Local Choice Bourbon Review

Web_Logo

With the start of December we are officially well into my favorite season of all: bourbon season. Bourbon lovers continue to be spoilt for choice when it comes to trying new bourbons. Every time I go to the liquor store there is a new and exciting bottle to try, and those are just a smattering of the new bottles hitting the market very week. It is getting to be a real challenge trying to keep up with it all, but still I soldier on somehow. Recently Local Choice Spirits out of South Carolina were kind enough to send me their bourbon and their black cherry flavored bourbon to try for Queen City Drinks.

Local Choice Spirits is based out of Daniel Island, South Carolina and was founded in 2011 and operates under a “pour it forward” philosophy. In addition to striving to produce quality spirits they also donate $2 per bottle sold back to the local community where it is sold. Also, they do produce their whiskey, which is not always the case with a craft distillery. Without getting too much into the business behind craft whiskey, a micro-producer will have a choice between sourcing their whiskey from a larger producer and selling it as their own while getting started or else produce small batches right away and sell a younger whiskey. Making your own whiskey is both more difficult and more expensive than sourcing, and you have the constant pressure to get your product to the shelves quickly to make back that cost. Some micro-producers try to do with with smaller barrels or finding ways to agitate barrels for quicker aging. Local Choice apparently uses a trademarked system called TerrePURE® which uses sound waves to “rapidly transforms ordinary distilled spirits into mature tasting, incredibly smooth, ultra-premium spirits in a quick and efficient manner.” That is a pretty bold claim right there, so let’s see how the bourbon holds up.

LOCAL-CHOICE-BOURBON-169x300

Local Choice Bourbon

The bourbon has a fresh and citrus nose, with little of the carmel sweetness that is often associated with bourbon. The initial taste has a subtle sweetness. Mostly I pick up corn, pine, and a hint of pepper. It is a very fresh taste but not quite enough flavor. It is a young bourbon but I will give it to them that it is very smooth for the age. The burn is short and flares in the nostrils. There is a bit of an after taste but it doesn’t linger. Over all it is far from the worst young, micro-produced bourbon I have had. And it is much better than Cleveland but that is a very low bar to clear. This tastes like it is a solid distillate that could be pretty decent if it ever gets a chance to age properly, so that means that there is a good chance that this TerrePure processes made a positive difference. There is no way that a bourbon lover would mistake this for a matured bourbon though. I added a splash of water and it helped bring out a bit more of the sweetness and actually made it a bit more complex. I tried it with ice as well but that stripped way too much of the taste away. Overall I can honestly say that I liked this bourbon more than I thought I would given their high-tech fast aging technique but I still think the bottom line comes back to that old saying about how you can’t rush Mother Nature.

2014-12-01 16.13.20

Local Choice Black Cherry Flavored Bourbon

The cherry is unmistakable in the nose but it doesn’t smell like it is blending quiet right with the whiskey smell. The first sip is actually very pleasant. This tastes like it has a gentle infusion of cherry rather than an artificial flavor that was added. Unfortunately after the first sip comes a sour aftertaste that lingers on the tongue most unpleasantly and this disqualifies it from sipping for me. Mixing it with some ginger beer helped immensely but I could still taste the aftertaste. Not sure if that was from my earlier sipping or if the ginger beer just failed to completely cover the taste. Very disappointing because I actually enjoy a good infused bourbon when it is done well.

Right now these spirits are only available in South and North Carolina but they are looking to expand into Kentucky soon so keep an eye out. I would love to learn more about this TerrePURE process and to try some of their vodka that they make with it. Based on the bourbon, I would guess that it would have an even more dramatic effect on an un-aged product and is probably better suited to vodkas and gins than to whiskey.

Few Spirits Gin Review

xcC0rRx4i3W_x6zayF9wMg7vsdEMN98p7be10piUWIo

I have written in the past about the boom in craft distilling and how heartbreaking it can be when the cute little distillery with the beautiful bottle that you just paid $50 for turns out to be putting out less than impressive product. So it was with excitement but also a little cynicism that I opened my box of samples from Few Spirits in Evanston, IL. The samples included three different gins, a bourbon, and a rye whiskey.  My first thought on seeing the whiskeys was to wonder where they were sourcing from. When I read the informational materials and learned that Few ferments, distills, and bottles all of its products from scratch in their distillery I had to reevaluate my expectations. Turns out that the Few Spirits blew those expectations out of the water. Charlie and I tried the three gins included in the sampler, Few American Gin, Barrel Gin, and Standard Issue Gin on Episode 137 of The Charlie Tonic Hour and I can tell you that it was one of the most enthusiastic drink segments of the show’s history. Here are the details of the three gins.

