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Last updated 5/15/21
ARNOLFO DI CAMBIO
Since adding it to my roster of whiskey glasses last Autumn, the Cibi tumbler from Italian glass maker Arnolfo Di Cambio has become one of my favorites. It was designed by Cini Boeri, who started her career in Milan, Italy, in the 1950s. In addition to glassware, Boeri designed houses, apartments, offices, retail stores, furniture and other tableware. The Cibi tumbler was made more widely popular when it appeared in the film Blade Runner. (Harrison Ford as Deckard drank his nightly Johnnie Walker Black from a Cibi tumbler after each hard day of Replicant hunting.) As the Arnolfo Di Cambio website says of Boeri’s work, “Her style has always focused on the psychology of users and the functionality of objects and spaces conceived as a key to freedom, which Cini Boeri herself has always made sure to promote, especially from a woman’s perspective.” Indeed, I find the glass to be exceptionally functional—easy to hold and sip from, measures out a 2oz pour at its indentation—while giving a feeling that’s both modern and comfortable. The clean lines of mid-century modern design can sometimes have a chilly effect. But this tumbler’s sleek angles transcend those aloof tendencies, especially when filled with a richly colored whiskey. The thoughtful functionality isn’t fully apparent until one holds the glass. It feels angular, yet those angles also make it feel secure and solid in the hand. This solidity is given a sense of movement by the multiple angles refracting light and compelling the eye to wander the tumbler’s contours. Blade Runner may have put the glass on the popular map. But the Cibi tumbler holds its own when put to use. A highly recommended glass. Salute!
HUGHES BELLE OF BEDFORD
PURE RYE WHISKEY – SINGLE BARREL
I had never heard of this whiskey when I caught sight of its utterly gorgeous label on the Seelbach’s website. After reading about it there, I scoured the internet for whatever I could find about it—which wasn’t much! It’s a very grand effort by a very small operation, recognized only briefly by its own single-page website. There is a regular 8-year release that goes for $90 and is bottled at a very respectable 104 proof. And there are a few single barrel, cask strength releases, like this one purchased by Prestige Ledroit Distributing Company. At uncorking, it took me right back to an old 2014 Willett rye I once had, also sourced from MGP in Indiana, using their famous 95/5 rye recipe, aged 8 years, and bottled at cask strength. This Hughes rye’s dominant flavor trifecta of caramel, dill and granite, delivered with a luxuriously creamy texture, wowed my palate right out of the gate. The $130 price tag is unfortunate. I took a gamble when I bought this, of the kind I’m increasingly disinclined to take. It was the memory of that exquisite Willett that tipped the scales for me. Luckily, the gamble paid off! And I look forward to following this bottle on its journey as it continues to air out and reveal itself over time…
MICHTER’S LIMITED EDITION
BARREL STRENGTH RYE
I’ve had a mixed history with Michter’s. I enjoyed Shenk’s Homestead and Bomberger’s Declaration, their two annual special releases that deemphasize the Michter’s name in favor of honoring their respective historical namesakes. But the recent price surge on those two bottles is mighty off-putting. The Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye featured a flavor profile I just couldn’t come around to. I eventually traded my open bottle away for a friend’s Smoke Wagon SiB that he didn’t care for. The 10 Year Rye and 10 Year Bourbon are both nice, but the price/experience ratio is meh. Even when I quite appreciate a Michter’s taste profile, the finish inevitably seems to either fade out immediately or linger long but oh so subtly. When I’m paying $$$ I want a more memorable experience… So it was with low expectations that I recently uncorked this 2019 Barrel Strength Rye. Proper notes to come, of course. But right out of the gate I wondered if this might be the Michter’s that brings me around! The color is vibrant and rich. The nose offers dusty and floral rye spices, caramel, fresh rye bread, graham cracker, and chocolate with chili pepper. The taste has a sparkly pepperiness, with floral rye herbs and breakfast pastry. The finish is very like the taste. There’s a fragrant dried flower aspect to it that risks going sacharine or cloying. But this note is balanced against a pleasant toasted honey on rye bread note that I quite like. Overall, I find it much better than that 2020 Toasted Barrel Rye. We’ll see how it airs out over time. But at its uncorking it’s got my interest…
