Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (43% ABV)

With my hand upon the wheel, a squeal of the Goodyears, a whiff of burnt rubber, I am now cruising my suburban neighborhood.  I am driving alone.

The music is spilling out the driver's side window, and I just took that turn a little too fast.  Got some Public Enemy thumping as the soundtrack to my life in the burbs, while moms are pulling their kids back from the street.  They clamp dishpan hands over their young ones ears and glare.  A dad pauses with his lawn rake, but not too long, just long enough for an almost imperceptible nod that only I recognize.  He knows.  He sees a brother on the outside of this bourgeois clink.

The music lifts my spirits, taking me from this maze of identical white houses, to a place where I am not 40 something years old.  I got no age, just a bad attitude, and a big black SUV.  I ain't the police.  Okay, maybe the whiskey police.  Yeah, dats better.  Uh-huh.  I break all dem rules.  Even grammatical and spelling ones.

As I listen to Chuck D tell it like it is (see above video - otherwise this post will not make any sense), I remember an interesting anecdote about his cohort in the band, Flavor Flav (the guy in the video who tells Chuck D "you gotta tell 'em just like dat" with a massive clock swinging from his neck).

In 1986, Chuck D's music career got its first big break in part by coming to the attention of Def Jam Records producer, Rick Rubin.  Rubin liked Chuck's politically charged, socially conscious, music and wanted to sign him to his record label (remember records?).  Chuck D insisted that Flavor Flav be signed too, as part of the same act.  Rubin was confused and didn't understand where Chuck D was coming from.  Flav wasn't the lead singer, composer or even playing an instrument.  Of course, the real problem was that Rubin didn't understand what a hype man was.  Flavor Flav was a great hype man and Chuck D knew it.

You see, a hype man is a guy who works the crowd, gets them pumped at live performances by way of his irrepressible enthusiasm.  That enthusiasm is not necessarily singing, but verbally interjecting at just the right moment and often using call and response chants.  Rubin wanted Chuck D, and if Flavor Flav had to be part of the package, then so be it.

Flavor Flav in fine form as the best 'hype man' out there.
This got me thinking that I am like Flavor Flav.  I am a hype man of great whiskey, and Old Grand-Dad Whiskey is in dire need of one, and I am happy to play the part.

Old Grand-Dad Whiskey is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that has been around for a very long time.  The advertising campaign for this whiskey seems to have died well before the arrival of the Beatles.

The orange label is cheap looking and the bottle cover is not a wood and cork cap, but rather a cheap plastic twist-off.  The label looks out of style, last in vogue maybe in the late 1940's.

I can well imagine Henry Fonda taking a slug of Old Grand-Dad as he sets at the bar in the must-see, 1943 classic film, The Ox-Bow Incident.  Anyway, that's purely my imagination and not based in fact.

Speaking of facts, let me tell you about this bourbon I picked up in Bangor, Maine, at a grocery store for the grand sum of $16.99.

This bourbon dates back to 1882.   It was created by Raymond B. Hayden, in honor of his grandfather (Basil Hayden Sr.), and named it in memory of him, a pioneer bourbon distiller, whose likeness appears on the label.   Grand-Dad liked to distill his bourbon with a higher percentage rye mash bill and his grandson preserves this preference in this bourbon.

Today, Beam Global owns the brand and does not promote it hardly at all from what I can tell.  The brand does not have its own website, nor does it get featured at whisky festivals much.  Beam Global seem to pour a lot more marketing dollars into other products in their portfolio like: Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden's to name but a few.

Enter me.  I am here to hype this bourbon!

Nose (undiluted)
Soft, corn, flowers, rainy evening air, some steak spice too.

Palate (undiluted)
Oranges, dry apricot, saddle leather and gentle spice of the rich/prickly rye that dominates very nicely. Old fashioned barley candy comes to mind.

Finish (undiluted)
Slight pepper, Kosher salt, and spiced rye, yeah that rye!  Taste of country stream water where you can see the fish.  Very clean finish with a hint of oak and thyme.

Value for Money!
Hell yeah!  I paid $16.99!  This is incredible value!  This bourbon really has no flaws.  At 43% ABV, it is sufficiently flavorful.

I am also astounded at the very dry flavor profile delivered for such a cheap price.  At this price point, many whiskies are horribly sweet.

