Brandy History

Happy Thanksgiving!

I believe the most historically appropriate spirits to enjoy on Thanksgiving are rye whiskey and applejack/apple brandy. If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, both spirits should be unaged, as was the style of Colonial America.

I don’t have any white lightning on hand, so I’m cheating a bit and having a taste of Laird’s Old Apple Brandy, 7 1/2 years old. Laird & Company is the oldest registered distillery in the United States, licensed in 1780 although in business for longer than that.

Before the Revolution, George Washington, who ran a small distillery at Mount Vernon, wrote to the Laird’s and asked for their applejack recipe, which they shared with him. All of Laird’s apples are grown here in Virginia — a couple million pounds a year — so Washington presumably had plenty of raw materials for his efforts.

The Pilgrims, although quite strict in many practices, had no problem with alcohol. While aboard the Mayflower they were allocated a gallon of beer per person per day. As a result, they were half in the bag most of the time. Including the kids! Supposedly they landed at Plymouth Rock* in Massachusetts, rather than their approved destination of Northern Virginia, because they were out of beer.

So drink up if you’re of a mind to do so. And Happy Thanksgiving!

*The story of Plymouth Rock is almost certainly fiction.

Cocktails Whiskey

Whisky Highball

Japanese Whisky Highball Nikka Taketsuru

There are few alcoholic beverages as refreshing as a whiskey Highball. They’re easy to make and allow for fun experimentation. I used Nikka Taketsuru, a blended malt as many Japanese whiskies are, and it works perfectly in a highball (haibōru).

The type of whiskey you choose is up to you. You can use single malt scotch, Irish whiskey, Canadian whisky, bourbon, rye…I think you get the picture. Try it with your preferred whiskey style, then do some experimenting to see which you like best.

Whiskey Highball

An easy-to-make cocktail that is super delicious and refreshing.


  • 2 oz. Whiskey

  • Soda Water

  • Lemon Peel for Garnish


  • Fill a tall glass at least half full of ice.
  • Add whisky.
  • Top with soda water. There should be at least twice as much soda as whisky, and more is fine.
  • Give it a gentle stir, then garnish with a lemon peel, if desired.
Brandy Cocktails

Bolthouse Farms Holiday Nog

The holidays just aren’t the same without a little eggnog. And eggnog just isn’t the same without a little something extra.

I don’t generally care for most store-bought nogs, but I have to say, this Bolthouse Farms Holiday Nog is quite tasty. Rich and creamy and brown sugar sweet without being cloying or gloopy.

As for that little something extra…You can add any of your favorite brown spirits: whiskey, rum (especially spiced rum), brandy, whatever you desire. In this case I chose Delord Bas Armagnac X.O., a tasty blend of brandies 15 years and older that can be had for a reasonable price, usually around $50-60.

Top with a little freshly ground nutmeg and you’ve got a perfect little sweet treat. The holidays are hot on our heels! Better stock up now. You’re gonna need it.


R.I.P. Gary “Gaz” Regan, 1951-2019

Those who knew Gary Regan have probably heard by now that he passed away on November 15th.

Gaz, as everyone called him, was a legend in the world of bartenders and cocktails. He mentored so many people, and reached so many more through his writings and appearances. The word “legend” is far overused in our society. But I think Gaz might just have earned it.

He wrote one of the seminal cocktail books, The Joy of Mixology, which was originally published in 2003, just as the craft cocktail movement was getting started. Through it and subsequent books, lectures, and seminars, he taught a generation of bartenders great insight into their craft.

Gaz was also known for reviving the category of orange bitters — a cocktail ingredient that had disappeared from the world — when he introduced his Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6 in 2005. This not only resurrected a crucial ingredient of many classic cocktails, it helped spur on the bitters business in general, which now consists of scores of brands and hundreds of flavors.

Gaz was a wonderful storyteller — see his book The Cocktailian Chronicles — and a deeply kind and generous man. He practiced Buddhism and meditation, and was the one who introduced me to the concept of mindfulness, something I struggle with (as we all do), but always strive for.

Sadly, I never had the chance to meet him in person, but through the magic of email and social media, I still considered him a friend. I send my deepest condolences to his wife, Amy.

Gary Regan Book

Gaz touched many lives and he will be greatly missed. I’m sharing a photograph of one of his books that he inscribed to me, and I’m sending my love back to him. Rest in peace, Gaz. You will be missed.

Uncategorized Whiskey

Kaiyō Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky

Among the vast variety of new Japanese whiskies that have flooded the market the past few years is Kaiyō Whisky. The immediate question in my mind when I see one of these bottles is: “But is it really Japanese whisky?” (For more discussion of fake Japanese whisky, click the link.)

