Monday, July 29, 2019

Bringing Down The Rack House

David gave us a great presentation along with the drams.
We gathered on the evening of the hottest day in British history to, appropriately enough, try a range of whiskeys - with an e - many originating from America's sweltering south. Club member David was leading a tasting for the first time, and he had some fruits of a recent business trip to New Jersey to share with us, along with other bottles more readily available over here.

The first two.

With the relaxation of some state licensing rules over recent years, it's become much easier to start a distillery, which has led to a range of smaller, craft places springing up. It seemed a good opportunity to pit some of those newer contenders against the old guard of Kentucky.

And it was in Kentucky that we began, in Muhammad Ali's hometown of Louisville for a bottle of Mellow Corn from one of the established big names, Heaven Hill. This certainly had the flavour of corn about it, along with cereals and vanilla. The tasting notes suggested plantain which seemed a fair shout too. At just 4yo it was a bit harsh, and tasted all of its 50%, although at £32.59 it wasn't bad value (it's much cheaper if you get it in the US, apparently).

We stayed with Heaven Hill for dram number two, Bernheim Original. This is a novelty as the first wheat whiskey launched in the US since prohibition. And very nice it is too, with a long finish. Some drinkers thought this was more subtle than the Mellow Corn, others that it was more flavourful, while the tasting notes of sour cherry and orange peel were about right. It's 45% and £55.

The next two.
It was time for an old school bourbon next, in the shape of Booker's True Barrel Bourbon (Batch 2018-01E). This series has been going for three decades, initially featuring bottles selected by Booker Noe, then the master distiller, and now carried on by his son (Booker's being a small batch offshoot of Jim Beam, so we're still with the big names here). It's 63.7% and it certainly takes your nose hair off when you first get close to it. Certainly not delicate, quite the opposite in fact, and maybe even more "dangerous" with water according to some in the room. It's £65.

We swapped Kentucky for Seattle with whisky number four, Westland Peated. Now owned by Remy Cointreau, there's possibly a family resemblance to stablemates Bruichladdich. Cigarette ash, tobacco in general plus a sprinkling of black pepper with this, all very distinctive. It comes in at 46% and costs £66.

Bottles five and six.
After a half-time break for a much needed recharge of our glasses at the bar of the Britons Protection, it was back upstairs to see what David had in store for us from his trip Stateside. Jersey Spirits Crossroads was dram five, a bottling that is very new indeed, and believed to be the first aged bourbon produced in New Jersey since, yes, prohibition. We thought this was lovely and smooth. It's $37 for a half bottle, although it's not available online so you have to get it in person. It's 43.5%.

Next was the first of two bottles from the Silk City distillery. The first was a two-grain bourbon, 49% of which was oat. This was familiar but bold, we thought, with tasting notes including cloves, an oily spiciness and even cola. Medicinal then mellow, the distillery told David it's more popular with older drinkers. It's 45% and, again in a half bottle, costs about $52 and is not widely available outside New Jersey.

Seven and eight.
A second offering from Silk City came next, their millet whiskey, millet being a grain not often used in distilling. This certainly polarised the room. "It tastes like a mix of bourbon and mouthwash" suggested someone, and there was certainly something fresh and minty about it, or perhaps eucalyptus and herbal. Plenty of the members enjoyed it though. It's 45% again (I haven't written down how much it was, but if you find a bottle somehow, you should probably get it because you may very well not see another!).

The eighth bottle was an Irish-style pot still whiskey, from the All Points West distillery, again in New Jersey. In many ways a deliberate throwback to 19th century production processes, this gave us a real mix of flavours including milk chocolate, raspberries and even Easter eggs. Something of a missing link between bourbon and Irish or Scottish whiskies, this is only eight months old and was really incredible. It's 46% and you can get a full bottle for $50 if you happen to be passing.

The winner!
Nine bottles in a night may be a Manchester Whisky Club record, and David ensured we finished the evening off in some style. We were back in Louisville, Kentucky for something from the McLain and Kyne distillery. The bottle we were being treated to was none other than Jefferson's Grand Selection, Chateau Pichon Baron cask finish. It's 45% and is probably well worth every penny of the £125 price tag. Each of the Grand Selection range gets a finish in some wine casks, and on this occasion it's a Bourdeaux red.

All I've written is "This is the big dram of the night. Smells amazing! We all think this is terrific," which I'm sure sums it up pretty well. I was actually fairly certain it would win the dram of the night voting but it got edged out by the equally brilliant All Points West, which got 11 out of 30.

Huge thanks go to David for really going the extra mile, quite literally (he showed us the maps of his Uber rides around New Jersey!) to get us some excellent whiskeys to try, for all members and their guests for braving the baking heat to attend, and to everyone at the Britons for hosting us once again.

The first six ready to go at the start of the night.

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