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Angel's Envy Bourbon
There has been a lot of buzz about Angel’s Envy Bourbon since it was announced last year. This is the first expression for Louisville Distilling Company which was started by the father and son team of Lincoln and Wes Henderson, respectively. Lincoln brings a wealth of knowledge from his days at Woodford Reserve and Old Forester.

While they do plan to distill their own whiskey this first product is Bourbon bought on the open market. All the whiskey is at least four years old, however, rumors report that the majority of the stock is five to seven years old. What makes Angel’s Envy unique is that after the Bourbon was purchased 40% of it was finished in port barrels for three to six months to round out the finish.

The first thing you’ll notice about Angel’s Envy is its beautiful packaging; it is refreshing to see them push the boundaries of what Bourbons look like. Angel’s Envy is bottled at a 86.6 proof but tastes like it has a higher proof. This might be why they choose to bottle at that proof rather than following the current trend by going 90+.

There is an initial bite that gives way to nice fruit notes mixed with vanilla. It has a creamy texture and as the finish lingers you can taste the influence of the port oak. It is a very enjoyable Bourbon and I really appreciate how the port barrels tamed this young and lively whiskey.

I’m looking forward to trying some cocktails with it.

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Oriental Cocktail from the Savoy Cocktail Book

Oriental Cocktail made with Leopold Bros. American Orange Liqueur

I was discussing various orange liqueurs with fellow blogger and Left Coast Libations co-author Michael Lazar when Leopold Bros. American Orange Liqueur came up. Michael impressed upon me that it was a fine product and it made a mean Oriental cocktail. 

This piqued my interest as the Oriental is one of the better finds in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail book from 1930. The Oriental is an intriguing cocktail that has a rare pairing of rye whiskey and lime juice, a combination that is not often found.

Following a more modern adaptation of the Oriental but substituting the Cointreau for Leopold Bros. American Orange Liqueur definitely awakens a different side of this cocktail. The American Orange has a powerful floral side that nicely pairs orange blossoms with the lime juice. An appealing combination that might seem better paired with gin but works wonderfully with the rye.

Oriental, American Orange version

  • 1 ½ oz Rye whiskey
  • ¾ oz Sweet vermouth
  • ¾ oz Leopold Bros American Orange Liqueur
  • ½ oz Lime juice

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. The Oriental does not call for a garnish but adding a little visual flair never hurts.

 

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Bittered Sling

Bittered Sling

The first Armagnac cocktail I ever tried was at Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco, CA. Heaven’s Dog bar manager Erik Adkins (who happens to be on of my favorite bartenders) had placed an unassuming cocktail on the menu called the Bittered Sling.

First, a little bit of cocktail history: a sling predates the cocktail and by basic definition is comprised of spirits, water and sugar. A cocktail is nearly identical but with the addition of bitters. When the cocktail first came onto the scene it was described as a “bittered sling.”

Erik’s interpretation was a cocktail with Armagnac, sugar, (presuming Erik probably uses gum syrup), bitters stirred over a hand cut ice block and garnished with some nutmeg on top. Armagnac was a delightful choice to highlight this deceptively simple cocktail. Readers with a keen eye will note this is not all that different from an Old Fashioned, but with a more classic garnish, nutmeg. The Bittered Sling can also be easily adapted to use other spirits, rye whiskey, in particular, works quite well.

To give this cocktail a whirl at home you’re going to need to buy some Armagnac. Depending on where you live this may prove to be difficult. Once you start to research, you will find that there is a lot of really expensive Armagnac out there, most of these are extra aged products that are better suited to drinking neat than in a cocktail. I recommend looking for Tariquet Classique or Marie Duffau Napolean, both are quite lovely on their own and not too expensive ($35 US). If you can’t find anything in your local stores you can try ordering online from a place like K&L Wines.

The next thing that gives this cocktail a touch of class is the ice. There’s nothing wrong with your usual ice but if you really want to impress your guests try one of the following. You can hand cut ice blocks like Erik does at Heaven’s Dog or buy these awesome extra large silicone ice cube trays from Tovolo. If you want to give hand cutting a try there is a simpler way then how the pros do it, massive ice block or chainsaw not required. Take a Tupperware or Gladware plastic container and fill it with water then freeze it. Once frozen, press your ice block out of the mold and onto some sort of cutting surface that has towel on it. Next, take a very sharp and sizable kitchen knife and carefully chop at the block where you want to cut it. It takes some practice but you’ll find that you can get a pretty clean cut with minimal chipping of the ice. Be warned, small ice bits may be propelled to various corners of your kitchen.

