All posts in “Drinks”

The Best Things We Drank This Month

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. Here are a few of our favorites.

Crown Royal Noble Collection (French Oak Finished)

As evidenced by a number of whiskey makers out there (including one later on this list), experimenting with oak types in aging and barrel finishing is the thing to do right now. And though Crown may not be the whiskey drinker’s whiskey, it can still turn out great bottles. The brand’s Noble Collection has rolled out banger after banger (each has earned at least a 90 from Whisky Advocate), and the French oak finished isn’t an exception. It’s got the lightness and vanilla bomb qualities associated with the brand, but the French oak, a denser, more tannin-heavy wood, shifts the structure of the whisky completely. It’s still light in proof and potency, but it carries a creaminess other Crown doesn’t. It’s retailing for $60. Hunt it down and pour it over ice.

Allagash Tiny House

The Maine brewery that introduced America to the joys of Belgian beer released a house beer. It’s 3.5 percent ABV, it’s dry hopped with Amarillo and it’s just a little malty. More importantly, it’s an incredibly crushable, flavorful, no-bullshit beer from one of America’s best breweries. If you can find Allagash at your local shop, Tiny House may be the ideal summer six-pack.

Old Charter Oak (Second Release)

Buffalo Trace’s new Old Charter Oak line is a study in wood. Releasing quarterly and in limited quantities, every drop will be a different experiment with oak. The second release is 12-year-old Mashbill #1 Buffalo Trace bourbon aged entirely in French oak barrels. Because French oak grows at a tighter grain than the usual American oak, the whiskey inside the barrel interacts differently with it. Like the Crown Royal French Oak finished whisky above, the most notable difference between this installment of Old Charter Oak and a regular bottle of Buffalo Trace is texture. It’s a more velvety bourbon that touches on different parts of the mouth, especially the back part of the jaw. This is to be sipped neat side-by-side with a similar bottle from Buffalo Trace’s line.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The Complete Buying Guide to Suntory Japanese Whisky: Important Brands and Bottles Explained

Yamazaki. Hakushu. Hibiki. When a Westerner thinks of Japanese whisky, they think of names under the House of Suntory. Which makes sense, of course — Shinjiro Torii’s company, founded in 1923, is Japan’s first and most popular whisky maker. But it wasn’t always that way.

In 1929, Torii hired Masataka Taketsuru to create the world’s first Japanese whisky. They got it wrong. The expression, called Suntory Shirofuda, tasted too much like Scotch — too peaty, too powerful. Torii realized the Japanese palate didn’t want ultra-smokey peat bombs; it wanted finesse. So they made what has since become the most popular whisky Japan: Suntory Kakubin. It’s light, punchy and floral, the baseline for all Japanese whiskies to come.

Since then, Suntory’s whiskies have grown in volume, quality and prestige. It operates three distilleries across Japan — Yamazaki Distillery, Hakushu Distillery, Chita Distillery — each with its own purpose and flair. Here’s everything you need to know.

Editor’s Note: Suntory has recently discontinued many of its expressions, citing the growing popularity of Japanese whisky and general stock shortages. Those are included in this guide, as they remain available in limited quantities in and outside of Japan.

Hibiki


The most luxe of Suntory’s whisky holdings also happens to be its most Japanese. Hibiki, which first hit shelves in 1989, was designed as a more palatable alternative to blended Scotch, meant to be sipped neat or over ice.

Each Hibiki expression is a blend of dozens of whiskies produced at all three of Suntory’s whiskey-making facilities and, as with each Suntory whisky brand, may contain spirit aged in new American oak barrels, Spanish Olorosso sherry casks, ex-bourbon barrels, ex-wine casks and the legendary (not to mention extraordinarily expensive) Japanese Mizunara oak barrel.

The size and variability of the Hibiki toolkit is what separates it from Suntory’s other whiskies. It’s the only of the company’s whiskies that contains parts from every distillery, every wood type and every barrel in its repertoire. The results are intensely floral and fruity that, as you climb in years-in-barrel, present more depth, citrus notes and tannic twists.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony

SRP: $65
Street Price: $65-$100
Year Introduced: 2015
Production: Ongoing

Within the Hibiki line, only Japanese Harmony (the sole non-age statement Hibiki expression) remains at or near its listed retail price in the U.S. It’s a composite of Chita grain whisky and Yamazaki and Hakushu single malt whiskies, and though Suntory discloses no age information for the whiskies in the Harmony blend, it’s likely younger than the other offerings under the Hibiki umbrella. Japanese Harmony leans heavily on its springiness — it’s heavily floral and citrusy on the nose and palate — but it lacks some barrel flavors like vanilla, maple and wood spice until the finish. Pour it over ice for best results.

Hibiki 12

SRP: $85
Street Price: $350-$450
Year Introduced: 2009
Production: Discontinued

The first of Suntory’s whisky to get the axe … Hibiki 12 was discontinued in 2015, so despite its status as the youngest of the line’s age-statement collection, it’s no easier to track down than its older siblings. The liquid itself exhibits an immediate woody note on the nose, with the brighter, more acidic notes relegated to a supporting role. The taste is closer to Harmony than expected, but is noticeably less watery rolling around the mouth and it’s apparent there’s a different variable at play. In this case, it’s a significant portion of time spent aging in ex-plum liqueur barrels, a practice other Hibiki bottles don’t include.

Hibiki 17

SRP: $150
Street Price: $450-$600
Year Introduced: 1989
Production: Discontinued

The discontinuation of Hibiki 17 was perhaps the biggest Japanese whisky news of 2018, and for good reason. It’s the benchmark Hibiki — an award-getting bottle that shows off the power of Japanese whisky making technique and, more specifically, the Mizunara oak tree.

Whisky aged in Mizunara casks is thought to need more time to reach its potential than traditional aging types; thus, the older the Hibiki expression, the more Mizunara characteristic. In this case, that means a spirit with a weighty body, heavy coconut and sandalwood aroma and a balanced sweet- and spice-driven taste profile.

Hibiki 21

SRP: $250
Street Price: $850-$1,100
Year Introduced: 1989
Production: Ongoing

If a betting man were to put money on the next discontinuation domino to fall, it’d be on Hibiki 21. The oldest of the U.S.-available Hibiki products carries a significantly more wood-driven (Mizunara especially) flavor than the 17 or the 12. Its finish is more drawn out, and the sweet and bright notes you get at first sip with Harmony and the 12 don’t show up as quickly. But 21 isn’t what one would call overoaked — Hibiki’s trademark floral acidity cuts through the richness. If you’re able to order a pour at a bar, do so neat for the full experience.

Hakushu


Suntory’s Hakushu distillery is hidden under a mountain in central Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture. The whisky made there is defined by its intensely forested environment and, more pragmatically, peated malt. Hakushu is the only whisky in the Suntory profile that utilizes peated malt (the company imports it from Scotland), but thanks to exceptionally low mineral content water flowing from Mount Kaikomagatake and a much lower peat level, it’s intentionally tamer than the peat bombs Scotch drinkers may be used to.

Hakushu 12

SRP: $85
Street Price: $125-$200
Year Introduced: 1994
Production: Discontinued

The first of two U.S.-distributed Hakushu offerings, 12 offers up what the Hakushu line’s deep green bottle promises: freshness. On the nose and palate, 12 is bursting with Hakushu’s rich terroir — pine, mint, grass, chamomile, rosemary and lemon. The peat comes through most on the nose and finish, where it amounts to a background profile flavor. Hakushu 12 was discontinued May of 2018, but it can still be found with a little digging. Just expect a considerable markup.

Hakushu 18

SRP: $250
Street Price: $400-$600
Year Introduced: 1994
Production: Ongoing

This expression is the exact same base spirit as 12, just six years older. It’s also three- to five-times the price. The 18-year-old channels the 12-year-old bottle’s freshness, and goes deeper. It’s fresh herbal notes become dried herbal notes and the citrus is replaced with a big, ripe sweetness. The peat is still there, but shows up more on first tasting than it does near the end of a glass.

Yamazaki


Located in a Kyoto suburb, the Yamazaki Distillery is the birthplace of Japanese whisky. Its many-layered whiskies serve as an introductory course to Japanese whisky — light-bodied, clean, rich in fruit and floral quality with varying degrees of spice. Yamazaki whisky isn’t as distinctive as Hakushu and it isn’t as poetic as Hibiki, but it’s an idealistic interpretation of what Japanese whisky is and should be.

Yamazaki 12

SRP: $85
Street Price: $125-$200
Year Introduced: 1984
Production: Ongoing

The most popular Japanese single malt in the world was also the first. Yamazaki 12 is primarily made up of whisky aged in American oak and ex-bourbon casks, with trace amounts of whisky coming from Olorosso or Mizunara casks. For Westerners, this lends it a slightly more familiar flavor — at least initially. What follows are the rich, standard markers for Japanese whisky: delicate fruit, light spice and a long, sherry-driven finish.

Yamazaki 18

SRP: $250
Street Price: $500-$1,000
Year Introduced: 1984
Production: Discontinued

The 18-year-old expression nails the same profile as the 12-year-old, but the order is reversed. Instead of sherry on the back-end, it’s the first thing you taste. The followup is a swell of barrel-derived flavor compounds picked up from six more years in casks: vanilla, coconut, butterscotch, toffee and so on. As with Hibiki 17 and up, the Mizunara cask impact is greater than on the 18 than the 12, with loads of sandalwood that stay with you from nosing to the finish.

Yamazaki 25

SRP: $1,600
Street Price: $7,500+
Year Introduced: 1984
Production: Ongoing

Forwarning: you will (likely) never drink this expression. Everything about Yamazaki 25 is excessive (the color is literally darker than the barrels it’s aged in). One of the few Japanese whiskies that could fairly be described as oak-aggressive, the 25-year-old bottling packs a payload unlike its younger counterparts — heavy wood tannin astringency, deep sweetness as all stages of tasting and a consistent sherry bite that cuts through all of it. If you want to try it, your best bet is to patron a well-stocked bar and order a pour. Otherwise, a bottle will run you upward of $7,500 in store, or $10,000-plus online.

Other Notable Bottles

Kakubin

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 1937
Production: Ongoing

Think of Kakubin as Japan’s Jim Beam White Label — it’s cheap, available everywhere and just good enough to mix with soda for a decent drink. Effectively the second Japanese whisky ever made, its light body and slightly spicy profile were built to mix into a highball and cut through the carbonation just enough. It’s unavailable in U.S. stores, though you could buy this online from a number of sites, but prices are far exaggerated from Kakubin’s status as a convenience store whisky in its home country. Our advice: wait until you make it to Japan yourself before picking up bottles. Its price means it the perfect bulk buy, and its story makes it an ideal travel gift.