I derive far more enjoyment and pleasure drinking this bourbon than I did with Blanton's single barrel (triple the price) that was the subject of my last review (click here).

Highly drinkable neat.  No need for ice or using as mix.  To mix this bourbon is to waste it.

One last point I have to make about the low price.  It's nice to know that there are a few great bargains to be had and this is one of them.  One caveat.  A reader has pointed out to me that Beam Global may reduce the ABV from 43% to 40%.  This may really take a lot of the wind out of the sails of the flavor profile.  We will wait and have to see if this comes to pass.

General Impressions
Besides being ridiculously reasonably priced, it is simply great bourbon.  Wanna learn what the big deal is about bourbon?  Old Grand-Dad is a great place to start.

This is a dry bourbon.  It doesn't taste young or overly sweet,  even though the ingredient whiskies probably are quite youthful.  Who cares?  The taste is great.  Nice clean finish too.

The flavor profile has some nuances that cannot be regarded as simple.  There's something going on here that requires another sip.

Drinking this bourbon, I can't help but think of my grandfather who grew up during the Great Depression.  He would have been very pleased with this bourbon because it is a solid, flavorful drink, yet reasonably priced.  I could see him sipping this with his "White Owl" cigars.

Don't miss out on this bourbon.  Give it a go.  You will not regret the decision.

Now go out and buy a bottle right now!  Do it!  I hope this hype gets you standing up, grabbing your wallet and headed to the nearest purveyor of fine spirits!

C'mon!  Do it!

Just like dat!

C'mon!  Do it! 

Just like dat!

C'mon!  Do it!

Just like dat!

C'mon! Do it!

Just like Dat!

(music and voice fade as I reach for the wife's grocery list and brake for the mall parking lot . . )


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for the following photo credits: (1) photo of steering vehicle taken by Jason Debly holder of all copyright; (2) "Harder than You Think" video by Public Enemy who hold all copyright; (3)  Photo of Flavor Flav credit: Wenn; (4) Old Grand-Dad print ad from the 1940's with no copyright as it is now in public domain; (5) image still from The Ox-Bow Incident copyright held by 20 Century Fox; (6) bottle of Old Grand-Dad Bourbon taken by Jason Debly; (7) Bottle of Old Grand-Dad bourbon taken by Jason Debly.  All images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: Blanton's Single Barrel versus Jack Daniel's Single Barrel

The Single Barrel Whiskey Trend
Lately, a lot of American whisky producers have been trumpeting their respective "single barrel" editions.  These releases are marketed as premium whiskies at premium prices, of course.

The vast majority of American whisky (whether it be bourbon, Tennessee or otherwise) is basically a blend (that takes place after aging) of many barrels (of varying ages, barrel char, grain spirits, etc)  to achieve a signature taste (in accordance with the distillery's recipe).  Hence, the general flavor consistency from year to year with the likes of Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 or say one of my favorites: Jim Beam Black.

Single barrel whisky is simply a bottling based upon well, you guessed it, a single barrel.  Is it better?  I am not so sure.  It can be more expensive for the producer and so the steeper price is not a surprise.  But, again, is it worth it?  Recently, I chose two American single barrel whiskies with a view to examining this critical question.

Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey
I have reviewed this whisky in the past (click here) and found it too strong for my liking.  But, that review only pertained to that particular barrel (number 9-4870) bottled on November 24th, 2009.

Well, the particular bottling before me now was bottled June 6th, 2011 from barrel number 11-2796 and it is quite different.

By different, I want to make clear that this particular JD release tastes distinctly within the house style of Jack Daniel's, but altered in terms of emphasis.  Anyhow, let's move to the tasting note of the 2011 bottling.

Nose (undiluted)
Big vanilla, sawdust, saddle leather.

Palate (undiluted)
Clean limestone filtered spring water, very refreshing.  Huge oak timber, vanilla, burnt brown sugar, smooth Virginia tobacco, old leather.

Finish (undiluted)
Tangy citrus and oak char.  Long, lingering finish that is quite rewarding.

General Impressions
This is a very powerful whisky.  Certainly not to be trifled with at 47% ABV.  I like this more than the last bottle I had that was the subject of an earlier review.  But, the question remains, do I like it at the elevated price point?

