Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Arizona Distilling Company

Just about two weeks ago Arizona Distilling Company started offering tours of their facility in Tempe.  Seeing as I am actively working to promote whiskey-craft (and whiskey-presence) in the Valley, I jumped at the chance to see the distillery firsthand.  My wife and I lucked into getting a private tour after another group bailed at the last minute.  Our tour guide was none other than one of the co-owners and Master Distiller, Jason Grossmiller.  I should note that "tour" is probably a slightly generous word as it was more of a stroll around the one-room distillery/rickhouse/ bottling center.  But what it lacked in amenities was more than made up for by Grossmiller who was as easy-going and approachable a host as could be hoped for.  Truth be told it seemed as though he craved some company.  He later informed us that most of his days are spent distilling, barreling, and bottling all alone in his giant one-room distillery.

As with most brand new craft distilleries, AZ Distilling Co. is a small operation, though there are plans in motion to significantly increase production.  A three-hundred gallon still has been purchased to replace their current hundred-gallon still, and their product line should be growing over the next year.

AZ Distilling Co. uses a large number of smaller, 10-gallon barrels (as opposed to the industry standard 53-gallon) to accelerate the aging process (by increasing the wood-to-spirit ratio).  Also, because barrels aged in Tempe will get significantly warmer than their Kentucky-aged counterparts, the aging process may further shorten, though this has not yet been fully tested.  AZ Distilling Co., new as it is,  hasn't been aging whiskey for long enough to know exactly how this extreme temperature exposure will affect their product.  (It is also yet to be seen how the extreme weather, regularly reaching 100+ degrees in the warehouse in the summer, even with the swamp coolers, will affect the aging process of Grossmiller).

Currently, AZ Distilling Co. only has one liquor for sale -- their Copper City Bourbon.  It has a mash bill of 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley.  For now they're sourcing their bourbon (as practically all craft whiskey distilleries are/have to until their product ages sufficiently), though they're currently aging their own Copper City with the goal of matching the current mash bill and flavor profile.

Grossmiller tells us that if all goes as planned they'll soon be adding a 100% wheat mash bill whiskey to the lineup.  Only one other distillery in the nation (Dry Fly in Washington, where Grossmiller studied before starting AZDC) has a 100% wheat whiskey.  "Wheaters" typically are very sweet in comparison to ryes (rye), bourbons (corn), or scotch (malted barley), but Grossmiller explains that using locally-sourced Desert Durum wheat, due to its heartier makeup, won't reflect a typical "wheater" flavor profile.  We tasted a sample and it was very good -- albeit young.  It didn't have any of the young, vegetal qualities typical of a young whiskey, but it did have some of that hot, unaged heat (not from high proof).  It had a little of the spicy quality that I'd think of when drinking a rye -- very unusual for a wheated whiskey -- but also somehow reminded me of a rum; very interesting.

Grossmiller tells me that they're also working to partner with a nearby rye farmer in order to produce some locally-sourced rye whiskey in the future.

I ultimately opted to wait until the Durum Wheat is bottled to make a purchase.  The Copper City was very drinkable, but, while there's nothing wrong with sourcing whiskey until you can age it yourself, I like the idea of buying something that's uniquely Arizona.

Please take the time to support this local distillery, owned and operated by local guys (Grossmiller is a fourth-generation Arizonan like myself), and working to obtain their grains locally, so that they can locally produce great whiskey (and possibly gin).

All-in-all it was a great experience, and it will be well worth your while.  But even if you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for poor Jason Grossmiller who is hankering for some human interaction.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Too Much to Ask?!

My brother-in-law lives in Portland.  When my wife and I have visited in the past we have patronized several incredible whiskey-serving establishments -- Pope House Bourbon Lounge, The Old Gold, Whiskey & Soda Lounge, Highland Stillhouse, Branch Whiskey Bar, and Southland Whiskey Kitchen to name a few -- truly, that's just a smattering.

Just one of the above, or any one of the numerous not-listed establishments would be all I'm hoping for in Phoenix.  Portland?  Portland has at least a dozen great whiskey bars, with a population 1/8th that of Phoenix.  Is that good enough for them?  Oh, no!  They have to go and one-up themselves and open the Multnomah Whiskey Library.

If you don't want to read the above article, here are the highlights: 1500 bottles (mostly whisk{e}y with some other quality beverages mixed in), and table-side service (presumably from one of the whiskey librarians).

When the Misses and I visit my brother-in-law for Thanksgiving, I will assuredly go to the library, "check out" a few selections, and update you all; I am confident that it will be at once one of the greatest whiskey days of my life and one of the worst.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pig & Pickle

As with many of the establishments I review, a friend recently suggested I peruse the whiskey selection over at the Pig & Pickle.  Tucked away in a strip mall in south Scottsdale along Hayden and Thomas, the P&P doesn't look especially promising from the outside.

On the inside it is a mix of hipster bar and sports bar, though not completely pulling off either.  As you walk in you are confronted with one of the mainstays of hipster icons: the pig (which I think is ranked third behind  birds, and obviously bikes).