Toki

SRP: $35
Street Price: $35-$50
Year Introduced: 2016
Production: Ongoing

Suntory designed Toki to do one thing extraordinarily well: mix in highballs. After all, Japan’s favorite way to consume whiskey — which entails mixing a few ounces of whisky with a few ounces of club soda (lemon spritz optional) — was not a prudent way to use up more mature bottles. Toki is primarily made up of Hakushu malted whiskies and a heavy helping of Chita grain whisky (Chita can be purchased as its own expression in Japan), giving it a springy, velvety nose and mouthfeel with enough spice to cut through soda and ice dilution. The mixture is finished with trace amounts of Yamazaki aged in American oak and Spanish sherry casks. Available in nearly any decent liquor store, it’s perhaps the only Japanese party whisky.

Chita

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 2015
Production: Ongoing

For blending purposes, Chita grain whisky serves as dashi; it’s the whisky equivalent to broth in a stew — a flavorful foundation, but not the star of the show. In 2015, Suntory decided to bottle a single grain variant to sell in Japan (it hasn’t made it to the States yet). No one would recommend it for sipping neat or on the rocks, but it’s a perfectly capable highball whisky, especially if you prefer more passive flavor profiles. Tasting Chita also serves as an education tool for those aiming to understand the building blocks of Japanese whisky, as it’s presence is easy to miss in Hibiki and Toki bottlings.

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 2014
Production: Ongoing

You’ll notice a pattern with Suntory’s most recent whisky releases: no age statements. Unavailable in the U.S., Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve is essentially Yamazaki Light. It’s composed of the stuff that goes into the more mature expressions, but it lacks the depth brought on by said maturation. It’s a good place to start trying Yamazaki, and one that, if you find yourself in Japan, won’t break the bank.

Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve

SRP: Not Available in the US
Year Introduced: 2014
Production: Ongoing

This is just like Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve but made entirely with Hakushu whiskies. It carries the huge green notes and mild peatiness of its older catalog mates, but it has a much quicker, one note finish. Also like the Yamazaki, less complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Best Everyday Bourbon Whiskeys Are Affordable and Easy to Find

Bourbon culture is a lot like sneaker culture. We wait in lines, enter raffles and hunt on secondary markets for bottles with the words “Limited Edition” etched in gold leaf (or we get a Task Rabbit to do the deed for us).

For everyday whiskey drinkers not part of the Instagram #crotchshot generation, frustration can set in. What must the layman do to buy even the most humble of allocated bottles? An answer can be gleaned from the WOPR supercomputer in WarGames — “the only winning move is not to play.”

Maybe it’s time we all embraced the anti-hype: The lower-middle shelf. The bourbon normcore. Because the best whiskey isn’t the stuff flipped for hundreds of dollars on your local Facebook group. It’s in those bottles that are always on the shelf, always reasonably priced and always good. Here are five standbys.

Wild Turkey 101

Price: $20-$25
Proof: 101
Age: 6-, 7-, 8-year-old blend

Somehow, someway, the whiskey you drank at college is cool among bourbon bros. It isn’t without reason. Wild Turkey’s high-proof, low-cost 101 blends 6-, 7- and 8-year old whiskeys, and it is made with the same mashbill, barrel char and process as all its other whiskey (both high- and low-end). There isn’t a bottle at you local liquor store that packs more flavor into every dollar than 101. The $20 to $25 bottle, bursting with vanilla, oak and black pepper, is the perfect gateway into high-powered bourbon.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Price: $25-$30
Proof: 94
Age: 8- to 12-year-old blend

After a long stint as an oaky 12-year-old whiskey, Elijah Craig Small Batch lost its age statement in 2016. This wasn’t well-received by the bourbon community, but the bottle has remained the same proof and price as it was then, and it’s better than almost everything it sits next to on the shelf.

The contemporary expression is a composite of 8- to 12-year-old juice. It’s both an excellent table whiskey and appetizer for Heaven Hill’s harder-hitting bottles (namely, the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof). Given the price, you can mix it without guilt, though its flavor is good enough to drink out of a snifter.

Four Roses Small batch

Price: $30-$35
Proof: 90
Age: 6-, 7-year-old blend

Five expressions comprise Four Roses’s permanent whiskey portfolio, which scales linearly in price and, to most drinker’s minds, quality. Between the Yellow Label and Single Barrel offerings lies Small Batch, a high- and low-rye blend an 6- to 7-year-old bourbons. According to Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliot, the final mix is a dead-even split of two mashbills and a 70-30 split of the distillery’s K (slight spice) and O (rich fruit) yeast strains. The final result is an equally warm, dry, sweet, caramel-forward bottle that’s remained remarkably consistent over time.

Knob Creek Single Barrel

Price: $35-$45
Proof: 120
Age: 9-years-old

One could argue that Knob Creek’s Single Barrel Reserve doesn’t deserve a place on this list — especially when the standard Knob Creek straight bourbon is a perfectly good alternative. To hell with that.

This carries a 9-year age statement, the allure of the single barrel, near cask strength proof (120!) and an easy-to-like brown sugar taste. All that for $35 to $45 is a steal in today’s bourbon environment, and you’d be a fool not to buy it. Sip Single Barrel straight, with an ice cube or mix into an Old Fashioned — the baking spice richness works nicely with the orange.

Old Forester Signature 100

Price: $25-$30
Proof: 100
Age: No age information available

Signature 100 is the modern history of bourbon in a bottle. After the federal government signed the Bottled In Bond Act of 1897 into law, Old Forester juiced its staple offering from 90 proof to 100 proof to meet the new standard. But when drinkers began favoring lighter spirits — vodka, rum and the like — the whiskey category tanked, and Old Forester was forced to blend its whiskey down to 86 proof. As the whiskey industry returned, so did Signature 100 — a stouter, older (though still without an age statement), more flavorful version of the easy-drinking 86 proof offering. Its initial taste and finish are characterized by a caramel richness and fruit sweetness. Find it anywhere for $25 to $30.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

How to Buy Better Beer, According to a Bottle Shop Owner

My first visit to a bottle shop was in college, right after I turned 21, with a friend who had the beer bug as bad as me. The rows of bottles behind the frosted glass, the hum of the refrigeration, the watchful eye of the owner — all together, it cast a spell on us. We were suddenly giddy, like kids in a beer-filled candy shop.

Then we were overwhelmed. This is the problem with the best bottle shops: you’re spoiled for choice. But it’s better than what you’ll sometimes find elsewhere: overpriced beer, old bottles (so-called “shelf turds”), asshole patrons or, worse, asshole owners. Oftentimes, it’s enough to drive you to the corner store, where the selections might suck, but at least you’re not harried about beer, of all things.

A better solution: find the right bottle shop, and go from there.

ABC Beer Co., in Manhattan, has been open for seven years. It’s one of the best beer stores in New York City, replete with well-stocked coolers, a small bar, communal seating and tasty bites. Zach Mack, its cofounder, says things have only changed for the better since they opened. “Seven years ago, there were fewer beer options out there, and people considered themselves a lot less knowledgeable,” he says. “Now, people who didn’t drink beer back then are drinking sours, saisons, all sorts of stuff. It’s widened the market.” We asked him how to navigate the craft bottle shop scene. Here are some of his tips.

Don’t be crippled by indecision, embrace it. The reality is, at a good bottle shop, there’s too much to choose from. “Sometimes I get FOMO standing in front of my own refrigerators,” Mack says. “I sit there for upwards of 25 minutes. People are like, ‘don’t you own this place?’”

It’s fun to take your time. “When I was growing up,” Mack says, “I loved walking around record stores, and bookstores, spending time perusing shelves and seeing what jumped out. The act of standing in front of products is quickly vanishing from lives. I revel in doing that with beer. And the same path to discovery can happen at a bottle shop. Sometimes, if I stand there long enough, I end up picking something I never knew I wanted.”

Pay attention to freshness. More breweries and distributors are worrying about freshness than ever before. You should, too. “It matters more for specific styles,” Mack says. “IPAs need to be as fresh as possible. Barrel-aged stouts are a different story.”

“Some breweries use cryptic, strange systems,” Mack adds. One prominent example is the Julian code, which is based on the day of the year. December 21 would be 365. “It’s more of a European thing, but it’s happening in the U.S., too,” he says.

Consult a human, not an app. “Don’t go on an app and double check to what people say you should buy,” Mack says. “God forbid you’re shopping for a pilsner, and look it up. Apparently, all pilsners in the world are mediocre at best.”

Have a human interaction instead. “Talk to other shoppers and ask what they like. Certainly ask the staff. Any place worth shopping at will have knowledgeable employees. Some of the best beers I’ve had are from asking someone to point me to the last thing they had that really opened their eyes.”

Subscribe to a newsletter. Yes, newsletters can make you cringe. But a bottleshop letter is the best way to keep up to date about what’s coming and going. “We use our newsletter to let people know which new breweries are available, cue big releases and update about special events,” Mack says. Following your local shop on social media, where they’ll often post about upcoming releases, can give you a leg up, too.

Become a regular — but don’t expect special treatment. “We have a bunch of regulars who are good, friendly people,” Mack says. “You don’t have to spend a ton of money to be a regular. It’s about engaging in a positive way. They let me know what type of beer they’re interested in, and ask politely that they’d love to be made aware if I can get it in.”

Just don’t get too comfortable. “Spend a few nights drinking with the owner, become their buddy, but at the same time, know that that doesn’t guarantee any special treatment,” Mack says.

Widen your horizons for shops, not just beers. “Your spot doesn’t have to be a hip bottle shop,” Mack says. “It could be a guy who’s passionate about beer at your local grocery store. Explore all avenues, and don’t settle for something you don’t like.”

How to Talk Bourbon: 11 Slang Terms Every Wannabe Expert Should Know

The beginning of every new hobby goes something like this: figure out you like something, seek more information, become overwhelmed with jargon, take a step back. In industries as old and technical as whiskey-making, lingo abounds — mashbill, small batch, barrel pick, high wine, high rye, distillate and so on. But at least these words have firm definitions.

Ever heard of a “sleeper” car? Ever felt “afterbang” skiing? How do you respond if a cyclist calls you a “fred”? Hobbyist talk is the true enemy of every would-be hobbyist, and bourbon, as with all activities that lend themselves to obsession, is laced with words that make little sense to the outsider. Here’s a brief guide on talking bourbon like a bona fide bourbon drinker.

Video: Talking Unicorn Bourbons With Will Price

Watch more of This Week In Gear video reviews.

Juice: Juice is just the bourbon inside a bottle. It’s used as a means to avoid saying “whiskey” or “bourbon” over and over again in conversation.

Unicorn: A unicorn — sometimes called unicorn bottle — is a sought-after bottle of limited-edition, hard-to-find bourbon. Examples of annually released unicorn bourbons include Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon, Pappy anything, Four Roses Limited Editions and any bottle in Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.

Honey Hole: A liquor store that is both rich in prized bottles of bourbon and sells them at or near their retail prices. Most honey holes are found on the outskirts of urban areas, where they’ll receive a city’s allocation of high-value bourbon but with far less foot traffic.

Honey Barrel: Unrelated to the honey hole, the honey barrel is something out of old-bourbon lore. It is the platonic ideal bourbon barrel — created by an unscientific, “know it when you taste it” fusion of temperature, rickhouse location, age, distiller know-how and luck.