Not really.  I can appreciate that this is fine Tennessee whisky, and it is refined, with nothing offensive, but it just does not satisfy my value for money test.  Why?  A bit too big for my liking without the complexity that should be there for the price.  Matter of fact, I often prefer it with an ice cube.  Let it melt for a minute and then sip.  I just like the chill the ice brings.  Tones it down more to my tastes (of course when you add ice, you throw away any chance of tasting complexity of flavors).  Sometimes it is more enjoyable neat, but it really depends on my mood.  I find adding water doesn't work here.  Ice is a must if you are not in the mood for this big dog neat.  At the same time, I can appreciate the bold flavors would serve as a great foundation for certain cocktails like Manhattans.

 At a recent whisky club meeting, I featured Jack Daniel's Single Barrel along with Blanton's Single Barrel Reserve.  Putting aside cost considerations, most members preferred Jack Daniel's.  Matter of fact, they thoroughly enjoyed the Jack Daniel's.  So, I was in the minority that preferred the Blanton's.

Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon Special Reserve 40% ABV (dumped on May 28th, 2012 from Barrel 349 of warehouse 'H' on Rick no. 55)
This particular release is currently not available in the continental US, but rather only in the duty free market at airports and in export markets like Canada.

This bourbon is bottled at 40% which should give you a clue that it is a lot gentler than the Jack Daniels, and other Blanton's releases for that matter.

While it is a "single barrel" release, I am not so sure it was literally poured from the barrel.  I strongly suspect that this is not bottled at barrel strength (equivalent to cask strength in single malt parlance), but rather diluted to 40% ABV.  I mean, what are the odds they factored in the angel's share, aging to optimum taste to bring it out at 40% ABV.  If they had to add water, is it fair to call it "single barrel?"  At least with regards to this Blanton's edition, it may be a mistake to equate single barrel bottling with barrel strength bottling.

If you visit the Blanton's website, you will note that this bourbon is described as an introduction to the single barrel style of bourbon.  When you read "introductory" think "gentle" and you will be in tune with what they intend.  A gentle introduction to single barrel bourbon.

Nose (undiluted)
Light, ethereal charcoal, Fall early morning air.

Palate (undiluted)
Classic light tasting bourbon with delicate, even herbaceous notes of charcoal, vanilla and Belgian waffles.

Finish (undiluted)
Clean, effervescent, lentils, herbs, baking soda, warm cinnamon flavored apple pie.

General Impressions
Blanton's is the winner for me.  It is softer, easier to understand and due to its herbaceous nature, more complex.  If you like Canadian whisky, light single malt Scotches, this one is for you.

I do like big ballsy whiskies, but I find Jack Daniel's lacks the complexity and balance that I seek in such a style of whiskey.  Again, this is not to say it is a poor or disappointing whiskey.  No, that is not the case.  It is simply different and does not accord with my tastes like the Blanton's does.

While I enjoy the taste of Blanton's over the Jack Daniel's, the former has an even higher price point that also fails the value for money test I have in my mind.  I paid $60 for the Blanton's and there are a lot finer bourbons for that price or a little more.  Just think Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old bourbon.  Far more complex, refined, sophisticated, pleasing and all round more interesting than the above two suggestions.  Hell, Maker's Mark is better.

One final thought.  Whether a bourbon or a Tennessee whiskey is single barrel or not is not necessarily indicative of quality.  Just suggests a production manner that is supposed to be more personal where the distillery blender (or a panel of fellas at the distillery weigh in too) personally chooses barrels for release.

Single barrel whisky by its nature varies considerably from barrel to barrel.  Exploring this type of whisky requires some guts and money.  You may discover a gem or realize you over paid by 30% or so.  I really think single barrel products are for the bourbon and Tennessee whisky aficionados, rather than the dabblers and fair-weather friends of American whisky, like me, whose chief concern is a good, solid drink at a reasonable price.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: Ledaig 10 years Single Malt Scotch Whisky


I said "L-E-D-A-I-G."

I know you are drawing a blank.  Me too.  Sounds like some tropical disease  of the lower bowel that afflicted the machete swinging, 16 century Spanish soldiers, who hacked their way through suffocatingly humid Peruvian jungle, on the orders of the murderous, Inca gold-loving conquistador, Francisco Pizarro.  

It's not another word for Lord Byron era "consumption" either.

