Flash Blog: Rebel 10 Year Old Single Barrel


This post is part of a flash blog / mass blog / blog mob / flash mob organised by Steve Rush of the Whisky Wire, who kindly organised for samples to be sent out to the mob / the mass / the flashers (ok sorry I'll stop now).

It's part of range that includes whiskeys bottled without age statements, but presumably much closer to the four year mark that designates a Straight Bourbon. What with Kentucky being relatively hot and dry, spirits matured there come along much faster than they would in Scotland and releases with double digit ages are very much in the minority.

On top of that, this is an annual Single Barrel release, which means that, although the corn, wheat and malt mashbill are the same as last year's, and the process is the same, there will be subtle differences from year to year.

I have tasted some of the Rebel range before, so I consulted my notes, and hence what I'm describing now is very much in comparison with the 'standard' releases.

The nose is loud and proud Bourbon -  caramel, oak spice, sweetness, and I can see the family resemblance.

But the palate - Boom! - is much bigger and more punchy. It starts with a bold broad new oak spiciness. The spiciness builds (yes I did go and double check there isn't any Rye in the mashbill. It's that spicy) in the mid palate, along with a mouthcoating toffee sweetness, then the finish returns to fresh white oak.drying. new oak dryness.

The second taste is sweet and spicy (more sweetness than the first), with crème brûlée and cinder toffee. After a while I'm finding what seems like a grilled orange peel note, or perhaps orange oil that has been expressed onto grilled peaches - whatever it is, it's deliciously fruity.

In conclusion, this is an amped up version of the Rebel that places the oak front and centre and givs you something to chew on. A dram to contemplate and sip at your leisure.


Flash Blog: Yellowstone Select


Many years ago I worked in a caff. A moderately greasy spoon, where the chicken in a basket was deep frozen (and occasionally, still deep frozen when it reached the table). One of the weekly jobs was to swap over the five litre keg of cola syrup attached to the soft drinks dispenser, replacing the empty with a new, full one. That this was a once a week job will give you some idea of how concentrated said syrup was.

Smelling this dense liquid, it being the treacly quintessence of Coke, it was evident even to my naïve palate that an important aspect of cola is its citrus aspect. And yet even today I have to consciously look for that lime-y side of a glass of cola when it is delivered at the diluted, drinking strength.

None of the foregoing really has much to do with bourbon, except in two important points.

1) I nosed my glass of Yellowstone Select and smelled lime-y cola, and fell back through four decades to a time when I had only ever drunk Bells, or Grouse, or perhaps a stolen nip of Macallan Ten at Christmas time. When the height of sophistication would be to mix apple juice with Jack Daniels and call it Applejack.

Now, in my current job I taste a lot of liquids, in  many different categories. Whilst this is undeniably a lot of fun, it doesn't often provoke that kind of jaunt down memory lane. Whilst it's hardly a petite madeleine, this is definitely plus one to Yellowstone.

2) When I've finished with my tasting note for this glass of whiskey I'm going to take the rest of the sample of Yellowstone and mix it with Coke(1) and see where it takes me. I have high hopes.

So. Enough of the throat clearing and meandering preliminaries (as if this were some sort of recipe blog!)

This post is part of the flash blog organised by the Whisky Wire to taste and describe Yellowstone Select, a straight bourbon produced at the Limestone Branch distillery.

Yellowstone is a blend of four and seven year old straight bourbons, which is a decent age by American standards, if less impressive seeming in Scotland.

(Perhaps there ought to be something like dog years for whisk(e)y which isn't matured in a cold climate. Perhaps I should be looking at this and thinking, "ok, so a solid fifteen years maturation - in Kentucky years".)

On the nose there's the already mentioned citrus/lime aspect. Which, for me, shades rapidly into the plentiful coconut of Quercus Alba. It also promises sweetness. I can see a kind of icing sugar thing too.

Hah! The palate is much less sweet than I expected. Yes, there's a sweet fruit-syrup attack, but that very quickly gives way to dry, oaky spice, with menthol and cedar notes.