However, instead of the standard metal and wood aesthetic to maintain the hipster feng shui, the rest of the establishment is stainless steel tables and your standard hip-ish sports bar.  This just proves that hipster style has become so mainstream that owners/decorators are incorporating pieces of it, even if they don't really understand how to create the whole package.  Hipsters will not be pleased.  They'll probably write some angry prose about it while twirling their mustaches and smoking their pipes (it's reassuring that hipsters are generally a pacifistic bunch).

Why do all of my posts seem to return to hipsters and my love/hate relationship with them?  Probably because they're inextricably connected to whiskey, for better or worse.

Speaking of whiskey - as this is a whiskey blog - the P&P, as advertised, has a fair selection.  Unfortunately, they also have gone the Rokerij and Lux route of not having a whiskey menu.  However, when I protested, I was provided with a "servers' menu" which, while not listing prices, at least informed me of what was available without having to pester the barkeep.

I decided to go with the High West Son of Bourye (ignominiously listed as "SOB" on the menu to the right), which, if you couldn't guess, is a blend of a bourbon and a rye.  While most whiskies are a blend of grains, and often corn (making bourbon) and rye (making, you guessed it, rye), somehow this blend manages to highlight both.  Rather than being any other bourbon with high rye content (or rye with high corn content), the Bourye manages to somehow be fully both: a hypostatic union of bourbon and rye if you will.  It succeeds where the P&P fails at combining two divergent styles.

If you're interested in checking out some fairly good whiskies for fair prices in a slightly schizophrenic setting, the Pig & Pickle can be found here:

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Whiskey Becoming a Young{er} Man's Game?

With the recent swift rise in popularity of whiskey (American in particular), there is a growing scarcity (artificial or otherwise) of quality whiskey.  Whiskies which once regularly lined shelves have become seasonal; whiskies which were once seasonal rarely see the light of day (or the neon inside liquor stores) before being sold. And along with this rise in popularity comes a new breed and generation of whiskey drinkers.

In the past few weeks I've read several well-known, highly-respected whiskey bloggers lament the current state, and the probable trajectory, of whiskey in the US.  Tim Read over at Scotch & Ice Cream recently bemoaned the hoarding nature of whiskey drinkers given the scarcity of limited release whiskies, ultimately deciding to pull out of the rat race altogether this year, even opting to pass up rare whiskies should he stumble upon them.  His blogging will consequentially be dialed back as well.

Steve Ury over at Sku's Recent Eats echoed some of Read's sentiments (as well as re-tweeting Read's post).  Though, for Ury it seems to be less the frenzied nature of the whiskey market that's got him down as much as the fact that simpletons (such as myself) are asking stupid questions (like where can we score some Pappy? -- we've heard it's good!), and some even questioning his tasting process to account for his clearly (in their opinion) errant views on some well-known recent releases.  His sarcastic explanation clarifying his tasting process is downright snarky (to hilarious effect).  Note: per Sku's comment below, the issue he takes is not that people would disagree with his review, as will inevitably happen, but that they would presume some confounding factor which would cause him to disagree with what others have so clearly concluded.  Unlike Read, Ury will continue writing, but now, it seems, he'll be doing so with a fair-sized chip on his shoulder.

And while Read retreats and Sku stews, Jason Pyle over at Sour Mash Manifesto seems content to quietly drink his whiskey while tweeting about football (go Volunteers!).

Conversely, Pops Garrett at Bourbon and Banter, perhaps sensing the chance to capitalize on this whiskey-writer vacuum, is doubling down, recruiting a hoard of new contributors (eleven to be specific -- eleven!) who are creating an onslaught of new content.  Sadly, their collective content (and there's a lot) seems to be more directed at marketing (cool new bourbon wallpapers!) than to discussing and promoting whiskey-craft.  They're even creating content about how much content they're creating (Twitter toast results).  Pity -- because I don't know how much I'll be willing to sift through the fluff to get to the substantive posts.

As for me? The hunt is still fun -- regardless (maybe even because of?) the rat race; what good's a treasure hunt if you don't have to hunt?!  Tasting new whiskies is still fun.  Hanging out with friends while trying new whiskies is really fun.  And writing about the whole experience is still fun -- even if just my friends and the few saps unlucky enough to stumble upon this blog will ever read it.

Maybe someday I'll become disillusioned with the whole game too.  Whiskey, sadly, seems like rock-and-roll, college football before the BCS, and most other things; those who were there "before" typically end up lamenting the loss that invariably accompanies change.  Maybe when I've been around the whiskey world long enough to see it change I'll resign myself to the fact that "it's not like it used to be," hunker down, and quietly drink what I will know to be good whiskey.

Still, here's hoping that the old-timers get a second wind or at least fight through the pain, because while I love reading Chuck Cowdery and John Hansell (who will never stop writing), they're like Master's-level professors, reveling in the minutiae.  That's great, but I also need the likes of Read and Ury who are like the adjunct Community College professors, teaching the Whiskey 101 class to those of us who are still cutting our teeth (or, you know, soaking them in whiskey).  It is largely thanks to their taking the time to dumb down their vast knowledge that I have any idea of where to start on this whiskey journey (ironically, further depleting the whiskey available to them, and further annoying them with my stupid questions).