OLD CARTER SMALL BATCH BOURBON
I was skeptical when I first heard about Old Carter. Another high-priced sourced whiskey operation with an elegant bottle? Reminded me of Kentucky Owl, itself an insanely priced brand. Come to find out Mark and Sherri Carter, the couple behind Old Carter, had a hand in establishing Kentucky Owl before parting ways with it to start Old Carter. Hmm… But then I heard the Carters speak in an interview. I liked what they had to say about whiskey, that they do all the blending and even handwrite the labels themselves. It’s a posh brand, for sure, that only people who’d already made their money could conceive. But their passion struck me as legit. So I bought this bottle—batch 9 in their small batch series of bourbon releases featuring (what else?) MGP bourbon. The age is not stated. But the dark mahogany color of the whiskey as seen through the bottle suggests a good number of years in the barrel. I uncorked it the night I brought it home. (No more bunkering the good stuff!) The nose showed almond, marzipan, dark dried fruits of the highest quality, apricot, and smooth oak. The taste made good on the nose, adding a rich juiciness to everything. And yet there was also a pleasing drying aspect to it. The finish showed the same notes as the taste and nose before it, lingering gently but well, with that drying aspect in contrast to the juicy fruit notes… Overall this is among the richest, darkest, most refined bourbons I’ve had. I’d never guess it was MGP. Is it worth the $175 I paid? Considering other purchases at a similar price have offered a far lesser experience, yes. Then again, is any whiskey worth $175…? At the risk of hyperbole, I must say this is easily among the best bourbons I’ve experienced. We’ll see how it airs out. But I’m anticipating a mighty fine journey with this one…
SAN FRANCISCO WORLD SPIRITS COMPETITION
This annual event is among the most influential in whiskey. Usually a three-day frenzy of tasting and elbow bumping, this year the judging was spread over three weeks, with 30 US-based judges rather than the normal cohort of 56 international folks flying in. Even a pandemic could not stop the spirit of the SFWSC! Consumers pay attention to see what the judges say is hot. Distillers, distributers, and retailers pay attention to see what the next big sell will be. It’s due to the SFWSC that Henry Mckenna went from $30 to $100 overnight, for example. So it’s actually not always a good thing for consumers. Many whiskey fans watch with dread to see which favorite whiskey we’ll lose to the hype train. This year the award for Best Whiskey went to the Glen Scotia 25 Year Scotch. A well-aged name brand bottling already priced for the top shelf, this sort of win doesn’t cause many waves. Best Tennessee Whiskey went to Uncle Nearest 1820. Best Rye Whiskey went to WhistlePig’s Boss Hog VII. And Best Straight Bourbon went to 1792 Bottled in Bond. None of those I imagine causing a sizable stir. Uncle Nearest 1820 already goes for $50+ and WhistlePig’s Boss Hog for $$$$$. The 1792 BiB is the most affordable of the three. But given the range of options in the 1792 line up, I don’t imagine we’ve just lost it to the unicorn herd… In any case, as with any awards, I sometimes find myself questioning their worth beyond marketing. The simplification of “best” has never been terribly interesting to me. It’s too singular, and whiskey is about multiplicity. I’d be curious which whiskeys conjured the most memories for people, for example. Might there be an acknowledgment for that aspect of whiskey? Or which whiskeys brought a goodly number of friends and family together? Or which whiskeys have particularly interesting sociopolitical histories or impacts? But these categories wouldn’t likely sell bottles. And award shows of any kind are ultimately for selling things. Like an actor’s paycheck goes up when they win the Oscar, a whiskey and its maker will see a bump in revenue from the SFWSC. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. But it’s not why I personally care about whiskey. For me, whiskey is not about individuals or winning something or deeming one thing “best.” It’s about variety, people and community. …Am I reading too much into this? Is it just another fun award show? Or does it indeed mean something more substantial?
NOTE — Comments are welcome as always! As this pinned post gets updated, comments may be deleted once the Fave they are referencing has itself been deleted.