IWd7vcnWypIip9LJ22PjCRqNZEQ_-cuHUzsA1kEkU6U

 

Few American Gin: First the basics. It’s made with a bourbon mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley and flavored with 11 botanicals including juniper, bitter orange, lemon peel and fresh vanilla and weighs in at a modest 80 proof. The nose is sweet, heavy on the corn but I can smell mint and vanilla as well. It is smooth with a gentle burn on the finish. The juniper isn’t overpowering but it is not as citrus heavy as other American-style gins I have tried. There is almost a hoppy quality to the flavor but it is nicely balanced by the sweeter notes. The vanilla is surprisingly easy to pick out. When I watered it down I felt that the flavors got too diluted but I think this would make a lovely gin and tonic. Retails for $39.99.

CIMTa-LrJaMIMojBB0Ax7vYNcCOZf7prJ1wmn-97_Dw

Few Barrel Gin: The info materials state that the Barrel Gin is made with a more neutral base spirit which I am interpreting as having fewer botanicals than their American or Standard Issue gin. Then they age the gin in a mix of new American Oak and used bourbon and rye barrels. The Barrel Gin is 93 proof. Barrel aged gins have been popping up all over the place lately. I can see how some people might think that they are a bit gimmicky I have to admit that I kind of love them. They just taste like nothing else out there. Few Barrel Gin has a lot more body and spice than other bourbon barrel gins I have tried. I think using a blend of different barrels was a very good choice. The predominant flavors are mint and a sweet cinnamon with notes of vanilla. The only problem with barrel gins that I have found is that they really don’t work in cocktails for me. Few recommends making a “Ginhattan” with it but I am skeptical. So far I have stuck with sipping it. Retails for $49.99.

9sdXRWLDN4CcOJJgYyvlBBgTcW32kzSa6_GbtE0O2xo

Few Standard-Issue Gin: This gin is 114 proof. I mention that first because the high-proof is a big part of what defines this style of gin, which is often referred to as navy strength gin. The story behind this is that when British sailors received their daily ration of gin it had to have enough alcohol so that the gunpowder could still ignite if the gin was accidentally spilled on it. Along with the higher alcohol content a navy gin would have been drier than American gins. To balance this dryness Few added a hefty dose of fennel to balance it out. The result is a gin that will put hairs on your chest but is also surprisingly reminiscent of those candies you get at an Indian restaurant. Surprisingly smooth for the proof, the juniper flavors come on strong and there is a bitterness you can feel on the tongue rather than taste, but the finish leaves a strong impression of licorice. With water the burn was greatly diminished and the softer flavors came out more. I think this would be a great cocktail gin, perhaps with a gimlet. Retails for $39.99.

Right now Few Spirits are not available in stores in Ohio and Kentucky but you can order them online. Next time I am in Chicago I will make a point of visiting the distiller and picking up a few bottles.

Whiskey Review: Knappogue Castle 12, Twin Wood 14, and Twin Wood16 year old single malt whiskeys

A PR firm representing Castle Brands, makers of Irish single malt whiskey reached out to us. They try to capitalize on the history of a real castle in Ireland which was owned by the father of the founder of the brand. The father started making and bottling whiskey, and his son turned it into the global brand we can enjoy today.

Knappogue Castle

Before we get to the reviews I have a confession to make; I’m not overly experienced with whiskey. I’ve had many but am no huge enthusiast of it like I am with beer. I know neither the fine details nor the ins and outs of fine whiskeys. I just wanted to let you know where I’m coming from so you can see what you’re getting. You’re getting a review of whiskey from a beer drinker. Luckily for all of us, I know a very accomplished liquor enthusiast who occasionally writes for Queen City Drinks and does podcasts on The Charlie Tonic Hour. So Ginny Tonic will be reviewing these as well!

