Distractions, Diversions, Books, Wines, Whiskeys and Other Stuff To Think About When You Should Be Doing Something Else.

On the Rocks

On the Rocks: Collingwood Whisky

I don’t have very many reviews of Canadian whisky because, honestly, there aren’t that many new ones hitting the shelves. Lately though I’ve had several new bottles to sample and I thought I would share my impressions.

Collingwood Hand Crafted Blended Canadian Whisky

Toasted Maple Wood Mellowed

The story on this whisky that comes out of Brown-Forman’s Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario (but don’t worry it isn’t just an expensive version of Mist), is that it is aged in white oak barrels and then mellowed with toasted maple wood. I also understand that it is bottled on the Woodford Reserve line in Kentucky. That makes sense because the bottle also has, with its cap-under-a-cap / three-times-as-wide-as-it-is-deep, the same footprint as that bourbon’s does. The bottle does look cool but let’s be honest, it is what is under the cap that counts.

The aroma is very nice. Sweet woody notes dominate as they do with most Canadian whiskys but the maple finish shows through nicely without being overwhelming. The nose also display notes of what I think of as candied orange peel and ginger snaps.

The flavor itself is nutty, and woody and has a mouthfeel that is very, very smooth reminiscent of an Amontillado sherry, warm but light. Additionally there is a faint red stone-fruit and graham-crackery brown sugar flavor hovering in the background. The finish continues to show the nutty character with lingering hints of toffee.

Overall I would say that this is a very nice whisky worthy of devoting some space in your liquor cabinet to it (and it will take up some space). If I could find any fault with it I would say that the finish felt somehow slightly grainy on my tongue but that may have been just me.


You Could Call it a Quartet. I Call it a Rum Line.

Usually my spirits posts are titled “On the Rocks” but for this one I couldn’t resist.

Ron Zacapa 23 year old Sistema Solera Rum, Guatemala

This sugar cane rum from Guatemala has a rich, buttery, nutty, toffee-like aroma. The flavor, though, is much more complex than even the nose implies with nuances and character that comes from many years exposed to wood. Those 23 years bestow upon this rum a uniquely smoky, earthy almost peated scotch-like character that melds with the bright classic rum flavors to create something new and different. A real treat.

El Dorado 12 year old, Guyana

El Dorado has a sharp, apple butter aroma to go with its smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Its flavor is much more rum-like than the Zacapa having only (Only!) aged for 12 years. El Dorado is very rich and seems as if it should be thick and viscous but manages a lightness to its mouthfeel that is refreshing. It finishes with very nice white stone fruit, honey and caramel notes.

Cruzan Single Barrel, U. S. Virgin Islands

Probably the easiest of these rums to get your hands on it pours a pale, pale straw color and smells like smoky roasted cashews and buttery toffee. The taste, however, has an herbal, almost vegetal cast that carries through to a pleasant finish that seems almost slightly salty.

Diplomatico Reserva, Venezuela

The appearance of this rum is incredible. It pours a wonderful, warm honey color that looks very inviting. The smell is also unique, a blend of caramel and cinnamon hard-candy with a nice nutty background. It is very, very smooth. The flavor starts off with a medicinal twang that mellows quiclky on the mid-palate. After that is a very rich, liquid-peanut-brittle-in-a-bottle flavor that is delicious and extends through the loooong warm finish.

The State of Distraction: February 1, 2012

I’m going to try something new. Maybe it will start a conversation. Maybe it will only happen once. Maybe it will alleviate some boredom…

The purpose of The State of Distraction is to throw out some things that may be of interest that may not get their own posts or that I may not get around to posting about.

We will see how it goes.


I just got done with Ghost in the Wires the autobiography / memoir of Kevin Mitnick. I liked it as much as The Art of Deception and The Art of Intrusion (both are must-reads on the 5GW bookshelf). I might get around to doing a more complete post about this one but in short I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in security or cyber-security.

I’m currently reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I’ve heard a lot about how good The Dresden Files are but never picked up the novels. So far I am enjoying it quite a bit and I will probably end up reading the series, though I probably won’t post reviews about them. Storm Front came out in 2000 after all so there isn’t much new there to talk about. My local library seems to have all of the books available and I already have Fool Moon waiting on deck. I might have to make it a point to go back and read up on series that I didn’t read because they were already a couple of books in before I noticed them. Suggestions would be great.


