is holding Canadian whiskies back. No, forget sad, Collingwood 21 makes me angry. The women and men who made this product deserve better than a showing like this.

$60 is too high but, my anger not withstanding, at $50 or lower, Collingwood 21 is recommended.

Head to Head: Rittenhouse DSP KY 1 vs DSP KY 354

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Ketucky, USAwpid-20150130_172202.jpg

Distilled

1: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

354: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style: Kentucky rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $24 (DSP 354 edition is no longer being produced).

Appearance

1: Burnt orange.

354: A bit lighter. Bright copper.

Nose

1: Alcohol, caramel, creamed corn, tarragon, sawdust.

354: Softer. Spearmint, alcohol, roasted corn.

Palate

1: Neat- Heat and little else. Water brings out candy and oak notes.

354: Round and soft, even neat. Potpourri, rock candy, alcohol.

Finish

1: Hot and harsh. The caramel and herbal flavors start to shift into something much less pleasant.

2: Long and grassy. Freshly mowed lawn, alcohol, orange peel.

Parting words: After the infamous Heaven Hill fire in 1997, HH turned to their competitors/friends at Jim Beam and Brown-Forman to distill some of their whiskeys for them while they made necessary alterations to their new distillery in Louisville. Brown-Forman (the distillery formerly known as Early Times, DSP 354) picked up the distillation of Rittenhouse, our heroes’ flagship rye, during that period. It is also during that period that many whiskey enthusiasts like myself became big fans of the bonded Rittenhouse. Perhaps the consistently high quality of this rye and Sazerac rye during that period led to the current rye revival in some way.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do these two head to head for a long time. Now that I have, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect much difference between these two but there was quite a bit. When two whiskeys are so close to each other, those differences can become exaggerated, naturally, but that’s the point to these head to head tastings. “It’s the little differences,” as Vincent Vega said.

Simply put, the DSP 1 did not fare well against the 354. It wasn’t terrible, it but it was comparitively hot and unrefined neat. It was better with a splash of water and even better than that mixed. 354 needed no water and gave off some very pleasant characteristic rye notes in the nose and the palate. When mixed, there was very little difference between the two.

1 is mildly recommended overall but recommended as a mixer. 354 is recommended for all purposes but given its growing scarcity I would save it for sipping neat or close to it.

El Jimador Reposado

Maker: Herradura, Amatitán, Jalisco, Mexico (Brown-Forman)Jimador Rep

Age: Reposado (2-11 mos.)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $20

Appearance: Pale gold with long thin legs.

Nose: Citrus rind, white pepper, touch of oak and vanilla.

Palate: Full bodied and medium sweet. Alcohol, corn syrup, lime peel, a wiff of smoke.

Finish: Lots more rind and a little pepper. Lasts for a good while.

Mixed: Does very well in everything I tried it in. Makes a good margarita, does well in cola and in a tequila sunrise and a Bloody Maria. My favorite way to drink it was on the rocks with a squeeze of lime and maybe even some orange bitters.

Parting words: This isn’t my first tequila review but it’s my first in years. I was drawn to the El Jimador line (also containing a white and an añejo expression) because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to find. There’s nothing mind blowing or transcendent about El Jimador Reposado. It has a nice balance of typical tequila characteristics. Citrus, pepper, smoke and barrel notes are all in evidence, although the emphasis is on the sweetness, citrus and pepper here.

According to online sources, Herradura uses a device called a diffuser in the manufacture of its brands, even with the eponymous higher-end line. The diffusion process takes the place of the more traditional roasting and cooking of the agave hearts. Both are intended to bring out the natural sugars in the plant, but the diffuser does so in a more efficient manner. The trade off, many connoisseurs say, is that the resulting spirit is less flavorful. I don’t have enough information and experience to form an informed opinion on the topic myself.

Diffuser or no, El Jimador Reposado is simple, tasty and versatile. At $20 it’s inexpensive too, especially compared to its older siblings in the Herraduraline which I’ve been told is virtually indistinguishable from El Jimador. Recommended.

Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennessee, USA (Brown-Forman)

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: light copper.

Nose: Light banana scent, corn syrup, papaya, nail polish, touch of wood..

On the palate: Light and sharp. Nail polish, clove, maple sugar, bit of anise.

Finish: Hot and harsh. Bitter clove, acetone, not much else.