Here’s what Ginny had to say about her background with whiskey:

When it comes to whiskey I know my bourbon well, I am above average on other American whiskeys, and have a passing knowledge of scotch. But my experience with Irish whiskey almost entirely consists of shots of Jameson done at the bar so I was excited to get to sit down with these single malt samples from Knappogue Castle. My first impression upon looking at the samples in glass is how much lighter colored these whiskeys are compared to similarly aged American whiskey. The temperate climate of Ireland and the fact that they are, like scotch (I assume,) aged in used barrels rather than new means that they will age completely differently than bourbon and other American whiskey. Only the 16 year old has the deep hue that I usually associate with whiskey.

Knappogue CastleKnappogue Castle 12-year-old

ABV: 40%

Tom: Pale yellow straw color. Firm malt aroma that also shows off plenty of heat but isn’t burning or stinging at all like some whiskeys.  Plenty of warm vanilla notes on the tongue and lips with a tingly burn most of the way down. The burn builds as you move to the end of the glass.

Ginny: The nose is heavy on the oak with hints of citrus and vanilla. Subtle and very akin to scotch. This is a very smooth drinking whiskey when it is on your tongue, but the finish will get you.  On first sip it is smooth with flavors of green oak, vanilla, and geranium but once you swallow the finish comes up and erases all of that. The finish has a lot of peat, bitter orange and a dryness to the texture that is almost akin to a very dry red wine.

Knappogue Castle 14-year-old Twin WoodKnappogue Castle 14 year

To make Twin Wood they first aged this in bourbon barrels, like all whiskeys, and then it spent some time in sherry barrels hence the name Twin Wood.

ABV: 46%

Tom: Slightly deeper yellow color than the 12-year-old version. There is, to my surprise, some fruity apricot aromas with an underlying alcohol heat. Packs quite a burn on the tongue and all the way down. The taste has some clean malt flavors as well as a hint of that fruitiness from the aroma. Underneath that flavor is a very subtle touch of vanilla.

Ginny: You can tell that this is from the same family. The nose is very similar, with more sweetness in the smell, probably from the sherry finish on this one. Many of the same notes from the 12 years apply here as well. It is a bit sweeter, and you can get notes of the red fruit and plum in the sipping taste, but the finish now seems all the stronger in comparison. This one had a higher proof, 92 compared to 80 in the other two, and I thought the alcohol masked some of the subtle flavors.

Knappogue Castle 16 yearKnappogue Castle16 Year Old Twin Wood

This version is essentially the same as the last except for having spent more time in the bourbon barrel before being racked over to the sherry bottle.

ABV: 40%

Tom: A still deeper yellow that is now bordering on golden brown. It smells and tastes less potent than the 14 years with a slight touch more sherry to it, but this is still clearly a whiskey. Vanilla is the most prominent flavor; I do get some cinnamon as well as a bit of fruitiness. The burn here really isn’t too bad and has a nice touch to it. This one is easily my favorite of the three samples sent.

Ginny: This one was my favorite out of the three. With these types of whiskey, the deeper aging allows a lot of the oak to come through, but it is much less sweet and caramelly than similarly aged bourbons. This is of course due in large part to the mash bills being entirely different, but I also think that a longer aging in a used barrel gives a more strongly oak flavor without passing on as much of the sugar. With the 16 years the balance between green oak and sweetness comes into focus and is much better complimented by the sherry finish. I also think the lower proof allowed more of these flavors to come forward. It may just be the buildup having tried all three in one sitting but the finish on this one seemed the strongest as well, which I did not like.

Conclusions

Tom: Knowing little about whiskey I have little to say here. I enjoyed sipping on these three drinks, 16 the most and 14 the least, but I’m not about to sell off my beer cellar to buy a $100 bottle of the stuff.

Ginny: Overall I liked these whiskeys. As a confirmed bourbon lover their flavor profiles do not suit my tastes but as a whiskey lover I can appreciate the complexity, and I do admire a whiskey that develops and changes in my mouth. My biggest criticism was that the finish was a bit too aggressive and took over too completely. If you are a scotch lover who is looking to get into Irish whiskey, these would be a good place to start.

