Oh Taste & See: Carvalho Ribeiro & Ferreira "Brandy 1920" Portuguese Brandy

Hit the brakes! This ain't no whiskey! If you're a frequent visitor to my blog you know that I rarely review spirits that aren't whiskey, but this is something I got not too long ago simply because I saw it and had never seen it before. It turned out to be some pretty darn good brandy so I thought it would be worth a review here.

Brandy 1920 is bottled by the Symington Family which also owns such famous Port wine brands as Graham's, Dow's, and Cockburn's. They obviously know what they're doing with Portuguese grapes, and I guess they quietly turn some of their wine into brandy and let it age for a good long time as evidenced by this rich & oaky example. The only real information I have on this is what's on the bottle - it claims to be fine & old and 80.4 proof, so we'll go with that and jump right into the tasting.

Color: Brandy 1920 is a beautiful dark, polished cherry-wood color. It's crystal clear, but quite thick-looking with gold highlights around the edge of the glass.

Nose: Brandy 1920 has an initial aroma of dusty oak and is just slightly boozy. It reminds me of an old dusty workshop with co-mingled smells of wood, earth, and varnish. There is a hint of red wine aroma, apple pie spices, and hot caramel syrup. Over time the boozy notes shift to a more pleasant orange zest essence.

Flavor: Brandy 1920 is thick and luxurious in texture. The flavors are mostly really dark, ripe fruits - grapes, blackberries, plums. It's also got a good amount of oak flavor with a nutty/caramel vibe coming and going. This really does have that unique "rancio" flavor of older spirits - bordering on funky but just fruity enough to be enjoyable. Like a really really ripe apple that wouldn't be good tomorrow but is nice today.

Finish: The finish is very smooth and pretty quick. The nutty flavors linger but the oak and fruit flavors clear out pretty quickly.

I don't have much experience with Portuguese brandies, but this one is nice. I paid under $20 for a 1-liter bottle, and at that price it can hold its own in terms of value against any Spanish brandies or cognacs that I've had recently. Another case of 'if you happen to see it - get it.'


Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Better late than never I say with my final Irish whiskey review of the St. Paddy's season! Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey (KC16) is more-or-less a 2 years older version of the KC14 that I wrote about last week. It's a triple-distilled all-malted-barley Irish whiskey that was aged first in ex-bourbon barrels and then finished in Oloroso Sherry wood. It's a limited production product, and just as hard to find as the KC14, but at scarcity-induced prices of $75 to $100 depending on where you get it can it possibly be worth the premium over the $46 Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old that was just devine? Also, not to be a grump, but when a bottle gets over about $50 I start to lose interest if it's bottled at a standard 80 proof. Not that there's anything wrong with 80 proof if that's where a given whiskey shows off its best flavors, but I usually think going with 80 proof is more a sign of laziness or of going with whatever is available rather than a conscious choice driven by the character of the liquid. When I'm paying big bucks I want to know that I'm paying for a fully thought-out whiskey.

Color: KC16 is a nice, full, caramel brown color with rather thick, sticky legs. You can certainly see the two years of extra age compared to the KC14, and the slightly lower proof may account for the thicker look.

Nose: Initially the nose is very earthy and malty with just a hint of ethanol that I didn't detect in the other two Knappogue Castle whiskeys I sampled. I gradually picked up dried apricots, ripe dark fruits, and oaky vanilla notes. The vapory ethanol aroma was really somewhere between ethanol and citrus zest, and it disappeared after sitting out for a bit anyway. After adding a splash of water the nose didn't change much, just got fainter.

Flavor: This KC16 is certainly the "oakiest" of the Knappogue Castle range, with rich bourbon-barrel flavors of vanilla, brown sugar, and cinnamon. There are also some light grain flavors like wheat-y bread, and bit of orange zest after a few sips. Adding water makes the flavor a bit sweeter and fruitier and brings out the white grape juice flavor that I found so unique in the younger Knappogue Castle whiskeys.

Finish: The finish is clean and relatively short with no burn and not much lingering flavor. Just a bit of that citrus flavor that kicks around for a bit.

Overall this KC16 is a top notch Irish Whiskey that stands apart from the crowd in all the right ways. The only downside is that the KC12 and KC14 whiskeys do the same thing at much lower price points, so finding the value in this one is a bit trickier. If you happen across it and feel like splurging though, you won't be disappointed.