Now, seriously, where can I find some Pappy?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lux Central

When Lux Coffee opened in downtown Phoenix in 2005 it quickly became a key hub of hipsterdom within the Valley; overflowing with MacBooks, mid-century modern furniture, thick-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, and all things Neo-Retro.  If you were intelligent (or lucky) enough to maneuver the opaque ordering process, you were rewarded with a very good cup of coffee.  Lux still offers one of the three best cups of coffee in the Valley (along with Giant, and Cartel), but I'm generally not willing to put the time and effort into navigating the unspoken rules governing the ordering of said coffee.

Then in 2011, not content to just offer coffee any longer, Lux Coffee closed and reopened later the same day as Lux Central, offering food and adult beverages in addition to its fine coffee.  (I suspect that this change was at least partly due to the fact that an establishment cannot be a true hub of hipsterdom in any meaningful sense without offering Pabst).

My wife came across an article a while ago, likening Lux to a "dinner party in full swing."  She agreed, but added, "it's just a dinner party that we haven't been invited to."  Assuming you're not a fully-decked-out hipster, with tons of hipster cred, you'll immediately understand what she means when you walk in.  All of the eyes in Lux, peering from behind their thick-rimmed glasses will quickly assess you, deem you inadequate for Lux standards, and shun you, hoping you'll take the hint and leave.  I'm just being defensive, you say?  Projecting a little of my only-slightly-hipster insecurity, maybe?  I don't think so; for evidence take a gander at their website and tell me that it's not the epitome of pretentious hipsterdom.  I'm right, right?

When you walk in, upon making it past the above-described hipster passive-aggressive bouncers (assuming you make it that far), you'll come across what may possibly be a menu (?), taped to glass enclosure encasing the near corner of the coffee bar.  You're not sure that it's a menu, because, mixed in with it are random pieces of art, and more inexplicably, random pictures of some child kneeling beside a soccer ball and another sitting on a tractor.  Why are these picture there?  Who are these children?  How should you weren't invited to this party.

If you survive to make it past this second-level defense (the annoyingly and unnecessarily confusing menu defense), you are confronted by the last level of defense in Lux: fruit.  Bushels of fruit.  Fruit everywhere.  In bowls on the counter-tops.  Hanging from the ceiling in baskets.  On the window sill behind the people busy behind the counter (presumably staff?).  What is it there for?  Can I just take one of these apples?  How much would it cost if I wanted an orange?   "Stop asking questions and get out!" the invited guests silently entreat from behind their thick-rimmed glares.

If you make it past the Fruit Defense you will finally come to the bar section of Lux.  That's what I went for -- this is a whiskey blog after all.  I wish I could have just determined that Lux had a terrible whiskey selection and terrible prices, turned around and marched out self-righteously, but alas, they had a fairly large selection, and even some hard-to-find whiskies.  Also in Lux's favor was that they had no truly terrible whiskies to offer; I have to (begrudgingly) respect a bar that doesn't even offer Jack Daniels or Jim Beam White Label.

It was annoying to have another Rokerij-type experience wherein, because of a lack of a menu, I had to ask the barkeep what each bottle was, given how far back the bottles were sitting and the seemingly-random distribution of whiskies.  It was that much harder in this situation because the barkeep was being kept very busy by the hoard of thirsty hipsters behind me.

I ultimately decided on the Willett Rye.  I'll write an extended review later, but this is easily the most minty whiskey I've had.  There's other stuff going on here too, but it's a mint kick in the teeth, in a good way.

In spite of the good whiskey selection, and reasonable prices, I think I'll largely avoid Lux.  I'll leave the hipster enclave to the hipsters.  If that's more your scene, then by all means, enjoy some good whiskey there.  Just beware the ubiquitous fruit; you're bound to be buried by a fruit-slide sooner or later if you're not on guard.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

George Dickel No. 12

There are only a handful of Tennessee whiskies, and even fewer that are worth drinking.  It's always amazed me how many people are willing to drink the swill that is Jack Daniel's; there are no shortage of better whiskies out there which cost less, are higher ABV, and, most importantly, taste better.  Even if your only goal is to mix drinks you could do much better.  You could instead use something like the George Dickel No. 12.

Don't be fooled by the "No. 12," it's not an age statement.  With Tennessee whiskey, your guess on age is as good as mine -- though the collective wisdom of the internet pegs the age at "between six and 12 years."  I'm inclined to think it's much closer to six.  That's not to say it's not good though.  It is.

Color: Straw

Nose: Burnt butter, candied apples, caramel corn -- all of which is pleasant

Palate: Sticky sweet, but not cloyingly so.  This is not a complex whisky (Dickel goes with the no "e" spelling); the nose follows through but with less candy flavor and more over-ripe fruit (apples, pears).