Fake Tan: Though adding artificial caramel coloring to deepen flavor is a banned practice in the bourbon world, some drinkers insist there are distillers who give their bottle a “fake tan.” Why? Whiskey goes into a barrel as a clear spirit and comes out somewhere on the yellow-gold-brown spectrum. The longer bourbon ages in a new charred oak cask, the deeper the hue, and seeing as many drinkers still equate age to quality, a deeper color is a desirable trait.

Tater: A sign of the times. The latest word in bourbon whiskey parlance, a “tater” is an enthusiast who perpetuates the category’s newly found hype culture. Taters are the type to run to liquor stores upon hearing a bottle is getting hot — like, say, if it won an award — and buy a case for the sole purpose of re-selling it. For a more complete list of tater moves, check out the Tater-Talk’s 81-and-counting signs you might be a tater.

White Dog: Also called white lightning, white whiskey and hooch, white dog is whiskey before it goes into a barrel for aging. It’s whiskey right off the still and is called “white” because it hasn’t browned in a barrel. Its flavor is bluntly corn-forward and lacks the depth, sweetness or tannic body time spent in a barrel provides.

Angel’s Share: The wood barrels used to age bourbon are porous. Bourbon gets inside those pores and, over time, evaporates into the ether. This process results in the loss of anywhere from two to five percent of the total volume of barreled whiskey. That lost whiskey is known as the angel’s share.

The Hunt: Used as a general term in collecting vernacular to describe the search for highly coveted bottles.

Dusties: Bottles of old, out-of-production booze that’s been sitting in a case, at the back of the shelf or long buried in someone’s liquor cabinet. Hunting dusties is a graduated form of bourbon collecting — a practice that requires foreknowledge of what was made in the past, its value and, of course, where it might be hiding.

Flipper: Just like a sneaker re-seller, but for bourbon. A flipper buys bottles and proceeds to sell them on secondary markets (Craigslist, local Facebook groups, etc.) for profit. And similar to sneaker re-sellers, bourbon flippers are typically looked down upon by purists.

The Best Cigars for Beginners Share One Thing in Common

Among the Spanish-rich language of cigars — from figurado to puro — one word stands out: Connecticut. No doubt you’ll see it if you peruse your local store’s walk-in humidor. The Connecticut wrapper is one of the more common cigar wrappers, and it’s one of the most unique, too.

Along with filler and binder tobacco, a cigar’s wrapper affects flavor and aroma, and it plays an important role in the way a cigar burns. The Connecticut wrapper, as opposed to the excellent Maduro or Habano wrappers grown in the Caribbean or elsewhere, is silky-smooth to the touch and extremely light in color. Even if the filler tobacco of a Connecticut-wrapper cigar is full-bodied and spicy, the light leaf lends a creamy mildness to the smoke. This makes Connecticut wrappers ideal for a new smoker; yet when paired with something more pungent, it adds the complexity and subtlety veteran smokers love.

The Connecticut tobacco industry has contracted in the past decade. Fewer people smoke cigars today than they once did; plus, growers in the Caribbean have figured out how to grow Connecticut-seed tobacco just as well, at a fraction of the cost. So, it’s likely that your Connecticut wrapper was actually grown in Ecuador or the Dominican Republic. Consider the geographical contradiction good conversation fodder while you’re enjoying your next one.

Nat Sherman Sterling Series

For decades, Nat Sherman was mainly a cigarette maker. But since a revamp in the 2010s, they’ve resurfaced among cigar smokers as a solid, affordable brand. Their Sterling series is a great introduction to Connecticut wrappers, with mild flavors and the right price tag.

Tasting Notes: Like an afternoon cup of milky coffee: creamy and buttery, with nutty and chocolatey notes.
Filler: Dominican Republic
Binder: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $132, box of 10

Undercrown Shade by Drew Estate

Drew Estate was started by a couple American “frat boys” (their words) in the late ‘90s. Their alternative approach to flavor-infused cigars (they started ACID cigars in 1999) has given way to some more traditional lines, most notably Liga Privada and Undercrown, two cult-favorite brands. Undercrown’s shade line adds an Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut wrapper and a twist on their filler and binder blend.

Tasting Notes: Medium bodied, with early notes of wood and leather, growing into creamy, chewy coffee notes.
Filler: Nicaragua and Dominican Republic
Binder: Sumatran
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $8+

Montecristo White Label

Montecristo is a classic brand, beloved by cigar smokers for just about everything they do. In particular, their flavors are known to be among the smoothest — starting with the famous Montecristo No. 2, a benchmark Cuban. The White Label line pairs a Connecticut wrapper to that smoothness, with great results.

Tasting Notes: Toasty, nutty flavors, paired with peppery spice that lingers on the back of the tongue.
Filler: Nicaragua and Dominican Republic
Binder: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $330 (box of 27)

Montecristo Churchill Natural

Just like the White Label, the Churchill “Classic” line (sometimes called Montecristo Yellow) is a line of mellow, smooth cigars. But its wrapper is grown in Connecticut, not Ecuador; inside, its all-Dominican filler and binder make a spicier, more medium-bodied smoke — easy to graduate to from the White Label.

Tasting Notes: Smooth, silky smoke, with creamy notes, wood, and white pepper.
Filler: Dominican Republic
Binder: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Connecticut
Price: $380 (box of 25)

Nub Connecticut

You’ll know a Nub when you see one. The brand is owned by Oliva, and makes short, stubby cigars. The idea is you get more of the bold flavors that come in the final third of the cigar — for the whole cigar. That adds a new, intense wrinkle to the Connecticut wrapper.

Tasting Notes: Rich, white smoke, with lots of buttery, nutty, and woody notes.
Filler: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $8

Davidoff White Label Short Perfecto

Sometimes an expensive cigar is well worth the price. That might as well be Davidoff’s model; their sticks are the Ferrari of cigars. This short perfecto is a smaller smoke, which makes it a more affordable way to enjoy the brand’s complex tobacco blend.

Tasting Notes: Light, buttery smoke that eventually gives way to earthy spice in the last two thirds of the cigar.
Filler: Dominican Republic
Binder: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut
Price: $18+

Non-Chill Filtered Bourbon Is the Natural Wine of the Whiskey World

Hunched over a small white table with an eyedropper and two Glencairn glasses half-full of Four Roses bourbon, Master Distiller Brent Elliot conducted a science experiment. “A little cold water and you’ll see what I’m talking about,” he said.

Elliot dabbed five drops into one of the glasses, swirled and waited. “There!” he said. “You see that? That’s the cloudiness we’re talking about.”

The occasion was the release of Four Roses’s first new mainline bottle in over a decade, but the subject was the words emblazoned in capital letters on the bottleneck: NON-CHILL FILTERED.

During the fermentation, distillation and barrel-aging processes, spirits develop trace byproducts that take the shape of acetone, esters, tannins, fatty lipids and other particles, collectively called congeners. Non-chill filtered spirits are those spirits that have not had those naturally occurring congeners sieved from them — sort of like natural wine. The effects congeners have on taste is up for debate — some argue filtering them out is tantamount to limiting the depth of flavor, others say their effect is mostly imagined.

Related Video: 3 Affordable, Must-Buy Bourbons

Including Heaven Hill Old-Style Bourbon, a non-chill filtered spirit found only in Kentucky – for about $10.

In the early days of bourbon filtration, the chief concern was aesthetic: non-chill filtered whiskeys become cloudy at lower temperatures, leading customers to believe there was something awry with the whiskey inside. Chill filtering these particles out of the whiskey became been standard procedure for bourbon makers for 100-plus years hence.

“Some distilleries and brands will lock onto [non-chill filtering] more than others,” said Clay Whittaker, whiskey writer and frequent contributor for Men’s Journal, Town & Country and more. “These places are the ones thinking about authenticity — the most real version of the whiskey.”

Elliot believes non-chill filtering has an effect, but that it may be different — more pronounced or more subdued — depending on the person. “A lot of our customers feel that non-chill-filtered bourbon offers a more natural bourbon experience because nothing has been removed — you know, heavier mouthfeel, more woody flavors, but it’s not a question of good or bad.”

Because of the enormous cost associated with chill filtration equipment, the craft distilling community (that is, those craft distillers that make their own whiskey) has largely skipped chill filtration wholesale. Andy Nelson’s award darling of a distillery, Belle Meade, is one such company. And despite offering a full line of non-chill filtered juice, Nelson is on the same page as Elliot.

“Subtlety is the keyword. It’s fully dependent on the person tasting the booze. If you drink the same spirit side-by-side, one chill filtered and one non-chill filtered, you’ll feel it,” he said, “It’s a mouthfeel thing for me — like the difference between a well-marbled steak and a steak on the leaner side.”

With the new non-chill filtered Four Roses, Weller’s forthcoming non-chill filtered Full Proof and a swell of offerings from craft distillers forgoing chill filtration, it’s easy to call NCF bourbon a trend. Whittaker says it may be trendy, but it’s not a trend itself. Rather, he says, it’s a smaller part of a larger bourbon movement — portfolio diversification.

“Whiskey nerds, budding or otherwise, want to try variations of things. They want to learn by exposing themselves to as many versions of something as possible. It’s another tool in a distiller’s toolset, not an all-or-nothing thing.” Here are a handful of non-chill filtered bottles to get yourself acquainted to the category.

Bottles to Try

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Small Batch Select is the decendant of a transcendent bottle of bourbon. The Four Roses 130th Anniversary Limited Edition release stormed award shows last year, eventually claiming the title “World’s Best Bourbon” from the World Whiskies Awards. Small Batch Select is bottled at a similar proof (104 to 108) and is made with each of the same mashbill and yeast strains associated with the limited release (for more info on Four Roses recipes, go here).

New Riff Distilling Bottled-in-Bond

“Nonetheless, if New Riff is not on your radar, you need to follow them. They’re one of the most exciting new distilleries in the world.” Bourbon writer and personality Fred Minnick’s words on New Riff after earning itself some silverware at San Francisco’s World Spirits Competition this year. It’s Double Gold-winning Bottled-in-Bond bourbon is made with a 30 percent rye mashbill, imparting it with a tasteful blend of mellow corn and warm baking spices.

High West Prairie

High West was early in the craft distilling game, and it shows. The Utah distillery’s range of whiskeys embraces the atypical — a bourbon blended with peaty smoke scotch, a genuinely wild mix of very young and very old ryes and this vanilla-bomb of a mid-proof, sourced bourbon.

Belle Meade Madeira Cask Finish

Belle Meade just wants you to try their whiskeys in as many ways as they can afford to give them to you. The Nashville distillery’s madeira-finished bourbon is a blend of six- and nine-year-old high-rye whiskeys. You won’t get the madeira on the nose, but after the first sip it’s front and center with deep blackberry and dark cherry notes.

Bulleit Barrel Strength

If you’ve really acclimated yourself to Bulleit’s brand of bourbon whiskey, you’re in for a treat. The brand’s barrel strength offering is Bulleit with the pedal to the metal. Clocking in anywhere from 115 to 125, it’s the richest way to experience one of the most controversial bourbon labels in America.