You can head over to Bottoms Up with Ginny & Charlie to hear more from Ginny about these whiskeys.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This was sent to us for free. To our readers, and any companies interested in sending us products, giving us review samples impacts the review in only two ways. That way is that we WILL review the product, and we WILL write a blog post about it. Giving us free products does not guarantee you a favorable review or that I will tell everyone to buy it.

Beer Review: Madtree Sprye & Lift

Just over a year ago MadTree flew out of the gates with cans of PsycHOPathy, Gnarly Brown, and Happy Amber all over the greater Cincinnati area. If you haven’t been following your local beer blogs or been into a better beer store lately then you may have missed that Madtree launched 2 new cans last week! No small feat for a brewery barely over a year old.

Sprye is the first of their seasonal releases and will only be around till May. Sprye is a rye pale ale which means it’s like most other pale ales you’re familiar with but has rye malt in place of some of the other standard malts. Rye is a specialty malt that adds a spicy zest to the beers.

Light and hoppy, at 5%, Sprye is a sessionable pale ale, that will put a spring in your step. Earthy and spicy notes evoke scents of spring, while the hops.

MadTree Sprye
ABV: 5%
IBU: 40
Malts: Rye, Flaked Barley, Munich 10L, Melanoidin
Hops: Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe

Started with a dose of fluffy white head that hung around a while before skimming down. Golden nectar colored with awesome clarity and plenty of free-flowing bubbles of carbonation keeping the head around,

Smells like spring. Fresh citrusy hops, some resin, and a touch of spice from that rye malt.

Taste is light as the spring breeze I’m waiting for after winter thaws. That rye spice comes back from the aroma and leads the way down your throat. It’s the most notable flavor but not overpowering. Some of those hops come back mostly in a resiny way. All capped off with a light touch of malt flavors.

Very light body that packs a super crisp zing on your tongue.

Not really the beer for a 30 degree day in February that’ll see snow fall before the sun rises but it’s already available from Convington to Dayton and will likely remain that way till the tulips bloom. If you’ve read the blog before you know I’m not the biggest fan of rye, however, if you are you should try this. Despite my general dislike of rye Sprye handles it well with a light touch that leaves me wanting this again once the temperature tops fifty.


If you haven’t been down to MadTree’s tap room lately, which you should frequent often, then you may have never heard of Lift. However, you may have heard of Kölsch, which was also briefly known as Timber, which is now known as Lift. MadTree knew they couldn’t go the standard route with a light American lager so instead they went a slightly odder style. Lift is a Kölsch style ale that is extremely light but still features hops, just not nearly as much as most hop-forward beers like we’re used to. Unlike Sprye Lift is being added to the lineup year round and will kick ass on a hot summer day in July or August that will leave us missing the polar vortex… well, maybe not “missing.”

Whether taking a break from a hard day of work or just a huge day of hops, this crisp, refreshing beer with a hint of orange will lift your spirits without lowering your expectations for what a craft beer should be.

MadTree Lift

ABV: 4.7%
IBU: 11
Malts: 2-row, Red Wheat, Vienna, Flaked Barley
Hops: Pacifica

Frothy white head that hangs around for the long haul topping off a liquid that is 2 shades darker than the butter yellow of the can artwork above.

Very light smell with a hint of light citrus zest and orange peel.

The flavor is very light as well with more citrus action and some wheat mixed in.

Body is easily the high spot on this beer. The wheat gives it an awesome creamy mouth feel that remains super light on the tongue. The lightness of the body is met with a crisp tingle of carbonation on the tongue.

I’m no Kolsch expert but this is similar to the others I’ve had and seems to be a good example of the style. This is a very light beer which is great in some ways and not in others. Despite my fondest wishes I can’t drink Galaxy High and Axis Mundi all day (not that I haven’t… I just shouldn’t). Days like that are when Lift will come in as a nice break from the high ABV, IBU, hopped beers. Like the Sprye it’ll be much more enjoyable when it’s warmer out but it’s still good now.