Finish: The finish is where things get interesting, but not in a good way.  Very quickly, after the initial rush of sweetness subsides, the burnt butter on the nose really starts to come through but with more burnt and less sweet butter.  Some woody flavor also starts to come through, but it doesn't blend well with the burnt flavor.  The finish initially reminds me of a younger, rough-around-the-edges scotch with the burnt malty flavor.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10; the finish is disappointing, but this is overall a great whisky if you're craving something sweet
-- especially for the price ($18-$22).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Centurion/Bar Maximus

Centurion and Bar Maximus chef Eric Osburn knows his alcohol.  Toward the end of my recent hour-long chat with him at Maximus he pointed to the top of the wine-bottle-lined bar and asked if I knew where all of the empty bottles had come from.  After letting me guess errantly for a while he concluded, "I drank them all."  Impressive enough until he pointed to the adjoining Centurion restaurant and the wall lined with several dozen more bottles.  His point was that in order to know what good wine is, one has to be constantly drinking wine; a job many of us would clamor for, but one he takes seriously.

Chef Eric brings this same enthusiasm to the world of whisk{e}y.  After having a vivid deja vu moment in which Eric contested my assertion that there is no good American whiskey bar in the Phoenix area by saying, "yeah, except for Magnums," he explained that he is perhaps more hopeful than am I about the future of whiskey in Phoenix.  Maybe he has reason to be so hopeful since he believes he's going to have a hand in this future.  Within five years (ideally within two to three) he's planning to have 200 scotches, 80 bourbons/ryes, and a very healthy smattering of other worthwhile drinks (gin, cognac, etc) lining the shelves at Bar Maximus.  He's well on his way for the Scotch at least.

He recently hosted a "350 Years of Scotch" event during which participants (those willing and able to shell out the $200 entry fee) walked (and drank) their way through the history of Scotch with Eric serving as tour-guide.  After brainstorming a while about his next whiskey-centric event we decided that a blind tasting of several American whiskies would be entertaining and enlightening; Eric is hoping to host this event in the fall or early winter.

Chef Eric and I disagree on a variety of issues related to whiskey; he's a Scotch guy who appreciates American whiskey; I'm an American whiskey enthusiast who drinks enough Scotch to keep the "e" in "whiskey" encased in hipster brackets -- {e}.  Perhaps most contentious was his assertion that American whiskey drinkers tend to fall into one of two camps: those who just want a smooth drink experience regardless of complexity or flavor, and those who want to be punched in the face by their drink (i.e. those like me who enjoy drinking their cask-strength George T. Stagg without adding water).  I'd argue that he's perhaps right about the first group, but sorely mistaken on the latter; I don't mind a good Stagg punch in the face, but I'd argue that a Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, a High West Rendezvous Rye, or even George T. Stagg itself -- even with all of its brute strength -- would rival most Scotches out there in terms of complexity (and flavor).

In spite of our differences, I inherently trust someone who is as knowledgeable, and as detail-oriented as Eric is.  At one point in our discussion, as he was explaining why he so thoroughly enjoys the Glenlivet lineup (each successive iteration is a unique formulation, not just a further refinement of the lesser-aged version), he interrupted himself to ensure that a server at the bar was serving a drink correctly.  Only when he was satisfied that the drink was to his specifications, and after educating the server on proper beverage storage, would he return to our conversation.  If he takes this same approach to whiskey, I can live with his specious views on American whiskey and its adherents...after all, someone as educated as he is on the world of whiskey (and alcohol in general) will surely be willing to learn a little more from American whiskey lovers around town.

Here's hoping that his vision for the future of whiskey in Phoenix comes to fruition...and sooner than later.

In the meantime if you want to drink some good scotch and perhaps chat with Chef Eric yourself, Centurion and Bar Maximus can be found here:

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tops Liquor

Depending on your personality and how much time you have you will either find Tops overwhelming or exhilarating.  It is hard to conceive of a more eclectic liquor store, both in terms of the products on its shelves and its clientele.

In the 20 short minutes I had during this visit I saw:
     -Several college students devising optimum strategies for how to most efficiently get drunk and make huge mistakes which will possibly severely hamper their lifetime earning potential (to be expected given Tops' proximity to ASU).

    -I also saw several other professionals just getting off from work; these were most-often perusing the neatly-laid-out wine section (in contrast to the free-for-all which is the liquor section).

    -Then there were the clearly homeless folks looking to get their fix.

    -And finally the college student who was buying a large Red Bull and a Blue Moon (if this admixture isn't called a "Red & Blue" it is more of a crime than combining these two in the first place).

When not people-watching I was busy perusing the whiskey selection -- not an easy task given the "layout" of the liquor section.  If I'd had an hour this would have been a fun process, akin to a treasure hunt.  As it was, it was somewhat infuriating that I'd glance a Willett Rye hidden behind a Wild Turkey 101, and a High West 21 in the back of a locked cabinet which I was only briefly allowed to peruse given the one staff member who had to attend to all the desperate-to-get-their-drink-on college students with their Jager and PBR.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised by their large selection of both rare and local/craft whiskies.  They had whiskies from Washington, Montana, and two from Arizona.  They also had the Wild Turkey 101 Rye which is a pretty good find.