The answer, fortunately, with Kaiyō Whisky is: Yes, it’s legit. You have to do a lot of digging on the internet and take everything you find with a grain (or perhaps the whole shaker?) of salt. But I’m reassured that Kaiyō is authentic Japanese whisky.

The funny part is, the brand itself doesn’t proclaim their products as “Japanese Whisky.” I appreciate their extra efforts towards providing candor with their labeling, even if the brand is not otherwise especially transparent.

Kaiyō is reportedly “teaspooned” whisky from some Japanese supplier(s) that the company bought as unaged spirit. (If you want to learn more about “teaspooning,” which is common in the Scottish whisky industry, read this.) The people behind Kaiyō then blend and barrel the whisky, notably in Mizunara (Japanese oak) casks, among others. The barrels are then put on a boat and sent on a three-month trip to rock and sway the whisky, thus hyper-charging the aging process.

If that all sounds a little silly and overcomplicated…I agree! So let’s get to the whisky.

Kayiyo Japanese Mizunara Oak WhiskyKaiyō’s “Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky” is the company’s flagship bottling.

It’s definitely a young whisky, slightly fruity and sweet to start, before turning dryer with some peppery spice and tea-like flavor.

There is more wood influence than you might expect, although it’s a bit rough, even a touch smoky. I’m not sure that aspect of it is a positive.

Kaiyō Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky is an interesting whisky, and a decent one. I would like to see how it tastes after it has more time in the barrel to mellow some of the flavors from the wood and to add more complexity. As it stands, it’s a bit simple and unbalanced. For an Asian spirit especially, it could use some more Zen.

Like most new Japanese whiskies on the market, this one isn’t cheap, when you consider how young a whisky you’re buying. Although even at $60, it can look reasonable compared to many of the alternatives. Overall, I say it’s definitely worth a try.


Heaven Hill Launches Two New Whiskeys

First up is a remaking of one of the distillery’s old stand-by bourbons: Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. This was a workhorse bottling for many years, usually located on the bottom shelf, but still a reliable and tasty whiskey.

At six-years-old and 100-proof, this was one of the best sub-$20 whiskeys you could find. But nothing in the whiskey business ever stays the same — not these days, anyway — so the label was discontinued last year.

Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond Bourbon Whiskey

Now Heaven Hill is relaunching it in a beautiful new package — truly one of my favorite redesigns I’ve seen of a bottle. It’s still bottled-in-bond, which means it’s still 100-proof, and they’ve added a year to the age, so now it comes in at a very respectable seven years.

Naturally, this all comes at a price — namely an estimated $40 per 750-ml bottle. It’s a lot more than it used to cost. But considering how much NAS bourbons with lower proofs are selling for, it’s still a bargain.

According to Josh Hafer, Senior Manager for Corporate Communications at Heaven Hill Brands, this will only be available in California, Texas, New York, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina, and Colorado to start. But it will presumably be rolling out wider in the months to come. I have not yet had a chance to try it. But once I do, I’ll try to report back.

Elijah Craig Rye WhiskeyEven more exciting, for me anyway, is the news that Heaven Hill will be launching a straight rye whiskey under the Elijah Craig banner. Elijah Craig is one of Heaven Hill’s most-respected whiskeys, a bourbon that wins awards and pleases fans, even after they removed the 12-year-old age statement.

(As an aside, they still make an 18-year-old bourbon and, when you can find it, it’s superb. It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2012 when our review was written, you could still find Elijah Craig 18 for $36 in almost any liquor store. Those days, sadly, are long gone.)

But now comes Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. It won’t officially be available until January 2020, but I’m already looking forward to it. It will initially launch in limited markets — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Oregon — but I hope a bottle makes its way to me sooner than that. At a suggested price of $29.99, I predict this will become a favorite rye of a lot of people very quickly.

To compare the Elijah Craig Rye to the two other ryes available in Heaven Hill’s portfolio — Pikesville Rye and Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye — I’d say it falls somewhere in the middle.

All three whiskeys have the same mashbill: 51% rye, 35% corn, and 14% malted barley. The differences come with the aging, blending, and proofing.

Rittenhouse Rye is bonded, so it’s bottled at 100-proof and consists of all four-year-old whiskey. Pikesville Rye is all six-year-old whiskey and is bottled at 110-proof.

The new Elijah Craig, on the other hand, will be bottled at a gentler 94-proof and will consist of whiskeys from age four on up, whatever mix it takes to get the flavor profile they’re looking for. It is expected to contain at least some older barrels.*

Hats off to Heaven Hill for keeping things interesting, and for giving us some new whiskeys to be on the hunt for.