Oh Taste & See: Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey

And the names just keep getting longer! The next Irish Whiskey up in my St. Patrick's Day run-up has a name almost as long as the 14 years it has spent in barrels. Knappogue Castle 14 Year Old Twin Wood Single Malt Irish Whiskey (KC14) is an older, sherry-finished whiskey from the same folks who brought us the Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey (KC12). It has some of the same delicate, fruity notes that I loved so much in the KC12, but is a bit woodier and has some heavier, darker fruit flavors owing to the use of oloroso sherry barrels in addition to ex-bourbon barrels. At 92 proof and non-chill-filtered, the KC14 is also a bit stronger and more 'untamed'.

Color:  KC14 is a clean golden wheat color. It's remarkably sharp and bright looking with medium legs when you give it a swirl.

Nose: At first the nose is a bit scarce with light honey, oak, and citrus notes just peaking through. Given a few minutes aromas of malt, wet grain, and buttered corn start to come out. After a few sips the nose continues to move from light and fruity to an earthier vibe, and after adding a splash of water it gets downright musty - like entering a wood-paneled room that has been closed off for a while. If you haven't experienced a whiskey that changes in the glass with time and water this is a good showcase for that.


Upcoming Whiskey Event In Philly

I just came across this event and it sounds like a good chance to taste a bunch of whiskeys for just $40...2014 Whiskey Rebellion Philadelphia

There isn't much info about the format, and the TLA is not what I think of as the ideal venue for a good whiskey tasting, but the Boston event put on by the same people was extremely well-received, so maybe it's worth checking out if you're in Philly on April 13th.


Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey

For my second Irish whiskey review heading into St. Patrick's day (there are at least two more coming soon...) I'm reviewing Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey (KC12). That's a mouthful of a name, but it's worth remembering because each part of that long name tells you something about this unique whiskey. Also it is very much a mouthful of a whiskey - one of the most flavorful and interesting Irish whiskeys I've had in a while.

Like most traditional Irish whiskeys, KC12 is triple-distilled which serves to give it a cleaner, lighter, more refined starting point than your average Scotch which is only distilled twice. It's aged for 12 years in used bourbon barrels which is also very traditional for Irish whiskey. Unlike most most mainstream Irish whiskeys KC12 is a single malt - meaning it's 100% whiskey made from malted barley as opposed to a blend of whiskeys made from malted barley, un-malted barley, and sometimes other grains like wheat or corn. Being a single malt, this is a bit pricier than many Irish whiskeys at about $46 per bottle, but compared to single malt Scotches of the same age that's a bargain, and for my money this is much more interesting than most Scotch at the same price point. Knappogue Castle also stands apart from most Irish whiskeys because there is no caramel coloring added. Because of this you may notice a slight variation in color from bottle-to-bottle, but I appreciate the distiller giving us an honest look at the whiskey's natural color.


Oh Taste & See: Clontarf 1014 Irish Whiskey

St. Paddy's day is coming, and will hopefully bring spring weather with it. Although I'm not a big Irish Whiskey drinker I do like to try a few this time of year, especially since their lighter flavors tend to go well with the arrival of spring and make for a nice break after a winter of rich, heavy bourbons and Scotches.

Clontarf 1014 is a whiskey that's been around for a few years, but is still not super common in bars or liquor stores - at least in my area. This is the first time I've tried it, and I have been pleasantly surprised with a more complex dram than you'd expect from a $20 Irish blend. The name was a bit clunky to get used to since I couldn't figure out what the 1014 stood for, but after a little research I now know that it was the year that the Vikings were driven from Ireland - sounds to me like something worthy of a celebratory drink!

Color: Clontarf 1014 has a deep, honey-amber color with light legs. It's a bit dusty or opaque when you hold it up to the light, giving it a nice weighty look in the glass.

Nose: When you have this whiskey neat, the nose is mostly solvent and boozy smells. You can pick up some grain notes and faint honey and lemon rind. Water brings out a bit more oak and honey, but it really opens up with a cube or two of ice. Once it chills you lose the boozy solvent aromas in favor of some good malty heft that's much more interesting.


Oh Taste & See: Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch

Over the past few years Prohibition themed bars, cocktails, TV shows and even clothing styles have taken America by storm. From the smash success of Boardwalk Empire to the popularity of 'moonshine' style white whiskeys, if it can be related to Prohibition it seems to be a big seller. Not to be left out, some of the most venerable names in whisky are drawing on their history to bring us whiskies inspired by Prohibition-era styles.

The latest entry in the Prohibition niche is Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch. Traditionally, Cutty Sark is a solid, if oft-overlooked blend here in the U.S. and it has certainly fallen off the public's radar a bit since the time when it was LBJ's favorite tipple at the White House. With Prohibition Edition (or Cutty Pro as they're calling it for short), Cutty Sark is breathing some fresh life into the brand and bringing us a unique, full-flavored blended whisky at a very reasonable price point (about $30/bottle).