Ultimately I picked up the Dickel No. 12.  I'll post a better review later, but the short notes are this: Dickel is not remotely complex, but it is darn-good down-home Tennessee whiskey.  Too sweet for my everyday consumption, but good for when I'm craving something syrupy-sweet.  If you have to choose a Tennessee whiskey, this is far-and-away superior to Jack Daniels, and for $20-$22 you don't have to take my word for it; go to Tops and pick up a bottle.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Seamus McCaffrey's

In my initial post I concluded that I've yet to find a good bourbon/rye bar in Phoenix, and only a few good scotch bars.  Well, I'd be remiss to not review Seamus McCaffrey's which has (at least per their website) the largest selection of scotch in all of Arizona.

Seamus McCaffrey's has been in the same location in downtown Phoenix, partly occupying the first floor of the historic Hotel San Carlos, for 22 years (per my server).  They indeed have a substantial selection of whisky, but be warned, the prices currently listed on the website are way off from what you'll actually find in the bar.  Many, like the Aberlour A'Bunadh I sampled, are only a dollar or so off.  Others, like say, a Macallan 30, are a whopping $50 different (from $50 on the website, to $100 on the menu at the bar).

I was pleasantly surprised to see, in addition to their extensive scotch selection, a decent (not great, mind you) selection of bourbons and ryes.  But, as I was in an Irish pub it only seemed right to drink scotch.  In addition to the A'Bunadh listed above I also had a Laphroaig 10.

Aberlour A'Bunadh
As the A'Bunadh is a single-barrel, cask-strength scotch, which barrel it came from matters.  When I prefaced that I was about to ask a technical question about this particular scotch, my server replied, "I probably won't know...they don't train us on that."  She was more helpful when I pointed out that this information would likely be listed on the bottle.  She returned and informed me that I had a pour from Batch 41, which is 118 proof (the lowest of any batch since 1999).

Color: Hard to tell in the darkness of Seamus McCaffrey's, but I'm going to go with reddish brown.

Nose: Fruity -- specifically red apples.  Surprisingly little alcohol on the nose given its high ABV. There was also a little bit of smoke in the back, but significantly less than in most scotches I've had.

Palate: This is one of the fruitiest scotches I've had.  Lots of apples, apricots, and cherries, followed by a little bit of wood and medicinal flavor.  As with the nose, it is remarkably smooth for being 118 proof.

Finish: Sweet fruit, followed by a bitter-sweet flavor I can't put my finger on, and then, again, a some wood.

Overall: 8.0 out of 10.  Very good.

Laphroaig 10
If given the choice between a high-quality bourbon and a high-quality scotch, I'll almost always go with the bourbon.  Yet, for an admittedly silly reason (which truthfully affects my impression of it) the Laphroaig 10 is one exception.  I can't help, as I'm drinking my Laphroaig, imagining an old Scotsman, walking along a boggy shoreline on the island he lives on in Scotland.  As he's walking he's being buffeted by wind and rain, at times falling in the mud and peat.  Finally, he comes across an old pub where he takes shelter.  What does he order in the pub?  What else...a Laphroaig 10.  I don't know how anyone's mind can conjure up anything else as he's drinking it.  Without that image, this beverage is such an oddity I'm not sure why anyone would drink it (as with other islays as well); with it, it is a very enjoyable experience.

Color: Gold

Nose: Peat and smoke.  Nothing else.  If you hear or read anyone else say that they smell something else (fruit, lilacs, etc.) he's lying.

Palate: Peat, smoke, and wood.  Buried beneath a deep layer of those three, there may be some pleasant medicinal and otherwise earthy flavors, but those are fleeting in the onslaught of peat.

Finish: More of the same.  There is a sweeter flavor on the finish than anywhere else.

Overall: 9 out of 10 -- with imagery described above; 3 out of 10 without it.   You have to try it at least once.

Of note, I like the Laphroaig 18 less than the 10.  I feel like it softens some of the incredible peat-punch-in-the-face the 10 offers.  If you genuinely enjoy the flavor of the 10, but feel that it's too edgy the 18 is probably worth a try.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

In three words: Cask-strength, Spicy, Delicious

In more words: while I was enjoying dinner at Windsor, I sampled the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye.  I've long been a fan of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (of which the Handy is part), and I'm always a fan of a good rye whiskey, so the Handy and I were a match made in heaven.

The waitstaff at Windsor and the barkeep were too busy with the Friday dinner crowd to tell me the ABV on their particular bottle of Handy, but, fortunately for me, I've got my own.  So I'll be forced to re-sample the Handy so as to give you, the reader, the most accurate information possible. You're welcome.  My bottle is 132.4 proof.  Knowing my inability to divide by two, the kind folks at Buffalo Trace have done the math for me; this bottle is 66.2% alcohol by volume.

Color: Amber

Nose: First whiff, a ton of alcohol, a little spice and wood.  Second whiff, ton of spice and wood, still a lot of alcohol.

Palate: A potent blast of spice and oak.  While there's no question it's cask-strength, it is remarkably balanced and drinkable without adding water (my recommendation).  Water does bring out some more flavors buried beneath its kick (more clove, cinnamon, and a little mint), but weakens the experience overall -- maybe save the water for the last bit.