My initial conclusion is that this is a mixing bourbon. That dry spicy finish is crying out for a modifier or two.

And so on to the mini-Manhattan, which involves careful use of teaspoons and one small ice cube. (oh yes, and Cocchi and Regan's)

This. Is. Delicious. Lovely vibrant coconut vibes, icing sugar and Christmas spices. The Regan's orange bitters chimes(2) in alongside the whiskey, and the strong vanilla of the vermouth tempers the drying oak finish. 

And so my final conclusion—at least until I do the Yellowstone / Cola thing—is that this is a very good mixing bourbon, especially if you have a sweet tooth.

(1) Please. Hand crafted artisanal cola, obviously. I simply didn't want to disturb the flow of the narrative.

(2) Or should that be, "chime"? I really can't decide, but I wouldn't want you to think I hadn't considered both options.


Cider With Honeysuckle (and no Indole)

I'm working through all the episodes of the Neutral Cider Hotel podcast. In the one I listened to last night, No Quilt For You, Queenie, James from Little Pomona talked about an aroma that I've encountered in a different context this week. It seems that the planets were aligned last night, for I recently shared a magnum of the very cider he mentioned, and there is honeysuckle in the garden, and I had to hand a preview sample of the next vintage.
It took me a little while to get into the Neutral Cider Hotel. It's a very relaxed four way chat (plus guests), but, as is often the case with podcasts (probably due to the huge success of My Favourite Murder), there are an awful lot of in jokes, and incoherent wheezy laughter at said jokes. As the Hoteliers frequently say, they want the podcast to feel like talking to your mates in the pub. In any case, I'm now at the stage where I'm sitting at the next table over, sipping a glass of something from the Three Counties, and enjoying the blether. If you have an interest in cider you should go check it out. (Or go check in. Or listen to it. One of those.)
Old Man and the Bee is a cider Little Pomona have made for four vintages now. It uses fruit from their home orchard, and mostly avoids oak. It's an attempt to express as purely as possible the year and the place.

(That's a magnum I was very kindly given by James. No label, but, you know, gift horse / mouth, yeah?)

My first impression is of plumpness, a soft, rounded ripeness. There is indeed a creamy florality which is honeysuckle adjacent. It's close to the creaminess of honey on buttered toast, which I think is perhaps why Martin on the podcast was reminded of oak, as that's an aroma I occasionally find when a fruity spirit has been matured in an ex bourbon cask.

This is a dry cider, but it give a strong impression of sweetness, so ripe are the fruit flavours. Yellow apples, shading into nectarine, with honey and a soft woody note. The finish evolves some spice, rather like the clove aspect of humbugs.
I used the phrase honeysuckle adjacent because there's an aspect to honeysuckle which I'm certain would not be welcome in cider, and that's indole. 

Indole is what makes shit smell of shit, but a tiny touch of it lends an animalic or musk note to perfumes. And it's found in honeysuckle.

I was lucky enough to experience this for the first time last month, on a humid evening after a blazing hot day.

The previous day I'd tweeted my happiness at the huge spread of honeysuckle and someone with a deep knowledge of aroma replied to say I should look out for the Indole aspect of the flower. So I went back and had another long sniff and sure enough, what I'd thought was something dead and rotting in the bushes was in fact coming off the flowers. Indole.
The conclusion to—nay, the moral of—this story is of course that we should remember that all tasting notes are approximations, and partial ones at that. Old Man and the Bee has the sweet, creamy, rose-adjacent aspect of honeysuckle, but (thankfully) not the the indole. And the spice aspect of Old Man is nearer to clove than the sandalwood I find in honeysuckle.
I do believe that's why we end up with the kind of word salad being gently mocked by Fake Booze this week, as an honest attempt to capture every aspect of a tasty drink ends up being more like what happens when you mix all of the paints on your palette.
If you like the sound of Old Man and the Bee you can grab a bottle from the Little Pomona webshop here.