*The information on the age of Elijah Craig Rye comes to me from Bernie Lubbers, the Whiskey Brand Ambassador for Heaven Hill.

News Whiskey

Hatozaki Whisky — Read Before You Buy

Hatozaki Japanese Whisky
A tip for my friends in Virginia — and whisky lovers everywhere. I made a stop at the local ABC store today and noticed that they had bottles of Hatozaki Whisky on the shelf. Cool, you might be thinking! A new Japanese whisky to try. Not so fast.
Hatozaki Whisky is a product of the Kaikyo Distillery, located in Hyōgo Prefecture and owned by the AKASHI-TAI Sake brewery. The whisky they are currently bottling and selling, however, is NOT Japanese whisky in the way that you might think.
In other words, this whisky was not distilled in Japan. As has become common practice with a lot of the new “Japanese Whisky” companies that have emerged in the last few years, they do not have their own whisky to sell. Instead they buy whisky in bulk from Scotland and Canada, bottle it, slap their own label with some kanji on it, and sell it to foreigners as Japanese Whisky.
They can’t legally sell it in Japan. But other than that, the Japanese laws regarding whisky labeling are very vague and they permit a spirit like this one to be sold in foreign markets as if it were real Japanese whisky. The U.S. has its own laws regarding the labeling of spirits. But those mostly apply to booze produced in the U.S. There are strict laws regarding what can legally be sold as “bourbon,” for example. But when it comes to imports, the usual practice is to follow the rules of the country of origin.
The Kaikyo Distillery does actually exist and they are apparently distilling their own whisky. Which is great news! Many of these Potemkin distilleries only have a bottling plant and nothing else. Even so, it will be at least a few more years before we see Hatozaki Whisky for sale that was actually distilled by them.
Does this mean the whisky is bad? No, of course not. It could be excellent for all I know. According to the company, they are blending various stocks of whisky together to achieve the flavor profile they want for their product. There might even be a tiny bit of Japanese whisky some other company made in the mix. But it’s still not real Japanese whisky and it’s HIGHLY unlikely it’s worth the money you’d have to pay for it.
You’d never know anything of this if you read the bottle’s label or visited the company’s website. The information isn’t exactly secret — but they aren’t going out of their way to tell anyone either. In fact, what they’re trying to do is mislead consumers into buying something that they’re not really getting.
There is a movement afoot in Japan to change their rules regarding what can and can’t be labeled as Japanese whisky. In addition to misleading the public, many are concerned that these ersatz products will taint the reputation of Japanese whisky — which has been built over decades and is high for a reason.
Let’s hope change is coming soon.

Angel’s Envy Bourbon Whiskey

Angels_Envy_bourbon_whiskeyI had a little taste of this old bottle of Angel’s Envy bourbon that has been sitting on my shelf forever. It’s a flavorful, but mellow whiskey — just glides across the palate. I didn’t get a lot of notes from the port finishing, to be honest. I’d be interested to try their sherry-finished expression, as I’m a longtime sherry fan.

Even so, this was excellent. Just a very fine, tasty bourbon. (My wife, who usually doesn’t drink bourbon, agreed.) Lincoln Henderson was a master when it came to making and blending whiskey, and this bottle demonstrates that. A tip of the hat to the old distiller.



Makers Mark Is Launching a New Bourbon

Maker’s Mark® today announced the launch of its first-ever nationally available limited-release bourbon, Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2019 Limited Release: Stave Profile RC6. This cask strength expression of Maker’s Mark® Bourbon is finished with proprietary wood staves, referred to as Stave Profile RC6. The staves amplify notes of ripe fruit balanced with layers of baking spice – a taste profile inspired by the brand’s proprietary yeast strain used to produce its classic Maker’s Mark Bourbon. Only 255 barrels of the limited release bourbon will be produced, with bottles available at select retail locations beginning in late September.

This special edition bourbon is the first limited release in the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series, a collection of Maker’s Mark expressions that use an innovative wood stave-finishing technique to enhance distinctive characteristics already present in Maker’s Mark® Bourbon. The series includes existing offerings Maker’s Mark 46™ and Maker’s Mark Private Select® and the distillery plans to introduce new limited-edition bourbons to the Series in the coming years.


Henry McKenna 10 year Bourbon Is the Best Whiskey in the World?

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The @sfwspiritscomp , probably the most prestigious spirits competition there is, has just named Henry McKenna 10 year Bourbon (@heavenhilldistillery) as the best whiskey in the world. It’s a helluva good choice. And you can actually buy it! #professorcocktail #bourbon #whiskey #award #best #drinks