Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Stars, stripes and single malt

Before I traverse the snow to spend Christmas in Edinburgh, I thought I should pay my respects to a number of American friends. For me these three can comfortably stand toe to toe with the best Scotland has to offer and must be given serious consideration as some of the worlds greatest drams.

Old Potrero classifies itself as an 18th century style single malt rye whiskey and is a child of the anchor brewing company in San Francisco. Famed mostly for their excellent handcrafted beers, this artisan brewery has artfully turned its hand to distillation with widely acclaimed success. I first came across their skilled distilling whilst tasting gin, their dry gin 'Junipero' is arguably the greatest ever American gin and deserves to stands aside Tanqueray 10, Hendricks and Blackwoods. I stumbled upon his particular bottle of Potrero after a bar closure, showing that every recession has a silver lining.

This 100% rye malt expression is produced in small batches and the finished result is nothing short of stunning; nose, palate and finish are all unique and of a rare level of complexity. The rye is apparent throughout announcing its presence on the nose and even when draped in citrus, menthol and vanilla manages to squeeze its way through. The rye goes on to hold the sweetness and soft spice notes together brilliantly on the palate. The finish is lingering and pleasant, with hoppy beer notes and a wonderful dryness that allows the rye to once more come forward. I understand that this will split opinion but if you ever see this available buy it, drink and make your own judgement.

George T Stagg produced by Buffalo Trace distilleries, like Old Potrero is a homage to antique artisan whiskey production in the US. It is known for its very high bottling strength with this 2007 release bottled at 144.8. This is bourbon on a much greater scale, everything about this dram is enormous. The vanilla in the nose eludes to the skill in the ageing of this whiskey, it is rich and syrupy with layers of molasses and liquorice dominating in spite of the massive alcohol presence. On the palate, once you have recovered from the warmth of the alcohol and supposing that you are still conscious, you will appreciate more of the same complexity. With each tasting I have changed my mind as to what dominates, there is certainly some candied orange, ginger, dark chocolate and fudge but there is so much going on this could well be viewed as an essay in a snifter. The finish is very, very long and particularly sweet but not to the extent that it should put you off from sampling this very serious American offering.

The final offering is another from Buffalo Trace in a similar mould to Stagg. Sazerac 18-year-old is once more something a little bit special, an abnormally old straight rye. Due to the American need to use new barrels it is a miracle, and a testament to the skill of the distillers, that this expression isn't just an alcoholic wood soup. Instead you receive a nose that although filled with oak has ample fruit and a tempting serving of rye grain. The palate again is understandably oak dominated but this acts as a stage for all the sugars and spice to perform, it thins a little towards the finish bringing in one final dose of rye and here it becomes perhaps a little too oily. This, however is me being very picky, this is as close to perfection anything this sweet can be. You must give this a chance, especially if you are still sceptical towards transatlantic offerings and want to know why I am raving about rye.

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