Horse Chestnuts

Back in 2019 I learned from twitter that horse chestnuts are not just on trees, they're also on horses. I read a couple of blog posts, including this one, about the equine version, and then, seeing as I'm lucky enough to know some folk who are very horsy, I acquired some horse chestnuts.

They look like very thick chunks of dried skin. You could even mistake them for some sort of mineral (or perhaps a growth on a tree, heh).

Don't you think that looks awfully like a piece of flint? Of course, to touch it's much more like leather, but the appearance!

They grow on the back of horses legs, and when they're big enough they'll fall off, or be picked off in the course of grooming.

They're pretty stinky, but, for someone who is interested in aroma, they're also oddly compelling - kind of the way triple salted liquorice gets me: I think it's horrible, yet I can't help but want another piece.

I cut up some bits from four different horses, and put them into grain neutral spirit. I didn't have any plan for the resulting liquid, I just though it would be an interesting thing to do.

At this point I suppose a perfumer would go ahead and make up a blend or two, but I'm not a perfumer, I'm a drinks retailer, so instead I made some notes on the aromas. You'll be relieved to know I didn't absent-mindedly sip any of the liquids.

The base note across all four samples was waxed jackets (the UK brand I'm thinking of would be Barbour). All four also had an animalic, sweaty aroma, although, interestingly, in two of them this was unpleasant whereas in the other two it was really rather nice.

As I say, I'm not a perfumer, but I do think that a small fraction of horse chestnut could well add a leathery, animal note to a perfume.

If you're interested in flavour or aroma, I can most definitely recommend trying this for yourself. At the very least it's an excuse to go look at a horse.

My notes on four horse chestnut extracts

Martini (a nine year old)
Waxed jackets. It evolved a sour cheesy note, which reminded me of what you taste when you put the rind of a parmesan into a sauce, and once it's soft you eat it. Left in the glass the off notes vanished leaving a pleasant waxy-leathery aroma.

Yogi (a thirty-plus year old Shetland pony)
Stinky and cheesy, but also sweet. The most unpleasant of the four, and the least waxy-leathery.

Polar (a seven year old)
Hay-grassy & waxed jackets. Over time the grassy note went, to be replaced by the baseline waxed jacket note. The most pleasant of the four.

Unknown Horse #4
This one was the mildest of the samples. Alongside or over the baseline Barbour jacket there was a lifted, menthol, or mint note (or at least, something that tickles the nostrils). Over time an earthy note appeared.


Pure Dead Cramant

I recently attended a lunch event with Hervé Jestin of Champagne Leclerc Briant.

We tasted four of their wines, and he spoke at length about how they are made, and about biodynamic viticulture, and about Champagne. One of the ideas raised, which I didn't really understand, was the notion that the dosage for a champagne should speak to the wine, otherwise it won't benefit the finished product. He demonstrated this by sitting a glass of champagne on its side on a metal plinth which was connected by a wire to a pair of antennae which he then held over some sugar - there was no reaction or reading on the scale attached to the antennae, because the sugar had nothing to say to the wine. I didn't understand, but it surely was interesting.

The point of this was, I believe, to explain why Leclerc Briant is moving towards zero dosage wine making, and indeed to zero sulphur winemaking. On of the things that M. Jestin said was, "I want to train the wine to discuss with oxygen". And of course, until the relatively recent past, all wine making was done without the "benefit" of sulphur, so in a sense, M. Jestin merely wants to go back to the old ways. As I say, I don't really get biodynamic viticulture, but I do know that pretty much without exception I enjoy the end product, so I'm very happy to see more such wines.

The wines we tasted were the Brut Réserve, Extra Brut Premier Cru, Abyss, and Pure Cramant. They were all of very high quality, albeit very pricey. The Abyss didn't speak to me, but I thought the other three wines were complex, and I particularly enjoyed the fine mousse they all exhibited.