Of the wines I’ve been sampling lately a couple have stood out from the rest. One is the S.I.P. certified (a classification that goes beyond the organic tag) 2009 Carmel Road Pinot Noir from Monterey California. It has a nice, rich cherry / plum flavor and a beautiful black tea-like character. It also has very nice structure and balance and is worth looking for.

Another winner is a Spanish Rioja, the 2005 Marques de Murrieta Reserva. This is a wine at its peak right now showing a wonderful glowing garnet (going brickish) color, and a nice fruit / earth / wood balance with a delicious finish.


Most recently I’ve been drinking (rī)¹ and it is delicious. I have lately been kind of developing a taste for high-rye bourbon and straight rye whiskey. I guess something about that extra spicy character and extra touch of heat appeals to my palate. This one is exceptionally complex with layers of nuanced flavor. My preferred way to enjoy this one is in a Glencairn glass with no ice.

Other Diversions:

Who couldn’t be diverted by the Presidential primaries right now. It looks like it is coming down to Mit and Newt (though Mit has the upper hand I would say). As an independent moderate (if I can be called anything except cynical) I really should like Mit, but he seems like a weaksauce politician to me who will do anything to get a vote. Newt appeals to me (I hate to admit) because he seems more like a political animal rather than a politician. I acknowledge his strategic ability but I have doubts about his ability to lead. I guess if you show me a real leader with the ability to deliberately improve the position domestic and international position of my country beyond the next election’s time frame, then I’ll vote for that candidate. It’s pretty much that simple for me, I just don’t see that guy on the ticket.

On the Rocks: Backbone Bourbon

First an editorial digression:

As a purveyor of fine wines, spirits and beers it is not unusual to watch products get on the distribution merry-go-round; moving from one supplier to another. I honestly feel very bad when I see my distributor’s salespeople hustle to get a new product on the shelf and build up a base of sales only to have it jump ship and watch another salesperson reap the long-term commissions on the repeat sales. This is especially true of my smaller, boutique, distributors. These guys don’t put their products in Wal-mart, the grocery store or the corner gas station. They build them in stores like mine, and I am very grateful for that. Unfortunately, they often see their products go to larger distributors once they are established and rarely see established products come back their way.  I couldn’t run my stores without the blue-chip products of the bigger suppliers, but to be honest it is the small distributors that make my stores thrive. They are the guys who bring the newest stuff that nobody has ever heard of. They keep things interesting and for that I thank them.

Remember that when you are shopping in your local mega-mart. The reason they don’t have anything you’ve never seen before is they don’t deal with the small, boutique, suppliers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Kendall Jackson or Jack Daniels. I sell lots of the both of them. But without the small labels and small production offerings of a real fine-bottle retailer who deals with the smallest of distributors, you are missing out on the newest, most exciting and adventurous products on the market.

Backbone Bourbon - Uncut

Backbone Bourbon – Uncut

Batch #01
70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley

Backbone Bourbon is an uncut whiskey aged less than four years, bottled especially for Crossroad Vintners (meaning it will never fly away to another distributor). You may have never heard of it, and you may never see it unless you happen to be in my neck of the woods at a bar, restaurant or store that sells products that are new, different and delicious.

From the label:
“Backbone Bourbon is a true uncut whiskey that is meant to be sipped and savored. The quality of this bourbon comes from its youthful vigor and the purity of tasting a barrel strength whiskey (where no water has been added to dilute the experience). We have left the backbone in this bourbon. The name is also a tribute to the strength of character that is found in the people of Midwest America.”

Backbone’s nose is a nicely balanced citrus/wood collaboration with orange zest and vanilla spicing the aroma of baked pie crust. It has a nice, creamy mouthfeel, rich and earthy with that same ‘crispy edges of the pie-crust’, bread flavor. The citrus and spice hovers, tantalizing and tingling, in the periphery while the edgy, young whiskey, alcohol bite holds center stage through a long finish.