What I like most about this cocktail is how it highlights the Armagnac and how well that Armagnac plays with the nutmeg.

The Bittered Sling

  • 2 oz Armagnac
  • ¼ – ½ oz Simple Syrup or Gum/ Syrup*
  • 2 dashes bitters (angostura works, but feel free to experiment)
  • Garnish with nutmeg on top

Stir ingredients over ice, if you’re using a large ice block you will need to stir longer. Stirring is the key to making this drink correctly, with so few ingredients getting the appropriate level of ice melt is crucial. Lastly, using a microplanner, grate some nutmeg over the top.

*I often make my simple syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar) from turbinado sugar which yields a very rich syrup. This is why I only use ¼ oz, however you may find you will need up to ½ oz depending on your syrup. Gum syrup is a simple syrup which has gum arabic added to it, the resulting syrup gives a fuller mouthfeel. If you have access to it Small Hand Foods makes a great gum syrup.

 

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The classic Sazerac cocktail

Today being Mardi Gras it seemed appropriate to celebrate with a traditional New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac. I took the opportunity to see how the new Bulleit Rye Whiskey worked in this classic libation.

Sazerac

  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey (Bulleit Rye)
  • 1/4 oz – 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Peychauds Bitters
  • Absinthe rinse (Kübler)

Stir the rye whiskey, bitters and simple syrup for a good 60 revolutions. Take a chilled cocktail glass and rinse the glass with about 1/4 oz absinthe (or Herbsaint). Discard the absinthe then strain the cocktail into the glass. Express the oils of a lemon peel over the cocktail.

Simple as it may be the Sazerac can be a tricky cocktail to make correctly. Technique is often debated with the most contentious aspect being what to do with the lemon peel. Some say it’s sacrilegious to drop the peel into the drink while others think it’s completely acceptable. Personally I drop it in for a nice garnish.

How did the Bulleit Rye fair? Quite well, it was indeed one fine Sazerac. I was surprised how much the Bulleit Rye’s unique qualities of spice and sweetness showed through into the cocktail.

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Bulleit Rye and High West Double Rye Bottles

What’s a rye fan to do? Demand for rye whiskey is so high that the top three brands struggle to meet supply. These days when Rittenhouse 100, Wild Turkey Rye 101 or Sazerac appear in a store they sell out in days. I wonder if things might be easier in Kentucky but here in California rye lovers are buying cases to keep themselves stocked through the dry periods. This just makes the situation worse for casual buyers looking to experience rye whiskey.

Luckily Bulleit and High West have answered the call by releasing new ryes that just hit store shelves in California. Welcome newcomers to a market that is desperate for quality products.

Bulleit Rye is only the second product in their portfolio, a welcome addition to their popular bourbon, which is produced by Four Roses. It features a high rye content, a quality that makes it one of my go-to bourbons. When word first hit that they would be making a rye everyone was curious if Four Roses might be producing it for them, (wouldn’t that be cool?). It looks like Bulleit has sourced their rye from LDI, (Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana), similar to a few other ryes on the market. Bulleit showcases LDI’s familiar 95% rye 5% malted barley mashbill that is reportedly aged four to seven years. At 95 proof it should make a good alternative to other overproof ryes for cocktails.

On the palate the Bulleit Rye offers some nice upfront spice, the flavor settling shows a nice oak maturation. It strikes a nice balance of showcasing the wild spirit of a young rye upfront with a well-rounded finish of a more aged product. Hovering around $22 this will most likely become the go-to rye for bartenders when the usual suspects are sold out. I found the product quite enjoyable to sip and I look forward to making cocktails with it.

High West brings us Double Rye, their second all rye blend released to complement their Rendezvous Rye. Double Rye blends a 2-year rye with a 95% rye mashbill (sound familiar?) and a 16-year rye that is reported to have a 53% rye mashbill. It is rumored that the 16-year rye used in this blend is not the same whiskey that is in the Rendezvous or High West’s 16-year rye. The 2-year rye is also sourced from LDI, a fact that will no doubt leave rye geeks questioning if it’s  the same stock that is used in another rye on the market: Redemption Rye. The Redemption is a 2-year rye with an identical mashbill that is also sourced from LDI.

I believe this is where High West’s proprietor David Perkins’ talent comes in. There is a reason Malt Advocate awarded him the prestigious Pioneer of the Year award. Having sampled Redemption I found it’s an excellent product for its young age, but it’s profile lacked to make it something I would buy on a regular basis. Taking a stellar but young rye and finishing it off with a more aged product sounds so right it’s a wonder no one else thought of it before.