Booker’s Shiny Barrel Batch

Booker’s is the grandaddy of all the high proof bourbons flooding the market. Introduced in 1988 at a then-ludicrous $40 clip, today it’s the first bourbon mentioned in any conversation around barrel strength booze. Released in quarterly batches, the Shiny Barrel Batch is one of the easiest drinking Booker’s in a while. As ridiculous as it sounds, its marked 124 proof is a good bit lower than the usual 130-plus. Sip it neat with a few drops of cold water to bring out its famed peanut-heavy foundational note.

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The Best Booze We Drank This Month: May, 2019

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. Here are a few of our favorites.

George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond

In order to qualify for Bottled-in-Bond status, a whiskey needs to be 100 proof, the product of a single distillation season by a single distiller at a single distillery and aged in a bonded warehouse under federal government supervision for at least four years. This means that most Bottled-in-Bond offerings don’t typically advertise age statements, as most aren’t pushing far beyond that 4-year minimum.

George Dickel’s new bottle overachieves to the tune of a 13-year-old age statement and a strangely reasonable $36 retail price. If you like Dickel, you’ll like this bottle a lot — the added years in the barrel mellow its infamous mineral-heavy finish and lets its low-rye mashbill do most of the heavy lifting. It’s not going to be the best bourbon you drink all year, but it might be the best under $40. It’s rolling out to specific markets now.

Haus Citrus + Flower Aperitif

New apéritif label Haus wants to undercut Aperol in the casual, low-alcohol, easy-drinking cocktail game. Citrus + Flower, its first flavor, is an all-natural blend of chardonnay grapes, meyer lemon, grapefruit, elderflower, hibiscus, cinnamon and low amounts of cane sugar (its sugar content is effectively one-seventh that of Aperol’s).

Substitute it in for your usual fare in a range of more complex cocktails, or just pour it over ice with a lime wedge and let the herbs and aromatics do the work. Through a weird loophole in alcohol sales law, Haus is able to be sold directly to you online, which will the first time true direct-to-consumer booze has ever cropped up in the states. If you want a bottle, you’ll need to drop your email on the brand’s site to get in line.

Wolves Whiskey First Run

The first expression from this nascent whiskey label is intentionally weird. A blend of whiskey distilled from stout beer aged in French oak barrels for 8 years, whiskey distilled from Pilsner beer aged in classic American oak for 5 years and an especially spicy rye, Wolves “First Run” hits classic whiskey notes with an atypical body. Marko Karakasevic and his family’s hyper-unique alambic still — only five exist in the States — are to thank for that.

The distillate is made slowly over a 10-day period with plenty of cuts in between. And because it’s distilled from beer, it exudes a hoppiness on the nose that is completely unique to it. Less than 900 bottles of the First Run are available and retails at a heavy $150, but it’s likely one of the most unique bottles of whiskey you can get your hands on.

The Best Bourbon Whiskeys You Can Buy

Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite brown spirit, including, of course, the best bottles you can actually buy. Read the Story

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The 25 Beers You Need to Try Before You Die

Developing an interest in beer comes down to the right beers in the right circumstances, same as anything. So we asked a dozen masters of beer and brewing to name which beers every drinker should try at least once in their lifetime. Some of them are basic, the beers that give you a baseline and hold your hand as you try more complex and obscure styles. Others are simply the most notable examples of brewers pushing the limits of science and taste.

Editor’s Note: Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.

3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston

Style: Gueuze
ABV: 6%
Brewery Location: Beersel, Belgium
“The first time I shared a 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze with my wife years ago, she handed it back and told me it smelled like burnt cat hair. Gueuze, of course, can be an acquired taste with its mashup of minerality, acidity, and deep earthy funk. But this new take on oude gueuze from the best gueuze blender in the business is really something spectacular. Soft lemon and stone fruit notes peek out from a body with just a touch of caramelized malt, while a tightly edited acidity is a constant reminder of just how heavy-handed some American brewers are with their ‘sour’ beer.” — Jamie Bogner, cofounder and editorial director of Craft Beer & Brewing

The Alchemist Heady Topper

Style: Double IPA
ABV: 8%
Brewery Location: Stowe, VT
“Do we need more lists that include Heady, the venerable Vermont IPA that helped usher in the NEIPA craze? Yes, yes we do. If we’re talking beers you need to try, why not try one that was once considered the most sought-after beer out there? While you may (or may not) get a better beer from The Alchemist’s neighbors in Vermont — Foam, Hill Farmstead — it’s fun to taste a brew that was once the center of the beer universe.” — Cory Smith, beer writer and photographer

Allagash White

Style: Witbier
ABV: 5.1%
Brewery Location: Portland, ME
“This is probably the most important beer in the history of American craft brewing. If you care about Belgian-American beers, unfiltered brews or fiercely independent business in any way, shape or form, you owe it to yourself to drink White. It also happens to be as tasty, refreshing and versatile as it’s been for the past [two decades].” — Alex Delany, associate web editor at Bon Appétit

Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG Rothaus Pils

Style: Pilsner
ABV: 5.1%
Brewery Location: Grafenhausen-Rothaus, Germany
“This beer is over 60 years old and still an elegant representation of a classic German pilsner. Brewed in Germany’s Black Forest, it’s as crisp and refreshing as it gets. We always try to keep some on hand at home and at the brewery as it’s a wonderful beer to share after a long shift, or with friends when entertaining at home.” — Dino Funari, founder of Vitamin Sea Brewing

Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.4%
Brewery Location: Freising, Germany
“This German wheat beer is hazy, fluffy and fruity, with no bitterness at all — nearly 1,000 years before the invention of New England-style IPA! Founded in 1040, the brewery was housed in an old monastery and is now owned by the German government.” — Jason Synan, brewer and co-owner of Hudson Valley Brewery

Birrificio Italiano Tipopils

Style: Pilsner
ABV: 5.2%
Brewery Location: Province of Como, Italy
“A wonderful example of an often produced but tough-to-nail style. Tipopils from Birrificio is certainly special among ‘normal’ beers. It’s more full in body than many of its pilsner counterparts, and it provides waves of malt flavors throughout the palate with a perfect Nobel hop spice and bitterness that tickles the tastebuds. Straight up, this beer rules.” — Andrew Witchey, founder of Dancing Gnome Beer

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 13.2%
Brewery Location: Anaheim, CA
“I first had this beer at a bottle share around the time of Great Notion’s opening. I’ve had a fair number of imperial stouts in the past, but this one surprised me. Since then, I’ve gotten to know the guys from Bottle Logic, and I realize how crazy they are. They use an insane amount of vanilla beans in each bourbon barrel, which, with time, take on a really cool toasted marshmallow flavor. For me, this beer sets the standard for barrel-aged imperial stouts.” — James Dugan, cofounder and cobrewer at Great Notion Brewing

Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba

Style: Belgian Pale Ale
ABV: 4.5%
Brewery Location: Brussels, Belgium
“I only recently tried Tara Boulba but it was an eye-opening experience. A beer with a soft hay-like malt character, a grassy brightness from the hops and a touch of earthiness from the yeast that adds some complexity. It’s a shining example of all the ingredients that make beer melding in perfect harmony to create something greater than the sum of its parts.” — Sofia Barbaresco, general manager at Industrial Arts Brewing

Brasserie d’Orval S.A. Orval

Style: Belgian Pale Ale
ABV: 6.2%
Brewery Location: Florenville, Belgium
“One of the first beers I remember trying that had Brettanomyces in it. Eye opening. Balanced hoppiness when it is young, leaning towards a lovely funkiness as it ages. It might take more than one bottle understand profundity of it all. — Anthony Accardi, cofounder and fermentologist at Transmitter Brewing

Brasserie Dupont sprl Saison Dupont

Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%
Brewery Location: Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium
“One of the most iconic bottle-conditioned beers, offering bright spritzy carbonation with aromatics and a flavor profile that embodies a farmhouse ale. This beer transcends seasons and is a must on everyone’s list.” — Scott Jones, cofounder of Triple Crossing Brewing

Brasserie Thiriez Extra

Style: Saison
ABV: 4.5%
Brewery Location: Esquelbecq, France
“Thiriez, the French farmhouse brewery that was doing hoppy saisons before any stateside brewers caught on to the magic, is possibly the most under-loved and under-appreciated brewery in the world. Extra is the archetype for the modern hoppy saison: unbelievably grassy, dank and yeasty. Drinking Daniel Thiriez’s brew gives context to an entire style of now-ubiquitous American beer.” — Alex Delany, associate web editor at Bon Appétit

Brauerei Spezial Rauchbier

Style: German Rauchbier
ABV: 4.7%
Brewery Location: Bamberg, Germany
“Every drinker should get out of their comfort zone and try a smoked beer. And this, in my opinion, is the best example in the world.” — Steve Luke, head brewer and owner of Cloudburst Brewing

Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. Rodenbach Classic

Style: Flanders Red
ABV: 5.2%
Brewery Location: Roeselare, Belgium
“I found this on draft at The Ginger Man in New York City not knowing what I was in for in terms of flavor profile and experience. When I see it on draft today, I order it to bring back the experience of astonishment and revelation that tasting that beer had on me.” — Anthony Accardi, cofounder and fermentologist at Transmitter Brewing

Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne

Style: Flanders Red
ABV: 6.2%
Brewery Location: Vichte, Belgium
“Fans of contemporary American sour ales (read: fruited kettle sours) will love this classic from West Flanders in Belgium. Balancing yogurt-like acidity and sweetness, Duchesse tastes a lot like Sour Patch Kids.” — Jason Synan, brewer and co-owner of Hudson Valley Brewery

Daisy Cutter Half Acre

Style: Pale Ale
ABV: 5.2%
Brewery Location: Chicago, IL
“The beer scene has certainly exploded over the last two years, let alone five, but Half Acre, just outside of Chicago, has been putting out phenomenal product for over a decade. Daisy Cutter is a near-perfect example of an American Pale Ale that checks all boxes. Pronounced and balanced bitterness, a dry and refreshing finish and, perhaps most importantly, an explosion of flavor that’s palatable for everyone. This one is for sure a desert-island beer.” — Andrew Witchey, founder of Dancing Gnome Beer

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 15.2%
Brewery Location: Chicago, IL
“Completely side-stepping the whole craft vs big beer debate, this beer is a benchmark for what barrel-aged stout can be. It created and defined an entire category and needs to be tried at least once.” — Cory Smith, beer writer and photographer

Hill Farmstead Citra

Style: IPA
ABV: 6.3%
Brewery Location: Greensboro Bend, Vermont
“It’s just perfection. The best representation of any single hop variety I’ve had in a beer. It smells like a citrus grove in bloom and tastes like perfectly ripe peaches. The finish is soft and slightly acidic, making your mouth water for another drink. It’s magic.” — Kyle Jefferson, owner and brewer of Pueblo Vida Brewing Company

Jester King Le Petit Prince

Style: Table Beer
ABV: 2.9%
Brewery Location: Austin, TX
“It’s a complex 2.9-percent farmhouse table beer that I could have on my dinner table for the rest of my life; the beer pairs well with any meal. Soft and delicate, yet full of flavor and funk. The brewers at Jester King are basically just showing off. It’s the hardest style to execute and they perfected it.” — Kyle Jefferson, owner and brewer of Pueblo Vida Brewing Company