Backbone is a very solid bourbon along the same lines as Knob Creek or Wathen’s Single Barrel, but with a richer mouthfeel. As this is a new product I look forward to seeing longer aged versions and perhaps offerings with different mashbill and special barrel finishes.

These are the kinds of things that make my job so much fun.

On the Rocks: High West Whiskey, Double Rye!

High West Whiskey Double Rye!

High West Whiskey Double Rye!

Batch: 11L02   Bottle: 1424

High West Distillery
Park City, Utah

You know a whiskey is going have boldness when the distiller feels good about putting an exclamation point in the name. Hand-crafted in small batches, with an exacting attention to detail, Double Rye lives up to the billing.

The eponymous ryes are a tag team of a brash two year old with a 95% rye, 5% barley malt mashbill; and a calmly smooth sixteen year old with a much more corn heavy mashbill of 53% rye, 37% corn and 10% barley malt. When put into a bottle together they create a best-of-both-worlds effect with bright spicy heat and mellow, well-developed, wood notes at a non-chill filtered 92 proof.

Double Rye has a bright and spicy nose full of citrus zest, candied apples and clover honey over a lurking clove zing. It is slightly creamy on the tongue and the wood notes really come through with vanilla, butterscotch and a faint cedar note. The rye heat carries through to a palate pleasing tingle that lingers through the citrus, persimmon, cinnamon finish.

Among whiskey-drinker’s whiskeys this one is a cut above. It is worth it to track down a bottle.

On the Rocks: Penn 1681 Vodka

In the year 1681 King Charles II granted William Penn an astounding 45,000 square miles of land in the New World in the hope that he when he went to live there he would more-or-less take all of his Quaker friends with him (Quakers were kind of a problem in England at the time). This made Penn the largest landowner in the world who wasn’t royalty. The result was Pennsylvania.

Ok, history lesson over, we are here to talk about vodka.

Penn 1681 Vodka, distilled by Philadelphia Distilling, is a premium artisan vodka distilled from organic Pennsylvania rye in a four column copper still. What that translates into is a very special tasting profile for a spirit and a distilling process that produces a very smooth sipping vodka without a lot of congeners. Congeners are the things that give spirits their taste, smell and color, three things you don’t want in a vodka. They also might have something to do with your headache the next morning, something you don’t want anyway. I also like the idea of organic grain produced in close proximity to the distillery. Just like with grapes, the less you chemically mess with a crop, the less those chemicals are potentially going to carry over into the finished product.

I found the Penn 1681 to be very, very clean and ultra smooth with a kind of creamy mouthfeel. There is a burn on the finish with a spicy overtone that I would attribute to the rye grain used in the distillation process. Don’t be confused, the heat on the finish is something that I would consider to be a strength of this vodka and that rye-like tingle on the tongue is something that makes it a unique tasting experience. Besides, if it wasn’t there this stuff is otherwise so smooth on the palate that you might confuse it for water or something. Penn 1681 would be an ideal choice for vodka drinkers that prefer their vodka straight or in a martini.


On the Rocks: Willett Straight Rye Whiskey

Willett Straight Rye Whiskey

I have already expressed the love for the great whiskeys from the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. Recently I had the great pleasure to sample one of the newest offerings from their Willett label, a Kentucky straight rye whiskey.

There is apparently a great deal of variation between bottlings of this single barrel rye so I will be specific as to which one I sampled. My bottle was from Barrel Number 39 and was bottled at 55% ABV or 110 proof. Since it is bottled at barrel proof, some bottles will have higher ABVs and some will have lower depending on the barrel they were bottled from. (I’m not sure on the average where mine would fall).

After having only two years to mature in wood, this rye has a surprisingly complex and bold taste. The initial flavor on the palate is sweet and creamy butterscotch candy with light hints of spicy citrus notes. It is on the finish that this whiskey drops the hammer, or rather the napalm. First, the alcohol hits with a powerful burn. It literally feels like you are about to breathe fire. (I remember saying something along the lines of, “Only 110 proof?”) Second, all the bold, peppery and spicy notes that rye whiskeys are known for explode on the palate. I’m positive that more time in the barrel would lead to more subtlety, complexity and character, but as it stands this is a whiskey that isn’t shy about its power and comes off well for all of its youthful brashness.

