Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whiskey Wednesday: New Finds and Old Favorites

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 9:47 AM

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My FedEx and UPS deliverymen must think I'm the biggest lush on earth. While they may be correct, I don't think they know I'm actually working when a few times a week I sign for those packages that require confirmation of age before delivery. They also probably don't know that most of the bottles in those boxes are actually just small 20- to 40-dram vials, about a shot or two. This also leads to the amusing situation where I often share some of these samples with other friends in the spirits business, pulling several small specimen bottle-looking vials out of my pocket and surreptitiously sniffing and swigging them in the corners of restaurants over lunch. All in the name of research, y'know ...

So what are some of the latest highlights to come across my transom? The list is long and varied:

Flavored whiskeys have become very popular of late, mainly owing to the wildfire popularity of Fireball cinnamon whiskey, which you Nashvillians (and some famous transplants) continue to consume by the barrel. After a run on honey and cinnamon flavors, the latest trend seems to be heading even sweeter.

Firefly Distillery is probably best known for their release of Sweet Tea Vodka a few years back. That product is perhaps too delicious and has led to more than one incident of overconsumption by friends of mine on a sunny day by the pool. I'm actually not much of a sweet-tea drinker myself, so I was never drawn to the vodka, but when they sent me a sample of their latest release, Sweet Tea Bourbon, I knew I had to try it out.

The bourbon comes from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, so you know they're starting out with at least a decent product. I wouldn't expect anyone to use the top-shelf aged whiskey if the plan was to flavor it, but the Firefly is certainly acceptable. Again, I'm not a sweet-tea fan, but I found this particular spirit to be very smooth and light on the palate. I normally drink my bourbon straight up, or maybe with a rock and a splash, but I wouldn't suggest that preparation for the Firefly since there's really not much benefit in allowing the bouquet to open up. But mixed with some lemonade or sour mix in a torqued-up Arnold Palmer? Yeah, that could work.

Another flavored whiskey that I sampled recently was one I wouldn't have guessed in advance that I would like, Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Flavored Whiskey. I hardly ever drink Canadian whiskey, mainly because there's so much good whiskey produced a lot closer to home. The idea of a younger blended whiskey that is heavier in rye than my preferred corn liqour just never drove my purchasing decision. But darned if this Black Velvet didn't turn out to be pretty tasty.

As an after-dinner snort on a crisp cool evening, it's actually not that bad. The toasted caramel is fairly well-balanced and doesn't overpower the fruity spiciness of the rye. Plus you can buy two bottles for the price of one of your traditional Kentucky bourbons. If you're looking for something to gift to a non-snobbish drinker whom you might want to introduce to the world of whiskey, you could do a lot worse.

On the higher end of the quality and price scale, two of my favorite distilleries have recently released new products that are worth checking out. I've been a George Dickel fan since before it was legal for me to do so, (statute of limitations?), but they haven't been known for a lot in the way of innovation. Their lineup of Tennessee whiskeys has been pretty static for years, but they recently announced that they are releasing a new rye product made in Indiana. Many great ryes come from the Hoosier state, and Dickel's ownership by Diageo probably encouraged them to look north for distilling expertise.

According to Dickel's master distiller John Lunn, George Dickel Rye is still chilled and charcoal-mellowed in the same way as Dickel's other products, just like they do it in Tullahoma. In fact, they even ship their own charcoal from Cascade Hollow to Indiana to ensure consistency in the Lincoln County Process. The result is a very nice golden amber 90-proof rye whiskey. The nose of this product has delicate fruity notes, and the unique flavor of rye comes through on the first taste. A long, spicy but not burning finish is quite pleasant when drunk neat or as part of a great Manhattan. At about $24.99 per bottle, this should be a popular product among my fellow Dickel aficionados and rye fans everywhere.

Finally, the highlight of my recent booze deliveries is a new product from Angel's Envy. I'm on record as being a fan of the original version of this fine bourbon which is aged in oak and then finished for 24 months in port barrels. Their latest innovation is a cask-strength edition which is available only in Nashville and certain stores in Kentucky. In fact, only 600 bottles of this product exist anywhere in the world, so I consider myself lucky for getting hold of one of those 2-ounce sample vials.

Uncut by water between the barrel and the bottle, Angel's Envy Cask Strength proofs out at about 121, or 60% alcohol by volume. That's stout, but the whiskey is surprisingly smooth. Unlike Booker's, which is a little hot for my tastes, Angel's Envy is not too harsh to drink out of a snifter. In fact, that's the best way to enjoy it so you can experience the dark amber color with flecks from the port barrels and the sweet oaky and vanilla notes of the nose. Even with the high ABV, this spirit has a soft mouthfeel and lovely sweet flavors of oak and a bit of spice from the high rye content.

With a suggested price north of $125 per bottle, this won't be my everyday whiskey. But it you have someone on your gift list who's been particularly nice, take advantage of the fact that we are one of the only markets to have access to this remarkable product.

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