Kane Brewing Mexican Brunch

Style: Imperial Milk Porter
ABV: 9.2%
Brewery Location: Ocean, NJ
“This is my favorite offering from our New Jersey friends at Kane and one of the best dark beers in the country. Kane does a great job balancing the flavors from a rich base beer with the delicate flavors of the adjuncts. Try it, if you can get your hands on a bottle!” — Eric Ruta, owner of Magnify Brewing

Perennial Abraxas

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%
Brewery Location: Saint Louis, MO
“Easily one of the most consistently delicious stouts year after year. Abraxas tends to dodge the “pastry stout” moniker because it manages to stay balanced despite the number of adjuncts.” — John Paradiso, managing editor of Hop Culture

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Saison Bernice

Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%
Brewery Location: Capitola, CA
“One day, back when I lived in the Bay Area, I found myself at Toronado on Haight Street. The bartender served me my first Saison Bernice and I was blown away. I remember sipping it slowly, appreciating every nuance, and it changed my idea about what a saison could be. The beauty of it is in its balance: you get a mix of funky Brett, bright acidity and classic farmhouse character. As I try to achieve that level of balance in our mix culture beer, this beer still inspires me.” — James Dugan, cofounder and cobrewer at Great Notion Brewing

Schneeeule Brauerie Marlene

Style: Berliner Weisse
ABV: 3%
Brewery Location: Berlin, Germany
“Schneeeule is making some amazing Berliner Weisse in Berlin, and Marlene is a great example of the style. If you enjoy the beer younger side you might find it has a touch of acidity, but if you let it age longer, you might be able to enjoy a more pronounced acidity and carbonation.” — Alex Wallash, cofounder of The Rare Barrel

Side Project Bière du Pays

Style: Saison
ABV: 4%
Brewery Location: Maplewood, MO
“While there are plenty of Side Project beers you could spend an excessive amount of time and money chasing, this dry and lightly tart exploration into the interaction of Brettanomyces and hops is, for me, one of the most beautiful expressions of mixed culture fermentation there is. Bright citrus notes buoyed by the gentle acidity lay over a crisp malt bed with a touch of spicy Brettanomyces notes to give it structure. Pop open a bottle outside on an early summer afternoon with a friend or two, as this is a beer to drink by the glass, not by the taster.” — Jamie Bogner, cofounder and editorial director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Style: Pale Ale
ABV: 5.6%
Brewery Location: Chico, California
“No matter if I buy this beer at a gas station off a highway exit ramp, a grocery store or an airport, the quality is guaranteed to be the same: impeccable.” – Josh Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course and Complete IPA: The Guide to Your Favorite Craft Beer

Yeast of Eden Family Miner

Style: Grisette
ABV: 4.2%
Brewery Location: Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
“This is my favorite grisette because it’s both complex yet crushable, with a hint of acidity … it can really fit whatever mood you have for a beer. If you’re new to the grisette beer style, you can think of a grisette as something like a sessionable saison.” — Alex Wallash, cofounder of The Rare Barrel

Does Beer on Draft Actually Taste Better?

Today’s craft beer scene is overwhelming. Even for those with a grasp on hop varieties and local breweries, combing through a tap list can induce decision paralysis. But if there’s one thing that should guide an order, it’s freshness. Draft beer has long been heralded as the best option, whether for mouthfeel, pressure control or a foamy head. Now that so many craft breweries are choosing cans over bottles and kegs, is draft still considered “better?”

The answer, it turns out, isn’t so clear cut. Style — specifically when it relates to a beer’s hop content — influences the shelf life of a beer, as does packaging. Your best bet is to consult with the bartender. Robert Sherrill, beverage director of Covenhoven, a Brooklyn-based craft beer bar with 16 rotating taps and a fridge stocked with over 200 local, national and imported cans and bottles, explains.

Q: Is draft beer always better?
A: Draft beer is definitely better than bottled, but canned can be better than draft. It depends. If you look at trends, locally and nationally, most breweries are moving to canning beers. What that allows for is a proper seal. Even in a glass bottle, oxygen can leak in. So flushing cans with carbon dioxide and sealing a beer shut keeps it fresher for longer. Cans also prevent light from getting in, which can be an issue with bottles, even brown bottles. Light and oxygen are the enemies of beer.

Draft beers usually move faster, and if you’re replacing kegs more often, that usually means fresher beer. So, in terms of quality and turnover, it’s draft, then cans, then bottles.

Q: Are there particular styles that move faster than others?
A: IPAs are king. They have been for a number of years, at least in the craft market, and particularly in New York. Pilsners tend to be very popular, too; and I’ve recently had more and more people coming in asking for sours on draft.

Generally speaking, for an IPA, you want to consume it within a month of it being brewed. Hop quality begins to fade after about 30 days. Beyond that, freshness ranges according to style and hops. That information will usually come from the brewery, printed on a can or bottle. Sours like lambics can age for years; a traditional lambic is a one-year-aged beer that’s blended with a three-years-aged beer and then aged for another year. The same goes for big imperial stouts — you can hold those for five or 10 years. Some bars, like [Covenhoven], keep stuff. I have a case of beer in the cellar that my predecessor instructed us not to open until 2024 — it’s Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine.

Q: Are local beers usually indicative of freshness?
A: Yes and no. Local beer has a tendency to be more fresh, but it has to be good beer to be fresh enough that you’ll go through kegs of it.

Q: What about year-round versus seasonal releases?
A: All beer is fresh when it first comes out. I don’t pay attention to seasonal releases; I pay attention to what the season is and order from there. You’re more likely to get a fresher witbier in the summer than in the winter, for example.

Q: What sort of questions should someone ask a bartender in order to get the best or freshest beer?
A: First, let the bartender know what type of beer you like. People often ask what I like best, but every palate is different. Knowing what kind of beer you like gives the bartender a starting point, even if it’s Heineken or Guinness. Any good beer bar will allow you a few tastes before deciding on a beer, so you should always taste before committing to something.

Choosing the right bar is also really important. You want a staff that’s casual and approachable and knowledgeable, not snooty. Craft beer bars are some of the most inviting, magical places you can go to. They’re filled with cool people gathering and uniting around a beverage, recognizing that [the beer isn’t the reason for being], but that it’s a means to a conversation. And the staff is what drives that dynamic. So picking the right bar, with the right staff, and having a bartender guide you through the process of choosing a beer and expanding your palate is what matters most. It’s not just what you can do to choose a better beer, it’s knowing how to choose the person who’s going to guide you.

11 Breweries That Make New York City a Craft Beer Destination

New York has always been a good place to drink beer. Thanks to the rising number of local brewers, it’s now one of the country’s best. Read the Story

12 Classic IPAs That Still Stand Up Today

The IPA is a style that’s hard to wrap one’s palate around. On the popular beer site RateBeer, you’ll now find 15 variations, including the Milkshake IPA, Belgian IPA and Brut IPA. It doesn’t help that these variations taste nothing alike or that many young brewers forgo flagship recipes for limited releases, sometimes brewed with milk sugar, fruit or Lactobacillus bacteria. If you can look past the hype, however, you’ll find hundreds of solid IPA offerings from what are now considered big-name brewers. Here are 12 of them, all first brewed more than a decade ago.

Sierra Nevada Celebration

Brewery Location: Chico, CA
Year Released: 1981
ABV: 6.8%

Pale Ale may be the most popular beer from this California-based brewery, but Celebration is notable in its own right. It was one of the first fresh hop IPAs ever widely distributed, and it helped popularize the seasonal IPA variation made with hops shortly after harvest season.

Stone IPA

Brewery Location: Escondido, CA
Year Released: 1997
ABV: 6.9%

Released in 1997, this beer solidified Stone Brewing as a national name. Stone, as evidenced by their Arrogant Bastard Ale, was among the first IPA producers to continually push boundaries, an idea that’s become a prerequisite for young breweries.

Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale

Brewery Location: Kalamazoo, MI
Year Released: 1997
ABV: 7%

Named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this is probably the most universally loved beer of the pack, at least according to the American Homebrewers Association. From 2010 to 2016, the AHA ranked Two Hearted as the second-best beer in America. Then, in 2017 and 2018, it topped the list, beating out Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and The Alchemist’s Heady Topper.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

Brewery Location: Milton, DE
Year Released: 2001
ABV: 9%

This beer is a double IPA, hence the high ABV. In designing the recipe, its architect, Sam Calagione, used a vibrating, electronic football game to gradually shake hops into the boiling wort at a consistent rate over 90 minutes, thus giving birth to the notion of “continuous hopping.” The result was a mainstream success like that of the hugely hoppy beers coming out of San Diego in the ’90s and 2000s. Esquire once called it “perhaps the best IPA in America.”

Founders Centennial IPA

Brewery Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Year Released: 2001
ABV: 7.2%

The story goes something like this: a friend of Founders’s head brewer, Jeremy Kosmicki, turned down a free keg, preferring his competitor’s beer. Kosmicki then set out to make the best IPA in the world, and did so by tweaking the dry-hopping process by adding hops while the beer was still fermenting. The result was one of the most respected single IPAs ever brewed — for years, it was considered the standard IPA by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

Brewery Location: Longmont, CO
Year Released: 2002
ABV: 6.5%

While this beer is technically a pale ale, the higher ABV and massive hop additions should encourage you to look past the label. When it first debuted in 2002, Dale’s Pale Ale was the first independent beer ever put into cans. It opened up the country to portable beer that was flavorful, a stiff contrast to the macro beers that lined the shelves at grocery stores and gas stations. Today, it’s unusual to see a new brewery putting their IPAs into anything but a can.

The Alchemist Heady Topper

Brewery Location: Stowe, VT
Year Released: 2003
ABV: 8%

In 2003, a beer called Heady Topper popped up at John Kimmich’s seven-barrel brewpub in downtown Waterbury. Word slowly spread of a hazy, tropical double IPA in the far-flung reaches of New England. Soon, Kimmich started catching industrious fans filling bottles of Heady Topper in bathroom stalls with plans to smuggle the suds out of the brewery. The Alchemist had become something of a beer mecca, and it was time to expand production.

In 2011, just two days after The Alchemist Pub and Brewery was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene, the first silver can of Heady Topper rolled off the line. Emblazoned with the now iconic “Drink from the can!” slogan, the 16-ounce cans played a major, if not the largest, role in the popularization of the hazy, New England-style IPAs that dominate tap lists today.

Ithaca Flower Power

Brewery Location: Ithaca, NY
Year Released: 2004
ABV: 7.2%

This is considered the first West Coast-style IPA brewed in the Northeast, and it instantly made the region an IPA contender, even when West Coast brewers were dominating the hop scene. Brewed by the now legendary Jeff O’Neil, who left Ithaca Beer Co. to start his own brewery Industrial Arts, this beer recently ranked among “The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed” by a panel of experts at Food & Wine.