Bar Hopping: Bainbridge Street Barrel House, Philadelphia, PA

I recently made my second visit to Bainbridge Street Barrel House (BSBH) at 6th & Bainbridge in Philadelphia's Queen Village neighborhood. This spacious corner bar opened about a year ago and has since become a popular spot for folks in the immediate neighborhood, if not a destination for the city at-large. So far, reviews of the Barrel House have been lukewarm, mostly because the gastro-pub scene has become so competitive. Given the somewhat inflated prices and my ho-hum experience with BSBH's cheeseburger, I would also recommend other nearby spots ahead of this one for food and maybe even beer (although with 25 taps and a family connection to Bella Vista Beer Distributors, the Barrel House can put together a great beer list when they want to). However, if you're looking for a low key neighborhood joint to enjoy a few fine whiskeys at fair prices, this is your spot.

I won't bore you with a long list of the bourbons, ryes, and Scotches they have on offer since they do the very kind favor of posting their list here, including prices! I will however point out a few gems that would stand out on a whiskey list anywhere, but are especially surprising to see here in Pennsylvania where the PLCB makes life oh so difficult. First, they have not one but two different George T. Stagg releases (2010 & 2011). They also have Bowman Brother's bourbon, aged in Virginia, and a $6 dram of W.L. Weller. These are just not things you expect to find in a neighborhood gastro-pub in Philly, and while bourbon is the obvious focus, there's also a nice balance of rye, Scotch, and Irish with rare (Ledaig 10 Year Sherry Cask) and bargain (Paddy's for $5) options alike.

Philly has a ton of awesome bars and can go toe-to-toe with any city for bar food and beer selection. Most of these bars however don't show the hand of a true whiskey aficionado at work when you look at their back-bar - Bainbridge Street Barrel House does, and it manages to do the beer and food thing well enough too. All without putting on airs or being anything more than a neighborhood pub where you can bring your friends, have a snack, drink a beer, watch a football game...and get a slug or two of Pappy Van Winkle or A.H. Hirsch if you're feeling so inclined.


Oh Taste & See: Glen Moray 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch

This is a bottle of Scotch that I came across up in Massachusetts and since I had never seen it before and it was priced right (around $39) I decided to pick it up. After a bit of research I discovered that it's apparently more popular in Australia than here in the U.S. I've always thought Aussies were pretty good at drinking, so maybe that's a good sign.

Glen Moray is a pretty straightforward, bourbon cask aged, Speyside single malt that doesn't hit you too hard with any particular flavor. It makes for a fair-priced crowd-pleaser or an easy stepping stone for someone looking to ease from blended Scotch into single malts.

Color: The color is right in the middle of the whiskey color range - not quite straw pale but not quite golden honey. The poet in me would say it looks like a wheat field at sunset in that it's light and grainy colored but with a splash of orange settling over it. Given that's it's only 12 years old I'm guessing this nice color is achieved by adding a bit of caramel coloring.

Nose: This Scotch has a pretty clean nose with just a hint of peat smoke as the first impression. The smokiness is like a clean backwoods creek in the morning - dew, damp earth, and just a hint of fish. There are also hints of honey, walnuts, caramel, and baked pie crusts tucked in here and they come out more when you add a bit of water.

Flavor: The Glen Moray 12 Year Old has a medium-rich body with flavors of honey, lemon candy, and something a bit grainy like raw sweet corn. After adding water it gets more buttery with butter cookie flavors similar to the pie crust aroma I picked up in the nose.

Finish: The finish of this 80 proof whisky is very smooth with no burn and a gentle fade from smoky to salty to earthy.

Overall, this is a straightforward, balanced, uncomplicated single malt that sips a lot like a good blended Scotch. It's not going to impress your peat-hound friends or anyone who likes a punch-in-the-mouth whisky, but if you want a nice single malt that will please a crowd it seems like a good way to go.


Oh Taste & See: Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Bourbon

I have accumulated a few bottles recently that warrant review, so without further ado I'll jump right into the first one: Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Bourbon. The Old Fitzgerald lineup of bourbons is made by Heaven Hill Distilleries, the maker of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, etc. Old Fitz is an old name that's a fairly common bargain brand in some areas (I picked up this bottle in Chicago for about $15) and almost unheard of in others - I don't think I've ever seen it in PA, NJ, or DE for example.

The entire Old Fitz lineup, which includes at least four variants, is made with a 'whisper of wheat' instead of using rye as the secondary grain. As with most wheated bourbons you should expect a somewhat lighter, smoother-drinking bourbon as compared to bourbons made with rye. Other wheated bourbons include Maker's Mark, the Weller lineup from Buffalo Trace Distillery, and the much-hyped Pappy Van Winkle bourbons.