I was sure that after this first sip experience my palate was completely toasted by all of the pyrotechnics, and the finish does last a good long while, the second sip is just as flavorful and intense as the first. In all I would have to rate this fairly rare offering as a real treat. Best of all, it is an experience that will change from barrel to barrel, and therefore bottle to bottle, making it a great whiskey to share in side-by-side comparisons with whiskey-loving friends.

Superior whiskey.

(De)Motivational Poster: My Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas Everyone!

On the Rocks: Maker’s 46

Makers 46

Back when I was presented with the opportunity to pre-order Maker’s 46 for my store shelf my first question was obviously; “So, how exactly is Maker’s 46 Bourbon different from the regular, already more than tasty Maker’s Mark Bourbon?” The answer at the time was , basically, what the label says (see the picture to the right (H/T Boozeblogger), “barrel finished with oak staves”.

Yeah, I didn’t know exactly what that meant either. Luckily, the Maker’s Mark website has since then added a very informative section to their website. For those of you with time on your hands, please visit it. For those of you in a hurry to get to the good part, I’ll summarize.

First they take a perfectly good barrel of regular Maker’s Mark Bourbon, aged and ready for bottling, and empty it (don’t worry, they save the whisky). Then they take that barrel and mount an extra ten seared oak staves inside. After that is done, they re-fill the barrel with the whisky they just poured out and age it a bit longer. All that is good about whiskey comes from aging in the barrel; the color, the character, the flavor. Adding this extra wood gives the whisky much more charred wood surface area, meaning it has more to work with in the complexity and flavor department. That can only be a good thing.

First off, I’m already a fan of Maker’s Mark, and wheated whiskeys in general, but looking for that distinctive drippy red wax topped bottle has never led me astray no matter the bar I have bellied up to.

Maker’s 46 is indeed and improvement upon an already very good thing. The aroma is not all that much different from the regular Maker’s Mark with plenty of caramel and vanilla to go around. It is slightly higher in proof at 94 (regular Maker’s is 90 proof), and that does include a bit more bite and burn, but the wheat comes through and it is still very enjoyable to drink straight, sans ice, though a cube or two would not go amiss. The flavor is classic Maker’s with an extra level of something, something. A bit more richness. A bit more savoryness. A touch of deeper character and flavor integration. It is hard to put your finger on but it is without a doubt there. Maker’s 46 is, in short, a true whisky drinker’s whisky.

On the Rocks: W. H. Harrison Bourbon

A little while back I had the opportunity to taste barrel samples of two new, then unreleased, whiskeys from Indiana called W. H. Harrison Bourbon. I was very pleased with them, and now that they are hitting the marketplace (including my shelves), I thought I would share a bit about these two very interesting whiskeys that purport to be Indiana Bourbon.

The first offering is W. H. Harrison Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It is made from Indiana-grown corn, water from Indiana limestone springs, and aged in  barrels coopered from Indiana oak trees.

From the website:

Taste profile: well-balanced, clean and pure Bourbon flavor with a hint of sweetness in the middle and a dry finish.

To me this is just about as pure a corn whiskey flavor as you can get. I thought it was very bright, hot even at 80 proof, and very sweet. It has a nice balance, it just doesn’t have a whole lot of depth of character. It is very smooth and most certainly fits the description of high-quality corn squeezins.

As far as mixing potential goes, I like the possibilities of the Harrison Straight Bourbon. I am by no means a mixologist. Personally, I prefer my whiskey with a pair of ice cubes at the most. However, Harrison Straight Bourbon could easily be the centerpiece of a premium Manhattan or other drink where the flavor and quality of the whiskey really matters.

 The second selection from W. H. Harrison is the “Governor’s Reserve.” Bottled at barrel proof and featuring a “high-rye” recipe the “Governor’s Reserve” is a monster of a whiskey.