Green Flash West Coast IPA

Brewery Location: San Diego, CA
Year Released: 2005
ABV: 7%

The West Coast IPA has had a tumultuous history. In 2005, Green Flash debuted the now legendary beer. Then in 2011, they trademarked the name “West Coast IPA,” and all others became “West Coast-style IPAs.” So far so good. But then in 2013, the brewery decided to change the recipe, a move that many believe led to their decision, in 2018, to declare bankruptcy. “Green Flash died a spiritual death when they reformulated West Coast IPA,” wrote Food & Wine’s Mike Pompranz.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Earlier this year, in a clear move to reconnect with the beer that built them, Green Flash reverted to the original West Coast IPA formula and began producing the classic once again.

Ballast Point Sculpin

Brewery Location: San Diego, CA
Year Released: 2005
ABV: 7%

Born from two homebrewers who had just started at Ballast Point, Sculpin was supposed to be a one-off beer. But the hype — and awards — turned this into a San Diego staple. The brewing process hopped this beer in five separate stages and pushed other brewers to continue fine-tuning the hopping process.

Russian River Pliny the Younger

Brewery Location: Santa Rosa, CA
Year Released: 2005
ABV: 10.25%

Despite the name, Pliny the Younger is the big brother of 2000’s Pliny the Elder; it’s considered the first triple IPA ever. Its massive hop usage makes it an extremely limited release, with fans trekking to the California brewery every February for its annual release. As Beer Advocate’s top rated American Imperial IPA, it still has a massive cult following, and it was a precursor to the hype-driven IPAs of today.

Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai

Brewery Location: Tampa, FL
Year Released: 2009
ABV: 7.5%

The youngest beer on this list, Jai Alai has had no less influence. Immediately after its introduction in 2009, the beer took home gold at the 2010 Best Florida Beer Championship and introduced Florida, which had been existing in a hop desert, to the citrus flavors possible in an IPA. As the best-selling 6-pack in U.S. grocery stores, according to IRI Worldwide, it’s an easy choice for most Americans.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

For $36, This Whiskey Is an Outrageous Deal

Most bottled-in-bonded whiskeys don’t advertise age statements (E.H. Taylor, Old Grandad, Jack Daniel’s Bottled-in-Bond Offering, Evan Williams white label), but affordable-whiskey maker George Dickel’s new offering does, and for good reason: it’s 13 years old and costs just $36.

So what are Bottled-in-Bond spirits? By definition, they must be the product of a single distillation season, by a single distiller at a single distillery; they must be 100 proof and aged in a bonded warehouse under federal government supervision all the while; and they must age, at minimum, for four years. With some exceptions, this means most distilleries’ bonded whiskeys don’t stray far from the minimum aging.

3 Affordable Must-Buy Bourbons

Watch more of This Week In Gear video reviews.

George Dickel’s new bottle does. The Tennessee whiskey maker’s newest offering is made using the same sweet and mellow mashbill used in other Dickel offerings (84 percent corn, 8 percent rye, 8 percent malted barley), and it remains charcoal-filtered like Jack Daniel’s. It’s available starting Friday at its Tullahoma, Tennessee distillery, and it will roll out nationwide later this month. The brand says it is a limited-edition bottle but hasn’t commented on the level of exclusivity.

What’s the Best Bourbon for a Mint Julep? Pro Bartenders Weigh in

The mint julep has been the official beverage of the Kentucky Derby since 1938, and for most people, Derby weekend will be the only time of the year it’s on the mind. That’s a shame. Because as delicious as they are watching horses run around a track, they’re equally refreshing on a random summer afternoon.

As far as cocktails go, the mint julep is reasonably idiot-proof — simply mix water, sugar, bourbon and mint over crushed ice. It’s also very booze-forward, meaning the bourbon you use determines almost everything about the drink. So, which bottle is best? Five pros weigh in.

Maker’s Mark

“For me, Maker’s Mark is the perfect bourbon to make juleps because of its wheated mash bill, which gives it a natural depth that complements the mint and sugar perfectly. Plus at 90 proof, you can have more than one. Just make sure your mint is fresh and your bourbon supply is rich.” — Kristina Magro, Sportsman’s Club, Chicago, IL

Koval Bourbon

“[Koval] is a brand that, as a Chicagoan, I stand behind — not just because of the quality but because of the people behind the quality. It was the first Chicago distillery to be founded since the 1800’s. The family uses organic processes and ingredients and micromanages the distilling process, showing their passion for quality and a commitment to excellence. Koval translates to ‘black sheep’ which is a perception of others in the industry that they fully embrace.” — Jeff Shull, Baptiste & Bottle, Chicago, IL

Old Forester Single Barrel

“Old Forester is such a workhorse bourbon for the quality and the price, especially the Single Barrel. The rich burnt-sugar character of the bourbon balances really well with the mint and sugar but also has a lot of character for a spirit-forward cocktail. Also, their master distiller is an avid equestrian.” — Jonathan Strader, Hatchet Hall, Los Angeles, CA

Eagle Rare

“I love this bourbon because it’s super affordable but also tastes delicious. Basically, it’s not going to break the bank but tastes like it might.” — Shawn Stanton, Working Class Outlaws, Detroit, MI

Elijah Craig Small Batch

“[Elijah Craig] is the father of bourbon, and it’s very well priced. The sweetness from the corn pairs beautifully with the other ingredients. I prefer to use simple syrup over a sugar cube in my julep. It tends to blend into the bourbon and mint more thoroughly. With lots of finely crushed ice, it’s a refreshing adult snow cone.” — Tracey Eden, American Whiskey, New York, NY

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

9 Bottles of Bourbon You Can Only Find in Kentucky

Great bourbon isn’t hard to come by. But as any bourbon collector will tell you, the hunt is half the fun. And when it comes to hunting bourbon whiskey, there’s no more-fertile ground than its origin. Here, eight bottles of brown you’ll have to travel to Kentucky to find.

Heaven Hill 6-Year-Old Green Label

Occasionally, bottles of this mysterious bottle of bourbon appear on the bottom shelf of stores outside Kentucky, but not often. Heaven Hill 6-Year-Old Green Label is meant to be a Kentucky-exclusive bottle and few people outside the distillery anything about it. In the Bluegrass, it retails for anywhere between $9 and $12 and Heaven Hill Distillery devotes no marketing toward it — it’s not even on the distillery’s website. Green sits at a drinkable but not-too-watered-down 90 proof and it’s aged for six years. Buy a case if they let you.
Price: $9+
Proof: 90

Old Tub

Once upon a time, Jim Beam was a man, not a brand. And his bourbon was called Old Tub. These days, you can only find bottles bearing that name at the Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, Kentucky, and it only comes in 375mL bottles. For the record, Old Tub was also Booker Noe’s favorite everyday drinker. If it’s good enough for the man who introduced the world to high-proof, premium bourbon, it’s good enough for you.
Price: $15
Proof: 100

Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select

Available exclusively at Jim Beam’s Urban Stillhouse in downtown Louisville, Stillhouse Select is an older, 100-proof version of classic Beam. It’s non-chill-filtered, meaning residual fat and protein compounds aren’t filtered out before bottling. The effects of non-chill filtration are controversial, but it’s generally assumed to have a more rounded mouthfeel and may be cloudier than modern, filtered whiskeys.
Price: $30
Proof: 100

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series

Woodford’s Distillery Series is the largest deviation from the brand’s very classic lineup of whiskeys. It’s also Master Distiller Chris Morris’s playground. Past releases include a double-barrel finished rye and a Bottled-in-Bond offering, both atypical for a traditionalist distillery like Woodford. Available only at Woodford Reserve’s Versailles, Kentucky, distillery and a select few Kentucky retailers, new expressions release three times a year.
Price: $50
Proof: Varies by release.

Four Roses Single Barrel Cask Strength

The only thing that’s missing from Four Roses small but well-respected permanent line of bourbon is a barrel-strength offering. And while an expression exclusive to visitors and the brand’s custom-barrel program isn’t the peak of availability, it can at least be had. Exact proofing and measurables vary bottle to bottle, but it’s typically a nine- to eleven-year bourbon that lands north of 120 proof.
Price: $60-$75
Proof: Varies by release.

Maker’s Mark Private Select

Every barrel used to age bourbon is built with ten wood staves, the wood slats that make up the body of a barrel. Typically, these slats are all identical — the same type of wood (American oak), the same level of char. The Private Select series, available through private order or at the Marion County distillery, does away with this: Private buyers choose which staves make up the barrel their bourbon will go into, with five stave options and 1,001 stave combinations (see the options here). Stocks of Private Select change as the year goes by, and there’s a good chance what’s at the distillery during your visit won’t ever be made again. (While you’re there, look for Maker’s White, the brand’s unaged, very funky white dog — another Kentucky exclusive.)
Price: $75
Proof: Varies by release.

Old Forester President’s Choice

In 1964, Old Forester President George Garvin Brown II started selecting specific barrels for his President’s Choice bottling. Last summer, the distillery’s current president Campbell Brown and master mistiller Jackie Zykan brought it back. The catch? The President’s Choice isn’t a sure thing — it’s only bottled and sold when the selected barrels reach maturity. This means there’s no release date to earmark and no bottle specifics until Old Forester announces it. Good luck.
Price: $90
Proof: Varies by release.

William Heavenhill

Think of Heaven Hill’s bottleshop-exclusive offering as a chance for the brand’s master distillers to flex a bit. Every bottle is a different beast, with past offerings ranging from 15-year-old cask strength monsters to smooth batch blends. If you want a bottle, however, prepare to pony up — the prices at the shop typically float in the $300 range.
Price: $300+
Proof: Varies by release.

Evan Williams 23-Year

The oldest Evan Williams by a country mile is available in some international markets, but unless you’re willing to spend a pretty penny, you’re better off heading to Louisville in search of it. But it’ll be a tough find even in the bourbon capitol — twice named Jim Murray’s Bourbon of the Year, this bottle is prized by bourbon hunters.
Price: $350+
Proof: 107

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The Best Booze We Drank This Month: April, 2019

Every month, a huge amount of booze moves through the Gear Patrol offices — beer, wine and a whole lot of whiskey. Here are a few of our favorites.

Kentucky Owl Confiscated Bourbon Whiskey

This bottle carries no official age statement, no information on where the juice is sourced from and it costs $125 at retail. No surprise the bourbon-drinking public does not like the look of Kentucky Owl’s widest release to date. But Confiscated is not bad bourbon. The 96 proof mystery bourbon starts with notes of vanilla and cinnamon, and it finishes medium-long with loads of baking spice flavors. And for all the age statement-obsessives out there, a representative for Kentucky Owl told us the new bottle is a mix of 6-, 9-, 10- and 12-year-old bourbons.

Treaty Oak Distilling Antique Gin

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Texas craft distillery Treaty Oak makes distinctly Texan whiskeys, but its gins stand out even more. The Antique gin, aged 18 to 24 in unused new charred oak barrels, is one of those things you put in your mouth and immediately need the person closest to you to try. It’s herbal and almost licorice-y on the nose and palate, but it rocks a far more robust mouthfeel than typical gins. The finish is long, warm and just a bit spicy. Basically, it’s gin on the front, whiskey on the back.