Parting words: Jack Daniels is the best-selling brand of whiskey in the world. I have trouble figuring out why. It is fairly easy-drinking with some spice and sweetness. There is not much else going on here, but what is going on is pretty unpleasant. The special charcoal mellowing process Jack (and George Dickel) goes through is supposed to remove many of the harsher congeners found in bourbons of the same age, but there were still plenty left over.

I didn’t bother to try it in a manhattan or anything like that, but I did try it in its most popular applications: Jack and Coke and Jack and Ginger Ale. It does very well in both these drinks. The cola smoothes out the rough edges, but there is enough there to (barely) taste the whiskey inside. The ginger ale complements the spice and fruit notes, and covers up the embarrassing nail polish ones.

As a bargain brand, it doesn’t stand up too well to the competition. It’s well over $20 here in Michigan. Not good value for something of this quality at 80 proof. There are seasonal editions of Jack Daniels Old No. 7 that come out at a variety of proofs and one dedicated to salesman Angelo Lucchesi at 90 proof, replicating the proof of Jack when he started working at the company in the 1950s when Brown-Forman purchased it. That one is only a couple dollars more and probably a better bargain if you enjoy Jack Daniels.

At any rate, I’ve had worse, but not at this price. Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey is not recommended.

Now Drinking

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 95 (42.5%)

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville/Shively, Kentucky

Not to toot my own horn (though I would if I could), but to my knowledge, this is the first review of the latest edition of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon  online.

The 2010 is vastly different from the 2009 (see above).  It’s a cinnamon bomb.  The nose is bright and spicy, like opening up a new jar of high-quality, sweet cinnamon and getting a big schnozz-ful of the stuff.  A bit of dark chocolate lurks in the shadows, just enough to balance the bright spice with an earthy bitterness.

For 95 proof, it slides over the lips mighty easy.  After a second or two of light sweetness, the cinnamon bomb detonates.  It reminds me of how I used to stuff my mouth full of red-hot candies as a child and feel the burn engulf my tongue.  The fire  settles in but lets a little wood sneak into the party.

The finish is long and as big as the whiskey itself.  The burn hangs on as long as possible and the wood influence grows slightly but never takes over.  After what seems like an hour, the finish fades into a slightly spicey sweetness that doesn’t want to leave.

This is a remarkable bourbon.  It’s unlike any other Birthday Bourbon I’ve tasted, or anything else I’ve had.  I bought two bottles today.  I may have to buy a case.

Review

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Seasoned Oak Finish

Age: 7-8 y/o +around 8 months “finishing

Proof: 100.4 (50.2%)

Maker: Woodford Reserve/Labrot & Graham, Versailles, Kentucky (Brown-Forman)

Woodford Reserve is (partially) made at a beautifully restored and quite old distillery in Versailles (ver-SAYLES) Kentucky, in Woodford county, west of Lexington.  The oldest building on the site dates to 1838.  Brown-Forman acquired it (for the second time) in 1994 and restored it into the beautiful tourist attraction it is now.

Standard Woodford Reserve is made of a combination of whiskey distilled on site in huge pot stills and whiskey distilled at B-F’s plant in Louisville, home to Early Times and Old Forester.  It is then aged at Woodford Reserve.  For their special annual Master’s Collection releases, they only use whiskey distilled at Woodford and do something interesting with it.  Not always good, but always interesting.

For 2009, they took a standard batch and after it was fully aged, they transferred it to barrels that had been lightly toasted (as opposed to the deep char used on standard bourbon barrels) after having been seasoned for an extremely long time.  Most bourbon barrel staves are seasoned (dried) outdoors for a few months before being charred and made into barrels.  The barrels used to finish this whiskey were seasoned for a few years.  This created a very unusual bourbon.  And a pretty good one too.

It’s dark, even for a bourbon.  Chestnut brown.  The nose is dry, dry oak, black walnut, with a hint of sweetness.  On the palate it continued dry, with a heavy wood influence, but in an unconventional way.  It’s tannic and chewy, like chewing on a damp oak stave.  In a good way, kinda.

The finish is dry, but not as heavy as one might expect.  Tannic, but never quite shifting into bitter.  This is a whiskey teetering on the edge.  But in an odd way, it achieves a nice balance.  My only real complaint is that it costs $90 for one bottle.  Luckily I was able to split one three ways with a couple other enthusiasts.

For a list of the upcoming releases visit Chuck Cowdery’s blog here.