Finish: The burn lasts from start to finish, and the finish is long.  As the heat -- eventually -- dies down, some more typical whiskey flavors come through (honey, brown sugar).

Overall: 9.5 out of 10 -- do what you legally can to get yourself a bottle.  Even at $75-$100 it's well worth it.


A (whiskey-novice) friend of mine recommended I check out Rokerij in my quest for good whiskey in the desert.  Being thirsty one night I decided to head down and check it out.

Pronounced "ROW-ker-ee" (I think -- when I asked a staff member about the pronunciation this was the response, "I don't know.  It's a Dutch word, and that's how I pronounce it, but I can't say confidently that's how it's pronounced"), Rokerij is about as close to a speakeasy as I've found so far in the Valley.  It's located in the basement beneath Richardson's on 16th St. north of Bethany Home.  While there's a sign along 16th St., once you arrive in the parking lot you either have to know where you're going, be led by someone who knows, or be that guy aimlessly walking around before ultimately asking the valet where this illusive place is.  Fortunately, my whiskey-novice friend had been before; he led me around to the front of Richardson's, but then led me down an unmarked set of stairs to an unmarked door.  Now, if you've been to a speakeasy anywhere else, you'll recognize this as a good sign.  The harder the place to find, and the less-clearly-marked it is, (usually) the better the whiskey selection is.

Sadly this was not the case at Rokerij.  We took a seat at the bar, and I asked for a liquor menu.  There was none to be had, so I had to go through the entire whiskey selection with the barkeep, one bottle at a time.  Many bottles were behind others, and with no menu I had no way of knowing what they were without this somewhat annoying process -- though, in the end it didn't take very long given Rokerij's thin whiskey selection.  On the top shelf they had the obligatory bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue (they also had red and black, but not gold or green).  Also on the top shelf was, comically, a bottle of Bushmills 10; when Bushmills is a top-shelf whiskey, it's probably time to leave.

However, having come all that way, and with the whiskey-novice ordering food, I settled on a pour of Basil Hayden's (not having had it before).  I'll review it in depth later, but the short version is don't try Basil Hayden's.  For what it's worth I was given a healthy pour for the reasonable price of $11.

Rokerij has a lot of potential, but I don't think I'll be back anytime soon. But if you want to go, here's where you can find it:

Saturday, August 3, 2013


There are establishments which are primarily bars, but also sell food.  Then there are establishments which are primarily restaurants, but also sell booze.  Generally speaking, if the emphasis, from the outset, isn't on quality alcohol it's a bad sign for good-whiskey lovers.  Windsor seems to buck this trend though, focusing primarily on food, but with one of the better whisk{e}y selections I've found in Phoenix.

Windsor is hipsta-tastic -- replete with its mustachioed, flannel-and-skinny-jeans-wearing barkeep.  Whether or not that is appealing to you, it is probably worth a trip down to sample some bourbon, rye, or scotch (or Irish, or Canadian if you're desperate and  have tried everything else).

The place was hopping when I was there, so I had to resort to slowly walking around the outside of the seating area of the bar -- hovering uncomfortably close for many of the already-seated patrons -- squinting to see what kinds of whisk{e}y they had.

My suspicion that Windsor has additional whiskies not listed on the menu* was confirmed when I spied a Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye -- one of the illustrious members of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection -- hiding in the back.

I couldn't resist, though I was tempted by the Blanton's, the High West Rendezvous Rye, and Rittenhouse Rye.  Also, I have always longed for street cred, and it seemed to me that ordering a cask-strength rye, neat, which isn't listed on the menu is the kind of thing which would earn a guy some street cred.

No one seemed to care...except for my wife, but that doesn't count because she's always impressed with me.

Oh well.  At $20 a dram, even for a cask-strength whiskey it was a bit overpriced.  Still, all told Windsor is a good place to go and check out some previously-untasted whiskies while eating some good food.  Plus, as a bonus, if you walk next door to Churn you can get some great ice cream for dessert.

*Word to the wise...It's always worth taking a peek at the actual bar -- or better yet, talk to the barkeep -- to see if they've got anything not listed on the menu.  It's hard to keep updating menus with new items, especially if the items are in short-supply.  That usually means that the old, easy-to-get whiskies are on the menu, while some of the rarer/limited-supply whiskies are hidden in the back.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Elijah Craig 12

When I think of bourbon I think of brown sugar, vanilla, and caramel with maybe some spice and wood thrown in.  Of course, bourbons can range widely from this taste profile, but this is what my mind will naturally return to when the topic of bourbon arises.

The Elijah Craig 12 has got to be one of the more "bourbony" bourbons around.  It's loaded with all the flavors which make bourbon good.  

Color: Deep amber

Nose: Brown sugar, red apples, and a nice whiff of alcohol

Palate: The nose follows through with the flavor.  Lots of brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee. Almost syrupy mouthfeel, but not too much so.  Behind the immediate bourbon-ness there is some spice -- wood and a little floral.  

