Friday 11 April 2014

A trio of crafty Americans (Tasted #80, #81 and #82)

Ask the average punter about "American whiskey" and typically the first names that spring to mind will be "Jack" and "Jimmy". While there's no denying that both "Jack" and "Jimmy" have some excellent whiskies in their respective ranges (the former through the likes of Single Barrel Jack Daniels & Sinatra Select, the latter through the the small batch range such as Basil Haydens & Booker's), there's also no denying that the landscape has changed somewhat, and there are some new, much smaller, but very serious players on the scene.

Balcones. FEW Spirits, Koval. Heard of them? If you haven't, you surely will soon.

America is (actually has been for a while now) experiencing something of a craft distilling revolution. Gone are the days when "American Whiskey" simply meant "Bourbon from Kentucky" (or Tennessee Whiskey from Tennessee). Nowadays excellent American Whiskey can, and does, come from all over the USA. In fact just tonight at Papa Gedes bar in Sydney I tried a "Breaking and Entering" Bourbon bottled in California (admittedly, it is a blended Bourbon made from Kentucky whiskies).

Which brings us to the three whiskies featured in this post - none of which come from Kentucky or Tennessee (the FEW and Koval being from Illinois, the Balcones hailing from Texas, y'all).

It's pretty hard to ignore the impact Balcones has had on the scene during its relatively short existence - from winning a slew of awards, to being called the "finest new whiskey in the world" by Forbes Magazine. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might remember my highly-rated tasting of Balcones Baby Blue blue-corn whisky (which I later purchased).

While FEW and Koval (whose Four Grain and Rye we tasted a while ago) don't quite have the profile of Balcones yet, they could well in the future, and based on the quality of the spirits tasted below, I'd be surprised if they didn't.

Murray from HR Craft Beverages (who distribute Balcones, Koval and FEW in Australia) was kind enough to send me a sample from each distillery, including:
  • FEW Bourbon Whiskey (47%)
  • Balcones "1" Texas Single Malt Whisky (53%)
  • Koval Bourbon (47%)

FEW Bourbon Whiskey (47% ABV, NAS, Evanston IL, USA)
Colour: Dark, burnt orange.
Nose: BIG hit of pepper. Cinnamon, cloves, vanilla.
Palate: Youthful but not harsh. Pepper, spices, slightly dusty, but sweet. Mouth filling.
Finish: Short and hot, without being harsh.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

Balcones "1" Texas Single Malt (53% ABV, NAS, Waco TX, USA)
Colour: Bright coppery orange.
Nose: Honey, orange peel. Intense, fantastic.
Palate: Smooth, light, none of the nose's intensity. Sweet, toffee notes with oranges and oatmeal.
Finish: Malty, medium to long finish with orange peel at the very end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

Koval Bourbon (47% ABV, NAS, Chicago IL, USA)
Colour: Rich but a paler orange compared to the previous two.
Nose: Sherbert, sweet, boiled lollies, but also leather!
Palate: Young, but again, no harshness. Candied fruit, boiled lollies, redskins and icing sugar.
Finish: Short, with vanilla the dominant characteristic.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

So there you have it. Three American whiskies, three incredibly different whiskies, none from Kentucky or Tennessee, but each of them incredibly good.

I'll go out on a limb and say this is only the beginning of an exciting new era for American whiskey. Watch this space.

 - Martin.

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