“High-rye” means that the mash-bill contains a higher proportion of rye grain and often means that the resulting whiskey is bold and spicy. Four Roses Single Barrel is a good example. The “Governor’s Reserve” didn’t strike me as especially spicy or bold, but it is a truly excellent whiskey, easily comparable to the best whiskeys anybody has to offer. It is smooth and refined with layers of depth and character and a rich woody flavor that for some strange reason (other than price)  makes me want to compare it to Blanton’s, though with a broader and far more developed and integrated flavor profile than that worthy Kentucky Bourbon. For 115 proof it doesn’t suffer from an overabundance of heat either which makes it especially nice for straight sipping.

The W. H. Harrison Indiana Straight Bourbon is a very nice whiskey. The “Governor’s Reserve” is very, very special, ranking at the very least among my top ten favorite whiskeys. For now I don’t anticipate these bottles being available very far outside the midwest but W. H. Harrison would be well worth the time and effort to suggest to your favorite Bourbon bar, if only for the “Governor’s Reserve.”

On the Rocks: Rökk Vodka and Rökk Flavored Vodkas

The first time I saw Rökk vodka, my first mental image involved a horde of frat boys screaming “Rökk!” in unison,  only better because they were wearing helmets with multiple horns, dressed in furs and chain mail, and brandishing battle-axes.

Hey, sometimes my imagination runs away with me.

In any case, I gave the Swedish import a try, and even though vodka really isn’t my thing, I was pretty impressed. At eighty proof Rökk is fairly smooth with a bit of alcohol heat. Not bad at all for mixing, though I think I would stay away from using it in a  martini. As a bonus Rökk came to the party with four flavored friends.

Rökk Orange: A nice mandarin orange smell and flavor, though a bit medicinally sweet.

Rökk Raspberry: Kind of bubblegumish but altogether not bad at all.

Rökk Citrus: I thought this one was the best smelling of the bunch but really light and subtle in flavor, maybe too subtle.

Rökk Apple: The best tasting of the bunch it has a nice granny smith flavor that bites back.

All of the Rökk flavors are a bit lower proof than the regular vodka and benefit from that, being a bit smoother with less of the alcohol burn, I did notice that most of the flavored vodkas smelled like they should taste stronger than they actually do. Not necessarily a bad thing, but keep that in mind when using mixers with especially bold flavors. The packaging is slick and as an import the pricing ($10 to $15 range depending on your state) isn’t bad for the quality. 

On The Rocks: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd.

One of the highlights of doing what I do is that, from time to time, somebody will show up with a bag full of tasty treats for me to sample. I had an especially fine visit recently from the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. of Bardstown, Kentucky. We, unfortunately, were pressed for time and I wasn’t able to try all of the whiskeys they have to offer but those I did sample were truly outstanding.

Here were two of my favorites:

Vintage Bourbon 17 Years Old

No matter how plain the name is, the whiskey more than makes up for it in color, character and flavor. Vintage 17 ranks in my top five, all time, favorite whiskeys. In short, it has balance. Not too light and sweet, not too earthy and heavy. Not too much spice, not too much wood.  At 94 proof it has just enough heat to tickle the palate, but the wheat mash bill keeps it smooth. All the pieces that make a great bourbon great are here in spades. Truly excellent.

Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon

First of all, this is by far one of coolest looking bourbon bottles on the market. The bourbon itself has a creamy mouthfeel almost like that of a butterscotch candy, but without the cloying sweetness. Willett Pot Still is also a bourbon of balance and subtlety. Very tasty, and very well worth the price of admission.

Rowan’s Creek and Noah’s Mill are two other excellent bourbons offered by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers and I highly recommend them to any bourbon aficionado. You will not be disappointed, and if by some strange happenstance you are, I will be happy to drink them for you.

On the Rocks: Four Roses Bourbon

As the legend goes, Paul Jones Jr. fell in love with a southern belle. Before a grand ball the two were to attend he sent her a proposal. She sent back a message that if her answer was ‘yes’ she would wear a rose corsage to the event. Mr. Jones was elated when she arrived wearing a corsage of four red roses, and in honor of the event, and of his true love, he named his Bourbon whiskey Four Roses.

Even though Four Roses is a famous name in Bourbon, and remains one of the most highly regarded Bourbons in international markets, it hasn’t been widely available in the U.S. since the 1950’s. Even now it is only available in a very few states. Happily for me, my state is now one of those lucky few and I recently had the opportunity to sample three of their excellent offerings.