Finish: Medium-long, caramel, sweet.  There's something else at the end; I can't decide if it's a nice woody flavor, or a little bit bitter.  For my own sake I'll just decide that it's woody and like it more.

Overall: 7.5 out of 10.  Hard to beat for the price ($23-$27). 

AJ's Fine Foods: Arcadia

I was tipped off by a friend that AJ's Arcadia had a bottle of Willett Rye available.  I'm always a sucker for a good rye, and I also thoroughly enjoy Willett's Pot Still Reserve Bourbon, so I figured that a trip over to AJ's was in order.  The good folks manning the "wine cellar" -- namely Jackie and Dave -- were kind enough to put the bottle on hold. I know enough to know that one shouldn't judge a whiskey by its bottle, but I'd still be very tempted with the Willett Rye.  It's really a beautiful bottle.

When I got to AJ's I was surprised by the large selection of whiskies they had.  Having a bit of extra time I figured I'd count, and I came up with:

68 Scotch
12 Irish
26 Bourbon
8 Ryes
9 Canadian

In addition to the Willett Rye I picked up, they had a fairly large selection of rare whiskies (primarily scotch).  They had a Macallan 25 (for $928), a rare Oban 18, and most of the Balvenie and Aberfeldy collection. Interestingly, in the same display case they also had several Hudson Baby Bourbon iterations.  I've never tried any of the HBBs, but I've heard mixed things (mostly negative); even the people who like it seem to think it's overpriced at around $60 for a 375ml bottle.  It's funny to me that it occupied the same space as the high-end scotches.

I'll definitely be back to AJ's soon.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Upcoming Events

There are two whisk{e}y-centric events coming up.

First, Magnum's is holding a tasting of staff favorites from Dogfish Head Brewery as well as Copper City Bourbon from Arizona Distilling Company on August 7th at 7:30pm.  Jason Grossmillier, the master distiller from AZ Distilling Company, and Megan Linaugh from Dogfish Head will be present to discuss their wares.  This will run $20 per person.
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Secondly, a little more spendy, Centurion Restaurant in downtown Phoenix is hosting a "350 Years of Scotch" event on Saturday, August 10th from 1:30pm to 4:00pm.  Chef Eric Mason will be educating attendees about a wide variety of Scotches, as well as providing them with "a full plate of food" at the end of the event.  Attending will run you $200 per person.  In return you will try 1/4oz of 28 different scotches.  For those keeping score, yes, you would be paying $200 for 7oz of scotch (or $28.57/oz); however, if half the things I hear about Chef Eric are true this might actually be underpriced.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013


When I first started complaining about there being no whiskey anywhere in or around Phoenix, a chorus of objections arose, insisting on one exception -- an oasis in my whiskey desert.

"Yeah...there's no whiskey out here.  Except for Magnum's, I mean."
"Right, except for Magnum's."
"There's always Magnum's."
"You've been to Magnum's, right? Dude...Magnum's! You haven't been to Magnum's?!"

I hadn't.  But now I have.  And here's what I found.

First of all, to get to Magnum's, just find your way to the southeast corner of 7th St. and Union Hills in north Phoenix.  Once there, bypass the Dairy Queen, Ladies' Fitness Express, and the Bashas' grocery store -- locate the Scuba store and head west.  If you hit the Firestone tire shop you've gone too far.  It just seems odd to me that a place as revered among whiskey lovers for it's extensive (and often expensive) collection of whiskies is in such a nondescript strip mall.

Once inside, Magnum's is split into a retail area and a cigar lounge area.  In the retail area a large selection of beer resides in a refrigerated area in front of you as you walk in.  These are all easily accessible to patrons.  The spirits however, unlike any other store I've been to, are stashed safely away behind a counter -- safely out of the reach of the grubby hands of the masses.  You'll have to lean and squint at times to see what they have.  Ultimately though, I found all of the rumors to be true; on this trip they had not-a-few very hard-to-find whiskies that I had to decide between.  They were selling a Colonel EH Taylor Barrel Proof for $93.  They also had a Blanton's Special Reserve Single Barrel, selling for $200.  (I was repeatedly reminded that one cannot typically buy this product in the states, thereby justifying its high price).  There was also a bottle of Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel for just over $100.

Ultimately, I couldn't pass up the 2012 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.  I've heard too many good things about this one to let it go, even at $116.

Walking through the door from the retail side to the lounge side, one enters a world of wood, leather, and tobacco.  Magnum's is one of two indoor-smoking cigar and spirits lounges in the Phoenix area (the other being Fox Cigar Bar). When I looked at the menu I was shocked to see a pour of Buffalo Trace costs $10.  I voiced my dismay at this and was informed that the price per pour is determined by how many pours a bottle will produce and how expensive the bottle is.  When I pointed out that I could buy a bottle of BT for $24, I was told that $10 is the (seemingly arbitrary) minimum price for any pour at Magnum's.  After I explained that this policy will likely alienate many potential patrons, I was told that the BT is one of their best sellers in the lounge. It is apparently worth it to Magnum's to marginalize a key segment of its client base (the whiskey enthusiast segment) because there are enough people in the Valley who are so excited to drink and smoke inside that they'll pay $10 for a pour of mediocre whiskey.  Fair enough.