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Small Batch Select is the first addition to Four Roses’s permanent bourbon collection in 12 years, and it is the weirdest of the bunch. It’s the highest proof of the regular line, it’s non-chill-filtered and it shares DNA with one of the most sought-after bottles of Four Roses ever. At the end of the day, though, it’s just a stellar bourbon. Its ultra-creamy mouthfeel smooths out a sturdy 104 proofing, and a tidal wave of herbal, citrus and vanilla notes bleed into one another perfectly. Small Batch Select isn’t everywhere yet, but according to Four Roses, it will be soon enough. Look out.

Recess Sparking Water

Every can of Recess is made with 10 milligrams of cannabidiol from full-spectrum hemp extract and adaptogens. It was pitched as a chiller, but not-too-chill La Croix. We called bullshit. We were wrong. It’s difficult to make claims about the effects of a non-psychoactive substance in small amounts like this, but the claim stamped on the can, “not tired, not wired” puts it perfectly. Is that because of the CBD, adaptogens or the four to six grams of sugar per can? Who can say, but it’s pleasant all the same.

The Best Bourbon Whiskeys You Can Buy

Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite brown spirit, including, of course, the best bottles you can actually buy. Read the Story

How to Drink Scotch, According to a World-Famous Whiskey Expert

For a span of several months last year, Jim Murray, a whisky writer and reviewer, was unable to walk, stand, and even sit comfortably because of a simple and very telling mistake: for upward of twenty years, he’d spent full days spitting whisky out of his mouth into a spittoon that sat on his right-hand side. His whisky-spitting motion had become so one-sided that he’d shriveled a muscle in his back and thrown his spine out of alignment.

Murray is a principled whisky taster. He achieved some notoriety a few years ago for admitting during an interview that he does not kiss anyone during the writing of his annual whiskey tome, Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible. He says the germs run the risk of making him sick, which would trash his tasting schedule of up to 30 whiskeys a day. When I watched him give a tasting on Texas bourbons recently, he nearly inspired an uprising among a cadre of Southerners by barring any swallowing at all for nearly two hours, and also stringently enforcing a “no talking” rule. “Listen to the whiskey,” he said. Eventually, most of the Texans came to heel, and later began self-policing in so zealous a manner that it was obvious they’d become disciples.

The form of Murray’s tasting method has been built over his thirty-some years of writing professionally about whiskey. He proudly proclaims himself the world’s first-ever whiskey writer, and his Whiskey Bible is filled with some of the most entertaining, creative, and occasionally crass tasting notes around. (“The alcohol by volume of one of the sexiest whiskies on the planet is 69 … and it goes down a treat. Much harder to spit than swallow.”) You’d expect Murray to have a seriously stringent, coherent and comprehensive set of rules around his tasting. He does. He calls it The Murray Method, and whether you choose to follow it is entirely a question of your own whiskey-drinking principles. Several other notable tasters have at least minimal rules and guidelines for tasting, but Murray’s are especially rigorous; where many tasters bake in some level of personalization, Murray follows strictures.

There are eighteen rules in Murray’s method, chief among them: drink black coffee to cleanse your palate; find a tasting room without distractions and free of excessive smells; drink the whiskey out of a tulip-shaped glass with a stem, at body temperature, and never (never!) add water or ice; nose the liquid naturally, sip it twice, the second one for flavor, balance, shape, mouthfeel, and finish; always taste it a third and fourth time to confirm your suspicions; spit to avoid becoming drunk; and be honest in your assessment. Notably, one of Murray’s final rules is that you should hold your own review higher than anyone else’s, including his. (For the full list of rules, check out his Whiskey Bible.)

There’s a comfort in having a very clear ruleset for tasting whiskey. And Murray’s insistence on being true to yourself, and not being swayed by anyone else’s thoughts (hence: no talking, Texans!) gives his rules a certain “of the people” quality. Whether you agree with Murray’s method or not is an interesting question. Answering means that you’ve tried it, and that you’ve pondered whiskey and the way you drink it thoroughly. “If your old tried and trusted technique suits you best, that’s fine by me,” he writes in the intro to every bible, before listing his rules. “But I do ask you try out the instructions below at least once to see if you find your whisky is talking to you with a far broader vocabulary and clearer voice than it once did.”

After the Texas bourbon tasting, I asked Murray to name a handful of his favorite Scotch whiskies for sipping rather than for work. He agreed, but only if I would try his tasting method. So, below, you’ll find Murray’s guide to Scotch drinking, in more than one way: firstly, it includes several whiskies he favors himself — which, for someone who tries over a thousand new whiskies a year, is high praise. And secondly, it demonstrates his tasting method, which is worth a try. I came away from my demonstration impressed with the technique and surprised by how intricately I could describe what I was tasting. It was proof positive of Murray’s method, and a great course on some delicious whiskies. Just remember: listen to the whisky, or else.

Ardbeg 10 Years Old

An entry-level bottle comes from Ardeg on the Kildalton coast of Islay. Expect to pay around $45 for this non-chill filtered Scotch.

Color: Very light hay, almost like a pale IPA. Golden.
Nose: Sugary sweetness, ginger.
Flavor: Pop of oaky tannin upfront, zesty tropical fruit rind passing quickly into longer notes of peppery spice
Shape, weight, mouthfeel: What I believe to be oiliness very high here. Shape is relatively consistent, with very interesting nuances opening up in the finish, almost one at a time.
Finish: Butter, oak, rock candy sugars, very late, pinyness, some mint.

Jim Murray’s Thoughts: “Like when you usually come across something that goes down so beautifully and with such a nimble touch and disarming allure, just close your eyes and enjoy …”
Final Verdict: A bright, pungent whisky. Initial flavors are relatively straightforward, especially the tannin and the peppery spice, but the finish goes into long intervals with distinct flavors popping through. As Murray often writes of his favorites: lovely.

Glen Grant 12 Year Old

A Speyside distillery, Glen Grant is owned by Campari. It offers 5- and 10-year options, but the 12 Year Old is its standard entry-level Scotch.

Color: Just a touch darker than the Ardbeg. Still very light, hay-colored.
Nose: Minty and floral. Some earthiness and peat. Honey.
Flavor: honey upfront, a medium attack of pepper and peat, then finally moving into some of those aromatic flavors. Orange peel, and some floral notes. Lavender?
Shape, weight, mouthfeel: Much lighter than the Ardbeg. Starts quieter, with the sweet honey, then grows in spiciness (again, not as intensely as the Ardbeg), and eventually calms back down to those nice floral and citrus notes.
Finish: Orange peel, floral notes, and underlying earthy peat.

Jim Murray’s Thoughts: “A subtle nose; a little cream of toffee, but a wonderful sleight of hand for a citrus slant as well as a totally unexpected hint of weak lavender … remains refreshing and determined to show the fresh barley in all its stunning dimensions.”
Final Assessment: The pepper lingers longer the more you drink it, adding some body. Otherwise, it’s a much less vibrant, more mellow whisky than the Ardbeg. Those who like the pairing of floral and peat, along with this mellowness, will like it more than I do.

The Ardmore Port Wood Finish

Ardmore is a Speyside distillery owned by Suntory Beam. Its 12-year-old Port Wood is finished in port casks.

Color: Golden amber.
Nose: Honey and port. Honeysuckle.
Flavor: Sugar sweetness up front. Darker fruits settle in the middle, and later, spice that is more red pepper than black.
Shape, weight, mouthfeel: The port immediately adds a heft to the flavor profile – like I could feel it land on my tongue.
Finish: The sweet sugars that a good red wine leaves behind on your tongue, plus oak’s dryness. Occasional hits of a taste that can only be described as grape gushers.

Jim Murray’s Thoughts: “Here we have a lovely fruit-rich malt, but one which has compromised on the complexity that has set this distillery apart. Lovely whisky, I am delighted to say… but dammit, by playing to its unique nuances it could have been so much better.”
Final Assessment: The port is big in the nose, and the sugars upfront, and the darker middle, and underlays the later spices. It’s what the finish is all about. This is whisky’s love letter to the grape, and it made me pine for a great red.

Chivas Regal 18

The only blend on this list, Chivas Regal 18 Years is made from many whiskies — all of which are at least 18 years old.

Color: A brown that I’m only calling uniform because I know it’s a blend. Beautiful ambergris.
Nose: Honeycomb, oak, light pepper.
Flavor: Traditional Scotch flavors upfront: Light and sweet with honey, with loads of vanilla. There’s no tannin dryness at all, and it’s very wet and sweet. One pop of hot black pepper, just for a moment, and then it’s gone.
Shape, weight, mouthfeel: It’s lighter than I expected given the nose, which was heavy on the traditional Scotch flavors. See finish for note about oiliness.
Finish: The most pleasant wave of sugar ever. Almost maple syrup, almost creme brulee. It’s oily as hell.

Jim Murray’s Thoughts: “A true whisky lover’s whisky.”
Final Assessment: Wow! I sensed in the nose that this would have the traditional “Scotch” flavors, and boy, it did. Honey, vanilla, and slight earthiness, backed with black pepper. As a peat guy, I find it’s missing those smoked flavors. But for those who don’t like tasting dirt, it might be perfect.

Aberlour A’Bunadh

Aberlour is a Speyside distillery owned by Chivas Brothers. A’Bunadh means “the original” in gaelic, and the whisky is a sherried homage to Aberlour’s founder.

Color: Deep dark mahogany.
Nose: Rock candy sugars and oak staves.
Flavor: Did I just drink a flavor serum? A barrage of flavors that hit in quick succession. Honey and maple syrup, peat and clove and pepper. Caramel, always.
Shape, weight, mouthfeel: My senses are under attack. This is a big whisky at 60 percent, but it’s also a shapeshifter, bouncing from sweet to spicy to almost savory and back. My tongue can hardly keep up. Also, it’s thick like molasses.
Finish: Vanilla and creme brulee sugars.

Jim Murray’s Thoughts: “The first ten seconds register among the best deliveries of the year!… A blend of concentrated Manuka and ulmo honey absorbs malt and grape in equal quantities and then blasts off into the palate while simultaneously a bourbon-style licorice and hickory note merges with a surprisingly demure fruitiness.”
Final Assessment: A huge amount of flavor is packed into this one. Murray asks reviewers to remember

Four Roses’s First Mainline Whiskey in 12 Years Riffs on a Cult Favorite

After 12 years of nothing new but limited editions and one-offs, Small Batch Select is joining Four Roses’s small and highly praised permanent collection, and it has a lot in common with one of the brand’s most coveted drops ever.

According to Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliot, the brand wanted the new expression’s flavor profile to mirror that of its domineering 130th Anniversary Small Batch — a bottle that earned the title “World’s Best Bourbon” from the World Whiskies Awards. Thanks to Four Roses’ unique approach to recipes, bourbon blending and penchant for total transparency, we know this isn’t just smart marketing.

Where most distilleries select a mashbill and start distilling, Four Roses reaches into its toolbox of recipes. Each of the 10 recipes appears as a four-letter code that clues you into what the stuff is — the first letter tells you it’s made in Kentucky, the second tells you the mashbill, the third tells you it’s straight whiskey and the fourth tells you the specific yeast strain. (If you’re confused, Four Roses has a handy explainer on its website.)