Sampling off the cuff with no comparison the Double Rye reminded me of Templeton Rye but shared similarities with Redemption, too. I found the whiskey very floral with a bit of spice but the finish is mellow, hinting of caramel and vanilla. This is truly a rye that stands on its own with unique characteristics, a welcome addition to my collection. It’s no wonder Malt Advocate has already given this a rating of 93. At $32 a bottle, it’s High West’s most affordable product but maybe a tad expensive to be a everyday mixing rye.

Overall, it was a great day to be a rye fan, a Christmas in March. With its price point, Bulleit Rye looks to become my go-to cocktail rye when Rittenhouse 100 is not available. Variety is the spice of life, for that reason alone I will always keep a bottle of Double Rye on hand. Another great foray from High West, I look forward to many more of their great products. I would recommend either of these products for rye aficionados.

 

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For whiskey fans Malt Advocate magazine is a trusted source for news and reviews for everything in the Whiskey world. Every year John Hansell the man behind Malt Advocate unveils the prestigious Malt Advocate whiskey awards. Much like the oscars, the winners are often expected, celebrated and of course, controversial.

Rendezvous Bottle

No award this year caused more controversy than the Pioneer Of The Year award which went to David Perkins from High West. High West made quite a splash in the whiskey world with their High West Rendezvous rye whiskey in 2008. At the time it was a bold new offering on the market, it was a blend of a 6 year old rye with a mashbill that was 95% rye and a 16 year rye with a mashbill of 80% rye. In 2011 you’ll see more rye whiskey with a high rye mashbill but at the time there were few players who attempted it. Traditionally, a rye whiskey mashbill is 60% rye, 25% corn and 15% malted barley (that’s a loose approximation to illustrate my point which can vary largely by distiller). David’s Rendezvous rye not only looked good on paper but it also took double gold at the San Francisco spirits competition and Malt Advocate rated it a 95, an unusually high mark for a new whiskey that’s under $50.

One might wonder what’s so controversial about that? You’ve got a whiskey that’s trying new things and is scoring high marks with seasoned tasters. Pundits were quick to point out that High West didn’t actually distill the whiskey that’s in their Rendezvous rye. Both the 6 year and 16 year ryes were sourced from other distilleries, David simply blended them together. Blending is a time honored skill that is well celebrated amongst other spirits, but has never been popular with American spirits. The original sticking point was this, there’s nothing wrong with blending unless your marketing made it seem as though you distilled it. High West definitely bills themselves as a distillery, not because they are liars, they do distill their own products just not the Rendezvous or their other aged whiskies.

The criticism on the surface is not without merit. There have been a fair share of so-called craft distillers who are just repackaging bulk bought whiskey and making it seem like they made it themselves. David Perkins has been a stand up guy within the industry, he has openly acknowledged that he purchased the whiskey and blended it. He is doing this to get the brand off the ground while his own whiskey ages (obviously this takes many years). He is also taking the time to carefully craft unique blends, something not many (if anyone) is currently doing with American whiskey, especially rye whiskey. Not only is he doing this, but he is also doing it well.

His next blend, Bourye was a bourbon blended with two ryes, Malt Advocate again gave it high praise with a rating of 90. His most recent and most affordable product to date is called Double Rye, a marriage of a very young 2 year rye blended with a 16 year rye to round out the flavors. Double Rye has already been a hit with Malt Advocate who has awarded it a score of 93. It seems that when David Perkins is blending he just can’t miss.

The critics point out that David is not doing anything new, blending spirits from other sources is certainly not new. Surely a pioneer must be breaking ground and doing something completely original. I would say that those critics are missing the point of what it means to be a pioneer. In this day and age nothing is completely new, it’s how you draw inspiration from other sources to bring a creative new twist to something. To use a winter analogy, (since High West is high up in the rockies of Utah), look at snowboarding. Snowboarding completely revolutionized the snow sports industry, the inventors were true pioneers of something groundbreaking. But the idea was not new, people have been skateboarding on a single deck decades before, and the Hawaiians surfed waves on a board hundreds of years before. But to combine that concept with alpine landscapes covered in snow was indeed pioneering. This is why I argue David Perkins deserves the pioneer of the year award. He broke the mold and challenged what it means to be an American whiskey maker; that the craft of making a fine whiskey continues after the still and the barrel. Even in whiskey, the sum can be greater than its parts.

Congratulations to David Perkins from High West, as an American whiskey enthusiast I look forward to your future blends and whiskies that you distill.

For more information on David Perkins and High West check out the great podcast interview with him from David Driscoll the norcal spirits buyer for K&L Wines.

*It should be noted that the High West Rendezvous is only High West product I have purchased and tasted, but I hope to change that soon.