Spirit Review: OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka

Craft distilling is the biggest thing to happen in the spirits industry since prohibition. In 2005 there were 50 licensed distilleries operating in the United States and in 2012 that number had climbed to 250. At first glance Middle West Spirits in Columbus Ohio looks a lot like many of the other micro distilleries that have opened in that time frame. Owned by a small group of dedicated young professionals who left (presumably) lucrative jobs in other fields to start a distillery, Middle West has the slick marketing, steep prices, and even the obligatory connection to moonshining that I’ve seen at a lot of other craft distilleries.

A combination of pot and column stills allow for great flexibility in the distillation process.
A combination of pot and column stills allow for greater flexibility in the distillation process.

Once you get a little deeper into the distillery, you begin to notice the things that make Middle West different. Full sized barrels of their own whiskey aging in the corner. Sacks of grain from Ohio farms. Craft vinegar bottles ready for sampling.

Charlie and I visited with one of the owners, Brady Konya, to talk about what makes them different and recorded a great interview. We had a very interesting discussion and were even able to get a few samples of their products for review. So, here are my thoughts after being able to sit down with the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, an infusion made with local wildflower honey and fair trade vanilla beans.

OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka

OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka

 

OYO’s traditional vodka is made with 100% soft red winter wheat and is the flagship bottle of Middle West Spirits. They do two seasonal infusion with the vodka, a stone fruit and the honey vanilla bean. The base spirit is really important to the overall taste of the infusion so let me speak a little bit about what makes OYO vodka different. Most American vodka is very focused right now on being as pure and tasteless as possible which is one of the reasons I don’t really get that excited about vodka. But in direct contrast to this trend, OYO Vodka is very minimally filtered. The flavor of the grain, yeast, and natural sugars come through and it actually makes a vodka that not only has flavor, it is a really complex and pleasurable flavor. So when making infusions with OYO vodka you are not starting with a blank slate. Middle West has clearly been very thoughtful about which flavors to pair with the vodka and it shows.

And now for honey vanilla vodka itself. It has a nice body with a creamy mouth feel. The nose is sweet and floral with a clear vanilla scent. On the first taste the honey and vanilla flavors are there but they mingle nicely with more delicate notes of grass and almond. At 80 proof this is a true vodka infusion and the alcohol content is strong enough to stand up to the sweetness. The result is a peppery finish the leaves heat in the mouth but is nicely smooth going down. I really enjoyed sipping this vodka neat but the flavors would also lend themselves to mixing with citrus, pear, or coffee flavors in a cocktail.

If you want to try the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, I will be featuring OYO vodka and bourbon at the Local Beers and Spirits class I am teaching February 4th at Gorman Farms. I’d love to see you there and get your opinion of the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka as well.

Cleveland Bourbon Review

936366_632487500099346_1035255467_n

I recently wrote a review of Cleveland Bourbon for Bourbon and Banter and I also recorded a podcast where we tried Cleveland in a blind taste test against Knob Creek.  But since I paid $35 for the bottle I thought I better get my money’s worth by writing a review of Cleveland Bourbon for Queen City Drinks as well because I certainly won’t be getting my money’s worth by drinking it.

photo-1

 

Cleveland Bourbon came out earlier this year, created by Cleveland businessman Tom Lix. Frustrated by the length of time it takes to make bourbon, Lix created a process to cut the aging time down to just over six months. First they age the bourbon in a charred white oak barrel for six months so that it meets the legal requirement to be called bourbon. Then they put the whiskey into a stainless steel container along with pieces of the barrel and subject to an intense pressurization system for a week. This pressure force-ages the bourbon by pushing the whiskey rapidly in and out of the barrel, mimicking the natural process that normally takes place over years in a rack house.

Bourbon lovers have been skeptical of this product and after tasting I have to say that they have good reason for their doubts. The most notable quality of the bourbon is the burn. This has a rough punchy aftertaste that grabs on to your throat and won’t let go. There are some barely discernible bourbon flavors, even a sweetness, that are present for just about half a second before the harsh taste of wood and a chemical burn hit you. Even several moments after swallowing the aftertaste sits on your tongue like an obnoxious party guest that just won’t leave.