Depending on who you ask, "Ledaig" is pronounced as "led-ching" or "let-chick."  I suspect Gaelic pronunciation will vary depending on the particular region the person you ask resides in.  In any event, "Ledaig" is the former name of the Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides.    I guess the owners also found the original distillery name had some unwanted connotations that impeded the marketability of the whisky.

Tobermory puts out some single malts that are used in affordable blends: Scottish Leader and Black Bottle (the latter, I am particularly fond of).

The distillery bottles most of its whisky under "Tobermory" and it is somewhat salty, fruity, but unpeated.  The distillery also bottles under the label of "Ledaig" and it is peaty and providing plenty of smoke.  So how is it?

Nose (undiluted)
Mildly antiseptic, loam, earthen, smokey and nicely peated.

Palate (undiluted)
Salty, fresh raw oysters, iodine, rich seawater, a ginger/sulphur sweetness lurks too, and is complimented by tart salt notes of sea foam.  The loam and earthen notes of the nose come through on the palate too.  Peat?  Yes, of course.  It is peated, but not over the top.  This is not Laphroaig or Ardbeg.  However, there is more intensity than say Bowmore 12.  This shares a lot in common with Isle of Jura offerings.  I can see where Black Bottle gets its magic.

Finish (undiluted)
Ginger and kippers transition into a cloud of black smoke rising up from a bunch of damp branches burning down on the beach on a cold winter's day.  The length of the finish is truly impressive.  It hangs forever!  

ABV 46.3%
I think the higher than usual ABV contributes to the very lengthy finish to this delightful whisky.  Normally at such an ABV, I would think adding a little water is a must, but that is not the case here.  Ledaig is smooth and never harsh.  So, there is no need to add water to make it more gentle.  He's a gentle giant already.  I have added water and have not found an improvement.  I prefer it neat and really have to salute the team that put this single malt together.  To have a wonderfully peated malt at 46.3 ABV with no bite or rough edges is an incredible feat.

This non-chill filtered whisky is very light in color.  I am certain no caramel coloring was added to this malt.  I find it almost shocking how light in color it is.  Matter of fact, I cannot think of a malt that is lighter.  Reminds me of straw.

General Impressions
This reminds me of Black Bottle, but is much better.  Of course there is a huge difference in price too.  Ledaig also shares a lot in common with Isle of Jura Superstition and Smokehead.  Ledaig is far superior though.  With it's impressive length of flavor, complexity and balance.  It just beats the hell out of the other two.  Matter of fact, I definitely prefer this over Bowmore 12, and Bowmore 12 is a very nice entry level Islay malt.

If you enjoy peaty whisky this is one for you.  If you want to experiment with the peat and smoke elements in scotch, again this bottle may be ideal for you.  However if you avoid Islay malts and not a fan of Talisker and Isle of Jura then I doubt you will enjoy this one.

Price Point
Expensive!  At least where I live.  If you can find this for $60 or less, you are breaking the law my friend.  That's well worth it.  I paid around $80 but I am still satisfied with this purchase.

Suggested Food Pairing?

I first encountered Ledaig 10 years at an expensive whisky dinner.  The Ledaig was paired with blood pudding and fresh scallops.  They also had apple chutney.  Take a mouthful of scallops or the earthy blood pudding and then chase it with some Ledaig, and you may as well tell everyone that you have been to Heaven and lived to tell about it.

I attempted to recreate such a meal at home.  Couldn't find the apple chutney, but I had no problem locating the blood pudding and scallops.  To this I thought caramelized onions would be nice too.  Preparation is simple.  Pan fry the blood pudding, but not for very long.  You do not want to dry out the sausage.  Maybe 8 minutes on medium heat, all the while turning over frequently.  In another frying pan, with some butter, fry up two, finely chopped, large white onions, do it on medium heat.  Let them blacken and reduce, and add a little more butter.  When the onions are reduced to caramelized,  blackened bits, they will be ready to join the blood pudding on a plate.  Finally, those scallops can be pan fried with butter but for a very short time on medium heat, like maybe 10 minutes. Turn over the scallops frequently.

Put the sausage, onions and scallops on a plate, pour your self a dram of Ledaig, and boy are you in for a treat!

The sausage is very earthy, while the scallops are sweet with a taste of the sea, and the onions keep everything in check.  Taste slowly with your whisky.

Do this and you will never confuse Ledaig with a 16th century tropical disease again!


Jason Debly