I want to single out the Pure Cramant in particular, as being a wine at the very edge of champagne-making: 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from Cramant, fermented in used oak, unfined, unfiltered, five years sur lattes and then bottled with zero dosage and zero sulphur. And the result? A big, rounded, lush, ripe wine, as pure an expression of white and yellow stone fruit as you could wish for. My tasting notes also mention cranberries and 'something balsamic'. Wonderful wine. But, paradoxically, my enduring taste memory of it is of a warm, pink, lively, ripeness. Pink fruit, not white or yellow. It has somehow evolved in my memory into something approaching the Platonic ideal of rosé champagne.

Can one attribute that complexity, that evolving taste memory, to the biodynamic viticulture? I've no idea, but it surely was lovely.

More on Pure Cramant here.


A Negative Tasting Note

My main interest in writing about booze is trying to capture flavours in words. This is, of course, a doomed enterprise, but it has the merit of being entertaining (and offers the side benefit of occasionally getting me sloshed).

Over the years I have tinkered with many different structures or schemas or layouts for tasting notes, from many different sources, which aim to help one record various aspects of a drink's flavours, but I don't think I've ever come across anybody advocating the negative tasting note - recording everything that a drink isn't.

(I should say that I'm not sure that it's all that helpful in itself, but I certainly find it useful as part of a larger descriptive effort. Absences can define a presence, to an extent)

So, here it is, a negative tasting note for

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Millstone 6 Year Old, 48.9%

Not smoky.
Not estery.
Not malty.
Not dry.
Not dirty.
Not faint.
Not feinty.
Not soft.
Not stony.
Not grassy.
Not purple.
Not green.
Not yellow.
Not floral.

Not light.
Not dry.
Not soft.
Not malty.
Not spicy.
Not fruity.
Not raw.
Not green.
Not yellow.
Not sour.
Not bitter.
Not oily.
Not coffee.
Not sherry.
Not vanilla.
Not bacon.
Not diesel.

Frustrating, isn't it? And yet accurate.


Knightor Trevannion 2016

I tasted this as part of a "West Coast Wines" themed evening for Sweet Wine Wednesday. I dithered for quite a while between this wine and a Camel Valley Bacchus. I know, I know, I should have gone for the other, seeing as it's located that bit closer to the Atlantic, but on the few occasions I've had Bacchus I've not been particularly impressed.

Knightor are a small outfit located close to the Eden Project and St Austells. The current farm dates to the mid 19th century, but their website says that there are references to the property dating to 1305. (Not particularly relevant if your vines were only planted in 2006, but on the other hand probably quite appealing in a wedding venue.) They say they have 17000 vines, but I can't tell from the tone of their website if this is a way of saying they're really getting big, or that they're really boutique.

Trevannion is a blend of Siegerrebe and Schonberger, two pink skinned varietals. Siegerrebe is a 1929 cross of Madelaine Angevine and Savagnin Rose. It's favoured for cool climates - there's even some grown in Denmark, according to the big book of grapes. Schonberger is another cross, of Pinot Noir and Pirovano I, and in turn Pirovano I is a cross of Chasselas Rose and Muscat of Hamburg. (Is this too much grape breeding information?)

We're told that both varieties were picked when very ripe. They were cool fermented separately in stainless steel, then left on the lees for eight months before blending and bottling.

My initial impression is a very strong aroma memory of some rather rustic vin gris from the middle Loire - a wine which I remember being rather rustic but extremely gluggable.

The nose is fresh and fairly aromatic, with rose petals (or tinned lychees if you prefer), which evolves into a fairly elegant perfume, perhaps something like soap

The palate is strongly aromatic and off dry, with a subtle Muscat or Gewurz-like spiciness. The finish is long and warming, if a little simple.

Over time the wine becomes more floral, but this is probably just me over-chilling it.

Just like that Loire vin gris, this stuff is stupendously gluggable. And well worth the £19 I paid for it. If you see this one, I urge you to buy it. And don't over-chill it.

Wine Trivia!
That vin gris which the Trevannion called to mind was from the valley of Le Loir, a river which flows into La Sarthe, which in turn joins La Loire. The appellation is the (mostly deservedly) obscure Coteaux-du-vendômois. But very gluggable.