Small Batch Select’s predecessor, the 130th Anniversary bottle, features OBSV, OBSF, OESV, OESK recipes. Small Batch Select is a blend of six Four Roses recipes, including every one of those found in the award-winning bottle — OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK and OESF. Both bottles are cut to similar proofs, too, with Small Batch Select at 104 and the 130th at 108 (Small Batch Select has the highest proof of any mainline Four Roses).

From there, differences emerge. If you’re able to find the 130th Anniversary bottle, it can run you more than $500 — Go Bourbon is reporting Small Batch Select will run you between $50 and $60 and will eventually become.

Small Batch Select is also a non-chill-filtered bourbon, meaning it isn’t subjected to filtration processes that remove some residual fat and protein compounds in the juice (sort of like a natural wine). The effects of non-chill filtration are controversial — some say it’s just murkier bourbon, others say it gives the whiskey a more rounded mouthfeel. Elliot says it’s mostly a matter of preference. Finally, Small Batch Select is a mixture of six- and seven-year-old bourbon, significantly lower age statements than its pricey relative.

Four Roses says Small Batch Select is available now at the Lawrenceville, Kentucky distillery and will roll out to Kentucky, New York, California, Texas and Georgia soon in the coming weeks. Elliot also confirmed that the bottle will be pushed nationwide over the next couple years. No information on pricingn is available yet.

The Best Bourbon Whiskeys You Can Buy

Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite brown spirit, including, of course, the best bottles you can actually buy. Read the Story

Four Roses’s First Mainline Whiskey in 12 Years Riffs on a Cult Favorite Bourbon

After 12 years of nothing new but limited editions and one-offs, Small Batch Select is joining Four Roses’s small and highly praised permanent collection, and it has a lot in common with one of the brand’s most coveted drops ever.

According to Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliot, the brand wanted the new expression’s flavor profile to mirror that of its domineering 130th Anniversary Small Batch — a bottle that earned the title “World’s Best Bourbon” from the World Whiskies Awards. Thanks to Four Roses’ unique approach to recipes, bourbon blending and penchant for total transparency, we know this isn’t just smart marketing.

Where most distilleries select a mashbill and start distilling, Four Roses reaches into its toolbox of recipes. Each of the 10 recipes appears as a four-letter code that clues you into what the stuff is — the first letter tells you it’s made in Kentucky, the second tells you the mashbill, the third tells you it’s straight whiskey and the fourth tells you the specific yeast strain. (If you’re confused, Four Roses has a handy explainer on its website.)

Small Batch Select’s predecessor, the 130th Anniversary bottle, features OBSV, OBSF, OESV, OESK recipes. Small Batch Select is a blend of six Four Roses recipes, including every one of those found in the award-winning bottle — OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK and OESF. Both bottles are cut to similar proofs, too, with Small Batch Select at 104 and the 130th at 108 (Small Batch Select has the highest proof of any mainline Four Roses).

From there, differences emerge. If you’re able to find the 130th Anniversary bottle, it can run you more than $500 — Go Bourbon is reporting Small Batch Select will run you between $50 and $60 and will eventually become.

Small Batch Select is also a non-chill-filtered bourbon, meaning it isn’t subjected to filtration processes that remove some residual fat and protein compounds in the juice (sort of like a natural wine). The effects of non-chill filtration are controversial — some say it’s just murkier bourbon, others say it gives the whiskey a more rounded mouthfeel. Elliot says it’s mostly a matter of preference. Finally, Small Batch Select is a mixture of six- and seven-year-old bourbon, significantly lower age statements than its pricey relative.

Four Roses says Small Batch Select is available now at the Lawrenceville, Kentucky distillery and will roll out to Kentucky, New York, California, Texas and Georgia soon in the coming weeks. Elliot also confirmed that the bottle will be pushed nationwide over the next couple years. No information on pricingn is available yet.

The Best Bourbon Whiskeys You Can Buy

Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite brown spirit, including, of course, the best bottles you can actually buy. Read the Story

Four Roses’s New Whiskey Brings a Legendary Bourbon Recipe to the Masses

After 12 years of nothing but limited editions and one-offs, Small Batch Select is joining Four Roses’s small and highly praised permanent collection, and it has a lot in common with one of the brand’s most coveted drops ever.

According to Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliot, the brand wanted the new expression’s flavor profile to mirror that of its domineering 130th Anniversary Small Batch — a bottle that earned the title “World’s Best Bourbon” from the World Whiskies Awards. Thanks to Four Roses’s unique approach to recipes, bourbon blending and penchant for total transparency, we know this isn’t just smart marketing.

Where most distilleries select a mashbill and start distilling, Four Roses reaches into its toolbox of recipes. Each of the 10 recipes appears as a four-letter code that clues you into what the stuff is — the first letter tells you it’s made in Kentucky, the second tells you the mashbill, the third tells you it’s straight whiskey and the fourth tells you the specific yeast strain. (If you’re confused, Four Roses has a handy explainer on its website.)

Small Batch Select’s predecessor, the 130th Anniversary bottle, features OBSV, OBSF, OESV, OESK recipes. Small Batch Select is a blend of six Four Roses recipes, including every one of those found in the award-winning bottle — OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK and OESF. Both bottles are cut to similar proofs, too, with Small Batch Select at 104 and the 130th at 108 (Small Batch Select has the highest proof of any mainline Four Roses).

From there, differences emerge. If you’re able to find the 130th Anniversary bottle, it can run you more than $500 — Go Bourbon is reporting Small Batch Select will run you between $50 and $60.

Small Batch Select is also a non-chill-filtered bourbon, meaning it isn’t subjected to filtration processes that remove some residual fat and protein compounds in the juice (sort of like a natural wine). The effects of non-chill filtration are controversial — some say it’s just murkier bourbon, others say it gives the whiskey a more rounded mouthfeel. Elliot says it’s mostly a matter of preference. Finally, Small Batch Select is a mixture of six- and seven-year-old bourbon, significantly lower age statements than its pricey relative.

Four Roses says Small Batch Select is available now at the Lawrenceville, Kentucky, distillery and will roll out to Kentucky, New York, California, Texas and Georgia in the coming weeks. Elliot also confirmed that the bottle will be pushed nationwide over the next couple years. No information on pricing is available yet.

The Best Bourbon Whiskeys You Can Buy

Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s favorite brown spirit, including, of course, the best bottles you can actually buy. Read the Story

Japanese Whisky Is Overpriced, Over-Hyped and More Exciting Than Ever

The Task Rabbit was balking, but I had to save the deal no matter what. “Go quickly,” I pleaded. “I’ll tip you heavy.”

“You want me to hit a liquor store?” he asked. “And twenty miles outside of Pittsburgh?”

I told him that’s precisely what I wanted. Task Rabbits are for fetching groceries, maybe hanging a TV, but I’d found a cache of Yamazaki 12, a rare Japanese whisky that had been cleared out of New York already. And it was cheap. The only way to grab it was the gig economy.

“State store number 0212. Make sure it’s the black box,” I said. “Grab what you can but leave enough for others. I’ll follow up with FedEx numbers when you score.”

The gambit was the latest in a line of increasingly desperate measures to stock my bar with Japanese whisky. It worked. A few days later, three neatly wrapped bottles of Suntory’s finest had arrived at my door for a total of $285, or $95 per bottle. That same whisky now sells online for $300 a bottle — and it’s climbing.

This was either a new low or a new high in my whiskey obsession. But anybody who’s trolled StockX for Off-White Nikes or waited on line outside a Kith store knows the tractor-beam pull of the grail; whatever your genre, it’s as much the hunt as the trophy that gets the adrenaline pumping.

Whiskey is different, though. It’s exhaustible, consumable — there’s a layer of urgency that doesn’t extend to sneakers or watches. These are anti-heirlooms, every bottle on borrowed time — or should be, assuming you’re not some cheap profiteer flipping bottles for a quick buck.

I got hooked on Japanese whisky in Japan. During a visit to Nikka’s Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido, I put down a procession of rare drams in the gift-shop bar for the price of a pickleback in the States. I toured the home of the founder of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, and watched as a stout worker shoveled coal into ovens beneath giant copper pot stills, a traditional but highly inefficient method that’s been abandoned by virtually every other distillery in the world.

Back in Tokyo, I trolled a dozen convenience stores and liquor depots looking for a rare bottle to bring home: each shopkeeper would shrug and jab his chin toward a gap in the shelf like a missing tooth as if to say, “You really think it’d be that easy?”

I consoled myself on the top floor of the Park Hyatt, where the Suntory pitchman played by Bill Murray serenaded Scarlett Johannson’s character in Lost in Translation. The 2003 film was one of the first mainstream portrayals of Japanese whisky in American pop culture and sparked a burst of interest among the general public, even if whiskey writers had for years been touting the craftsmanship of Japanese distilling.

Then, back in my room, an electrifying discovery: a tiny bottle of Hibiki 17 in the minibar. I had a start to my collection, even if it was only 50 milliliters.

Back in the States the hunt continued. I craned my neck walking past liquor stores, scanning for telltale bottles and logos. I began to speed-read entire shelves like one uniform glyph. Dusty-bottle hunting is a practice unto itself, the art of finding long-forgotten bottles of old bourbon languishing on store shelves. In the right region, you never know what you might find.

The search wasn’t all shoe leather. I pored over Google maps and left breadcrumbs for future forays; on Instagram, I scanned geo-stamps of “haul pix” from other obsessives, zoomed in on their receipts and slid into their DMs with a sheepish “Any left?” (You haven’t truly experienced ghosting until you’ve asked a whiskey nerd where to get the good stuff.)

Whiskey is meant to be shared, but the profiteering has become fierce. This is especially true for Japanese brands. When a product sits for 17, 21, 30 or more years, it’s hard to size up the demand for future releases, and in 2018 Suntory announced that certain caches of its sublime age-statement Japanese whisky were starting to dry up. As it turns out, two decades ago Japanese drinkers were in the throes of a vodka obsession, so executives crimped the hose on the brown stuff.

Today, price gouging at certain unscrupulous bars means you can pay $100 for an ounce of certain Japanese whiskies, or $700 for bottles that used to retail for a tenth that cost. And while the imbalance between MSRP and bar price hasn’t yet reached the level of Pappy van Winkle, the rare Kentucky bourbon with a legendarily rabid following, anything with an age statement is marked up heavily and sold quickly.

That hasn’t stopped me. My head’s on a swivel and Instagram’s on alert. I’m in California now, and I’ve already found a bar with accessible, practically generous prices on many rare Japanese whiskies. I’ll even tell you where it is: Rye, on Geary Street.

More good news: a $60-bottle of Nikka called From the Barrel was just named Whiskey of the Year by Whiskey Advocate. It’s around. You can buy it, stockpile it, even drink it without restraint. If you’re looking to start your own collection, it’s a way in.

For now.

A version of this article originally appeared in Issue Nine of Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “Nowhere to Go but Gone.” Subscribe today.