In summary: Magnums is a great place to buy rare and hard-to-find whiskies (albeit at inflated prices), but not to try -- unless you really want to drink and smoke inside and can't do so in your home.

Friday, July 26, 2013


By now I'm guessing you've heard that Sportsman's (32nd St. and Camelback) is going out of business.  There is a strong temptation to wax poetic given its imminent closing.  Words like "venerable" and "vestiges" keep coming to mind.  I'll try to refrain from going overboard, but it is always sad when a local place like Sportsman's, having been around since the 50s (in various iterations), goes out of business.

I talked to one of the staff, trying to figure out what happened.  Initially he was a bit short with me (understandably, as he's presumably losing his job), saying, "Bashas’ decided to shut us down.  I don’t know why, I just work here.”  Though, when I added that it makes me sad to see Sportsman's going away he softened a bit and said, "Yeah...makes me sad too."

I've been taught all my life that I shouldn't assume (lest I make an ass out of u and me), but I can at least guess that the big-box wholesalers may have had something to do with it.

While it's still here (for another few weeks), almost everything is 25% off.  If you're just hearing about the closing now, you may be too late.  You can see in the picture, the shelves are already looking pretty depleted.

I talked to another customer who said his brother sent him a picture yesterday of the over $1000 worth of scotch he'd bought.

I witnessed another patron with what appeared to be the last four bottles of Glenlivet 12 heading to the register.
As for me? With little interesting left I picked up a couple of oldies, but certainly goodies: a bottle of Elijah Craig 12, and a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 -- for a total of just over $40.  Hard to beat.

Even with my goodies, it's a sad day for WhiskeyPhoenix.  Sportsman's will be missed.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Whiskey & Coffee


It all began with coffee.
Seems like a strange place to start a whiskey blog, right?  Let me explain.  I grew up loving the smell of coffee.  If you recall the stereotypical Folgers commercials from the 80s and 90s, that was me; I’d often wake up to the smell of my parents brewing coffee (often Folgers, incidentally). The aroma was so appealing — sweet and earthy — but I was never allowed to actually taste this sweet nectar, lest I “stunt my growth.”  Then finally, one day my dad decided (having apparently determined I’d grown tall enough) that I was old enough for my first sip…..putrid…..How can something which smells so wonderful taste so horrible?  It’s as if the coffee had, somewhere between my nose and my tongue, been transformed into something else entirely.  It was like some sort of sick transubstantial joke was being played on me: expecting the divine in that sip, I instead got a mouthful of dirty, bitter, liquid ash.
Chemex coffeeFor years after this first encounter with coffee I would tell people how much I hated coffee.  When I was desperate for some caffeine I’d have to drown the bitter sludge in sugar and cream in order to make it at least remotely palatable — much as a child (or my wife) does with medicine.  I’d drink the milkshakes purporting to be coffee in coffee shops, but never anything approaching black coffee.  That is until one day…my wife was drinking coffee from an independent roaster in Los Angeles (Handsome Coffee Roasters).  She encouraged me to try it, and after feeling that I’d sufficiently protested, I sneaked a sip.  To my disbelief and amazement, the coffee tasted the same way it smelled — which was fantastic.  Not only did it taste like the sweet aroma, but so much else was going on in the cup — I could taste spices and fruit.  I could, for the first time, understand what people meant when they referred to “body,” or “mouthfeel.”
Through my experience with coffee I learned how to take the time to actually experience what I’m eating or drinking.  What do I taste?  Where do I taste it?  What does it feel like?  What does it smell like?  Does it taste different at different times?
Fast forward to a few years ago — some good friends were exposed to scotch for the first time.  Falling in love with it, and being the young, untethered guys they are, they’d amassed over a thousand dollars’ worth of scotch within the span of about three months.  When they were kind enough to invite me to one of their “scotch nights,” it wasn’t a stretch to apply what I’d learned through my experience with coffee to whisky.  Again, I was amazed at the experience.  I went in expecting something perhaps marginally better than the Jim/Jack/or Jameson experiences I’d had — the only other whiskies I’d had up to that point.  But, instead of just vague whiskey-ish liquor, I tasted toffee, vanilla, tobacco, mint, and dozens of other flavors.
Needless to say, I was hooked.  It naturally followed that I would start to seek out more whiskies to try (and to own).  From my whiskey-loving friends living in Chicago, LA, and Portland I was led to believe that there would be an abundance of whiskey bars (or at least bars serving a good smattering of whiskies) where I could try different whiskies before buying.  Sad to say I found no bars in the Phoenix area (so far) selling more than a handful of good bourbons and ryes, and only a few serving a large selection of scotch.
But I’m not one to give up easily, so the hunt continues.  I’m planning to check out at least a few bars and/or liquor stores each month; I’ll double-up and review the whisk{e}y I have at said bar/store.
I hope you’ll join with me in the hunt for whiskey in the desert.