With a burn like that I though trying it over ice would have to be an improvement. I poured it over my whiskey ice ball and the ice actually made it worse. The burning was less but the ice also took with it all of the more pleasant bourbon flavors. The only thing it left behind was the wood pulp flavor. A splash of chilled water proved to be the most palatable way to drink it. That splash allowed some more delicate notes, rose and a bit more lemon flavor, to come through while taming the worst of the aftertaste. That was the first time that I thought this might be able to be used in a cocktail if nothing else.

Despite the fact that I have not met a single person who actually enjoys this bourbon I actually expect that they will be in business for a while. There is a growing demand for bourbon all over the world and in foreign  markets where there is huge demand, limited supply, and a lack of knowledge of what good bourbon tastes like I predict that Cleveland Bourbon will find an audience. For those of you closer to home who are looking to try a new, Ohio-based bourbon I strongly recommend that you give Cleveland a pass and check out Middle West Spirit’s Michelone Reserve instead. Their wheated bourbon is a unique product that takes bourbon in an interesting direction without leaving you with an acetone aftertaste.

 

Hank Birdwell’s Vodka

Hank Birdwell's Vodka

In my unending quest to be both a booze snob and a cheapskate I can never resist trying a new, reasonably priced vodka. With craft distilleries popping up every week it is hard to resist the fantasy of discovering a new product that is half the price and twice the quality of the big names. Of course this is usually a fool’s errand. It is true that with names like Grey Goose or Crystal Head you are paying a considerable amount for advertising and the perceived value but with alcohol as with so many things, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

But when I was at The Party Source debating which vodka to purchase, my prior experience didn’t stop me from being hopeful when I spotted a new and distinctive label sitting on the shelf. It was brightly colored, folksy, and claimed to be the product of seven generations of family distilling. At just about $11 a bottle the price was right for me to take it home and give it a try.

birdwellsvodka750__94999.1366405653.1280.1280

First the back ground. There is no real information about Hank Birdwell’s Vodka on the web. No flashy websites bragging about their column stills or organic ingredients. No corporate website listing the vodka as one of dozens of holdings either. The label says the vodka is distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana so I am going to have to assume that this is a new product out of Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana LLC. You may not have heard of LDI but you may have heard of Bulleit, Smooth Ambler, or High West. These are just a few of the craft distilleries that source their bourbon and other whiskies from LDI and bottle them under their own name. There is nothing wrong with sourcing your whiskey, especially while you are getting your distillery started. I point this out to illustrate that just because something says it is ‘crafted’ or has ‘seven generations’ of history behind doesn’t mean that is the whole story. The LDI distillery has indeed been around since 1847 but during that time it has been sold many times over, most recently to Kansas-based MGP Ingredients Inc in 2011. So I am not sure if Hank Birdwell’s is being bottled by someone else who is purchasing it from LDI or if they are selling it directly, but I do feel confident in saying that this is not a product that has been in anyone’s family for one generation, let alone seven.

vodka gimlet

All sounds pretty harsh and cynical but the real question is, how does the vodka taste? Charlie and I tried it for our podcast this week and I will say that while it wasn’t exactly good, it was not bad either. I can’t say for sure but my money is on this being a 100% corn vodka. The nose was strongly astringent; you can smell the alcohol and not much else. We tried it ice cold, neat and on first sip it had a surprisingly sweet taste with a strong vanilla flavor. But before you can even appreciate what you are tasting the alcohol comes in and burns away any flavor notes that might have been coming into focus. It wasn’t a hot burn but the ethyl flavor did take over the tongue and then lingered awhile after you swallowed. So not a sipping vodka for sure. Or course I can’t see why anyone would want to sip vodka in the first place, so I always follow up the tasting by making a cocktail with it. Vodka’s beauty comes from it’s ability to add alcohol to other flavors so to really test it you have to mix with it. In this case I made a vodka gimlet and here the Hank Birdwell’s performed much better. Mixed with fresh lime juice and simple syrup the ethyl flavor faded to the background but surprisingly the vanilla flavor came forward. It ended up being a much more enjoyable cocktail than I expected and lead me to upgrade my opinion of the vodka just a bit.

So should you give Hank Birdwell’s a shot? Like I said at the beginning, this is an $11 bottle of vodka and compared to other vodkas at that same price point it is perhaps slightly ahead of the curve. But if you have the money to spend, go ahead and spend a few dollars more to get some Tito’s.