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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Midland, MI

    Tasting Notes for Whisk(e)y Fest: Old Portero

    Hi all.

    I managed to make it through Malt Advocate's Whisk(e)y Fest.

    I met (briefly) Julian van Winkle, and Sally Van Winkle Campbell.
    Sally was really turning on the charm.

    I also met Fritz Maytag, who was trashed, but gave a nice seminar
    on his Old Portero anyhow. He answered a few of my questions, and
    dodged others gracefully.

    The seminar was a slideshow that he narrarated, along with tasting
    of 6 little bottles that had been set in front of us:
    1) Old Portero distilled once
    2) Old Portero distilled a few times
    3) Old Portero distilled a few times and aged in "toasted" barrels ~3 years
    4) Old Portero distilled a few times and aged in "charred" barrels ~3 years
    5) Old Portero distilled a few times and turned into gin (yes, gin!)
    6) Water, because all of the above were uncut.

    (I might be wrong about the ~3 years... one is definitely ~3 years, the other
    might not be. These that are ages are from the same stock as what is on
    the market now.)

    They get their barrels from wine barrel coopers, and then they
    toast or char them over an open fire themselves. The barrels that
    are being charred spit out flames 30 feet high. That's "thirty feet".

    Upon prodding, he said that they use Ale yeast from the brewery.

    Tasting notes, covering 1,2,and 3:

    Nose: fairly nice. Exactly like the palatte.
    Palatte: A little like plum, lots of mushrooms and Rice Krispies at first.
    Almost orange, but not quite. Very grainy. A real depth and complexity in
    the grain overwhelmes the senses. The plummy notes are perhaps a little
    sour... much like a moonshine I once had. Come to think of it, the grain
    tastes a little like graham crackers, except not as sweet.
    Finish: Medium length. Acceptable.
    Afterglow: where were the bass notes? Where did all that complexity come
    from? Complexity usually comes from the bass notes (e.g. the chocolate
    in the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13... or in Wild Turkey Rare Breed).
    But wow! Complexity in the middle notes! Unheard of in my book!

    It's supposed to be a "founding fathers" style rye, and it's done a good
    job achieving that. The taste is definitely unique. Would I use this
    as a celebration drink? No. Would I pay $100 for it? No. Would I
    pay $30 for it? Yes. Will it ever be really popular? No. Will bourbon
    drinkers who live for the Big Taste like it? No. Will people who adore
    Jefferson's Reserve (myself included) like it? Yes indeed.

    Notes for #4,#5:

    Okay, just for fun you can try to turn Old Portero into something
    more like bourbon, or more like gin. It works okay. But it's
    destiny lies in the "toasted" barrels version.

    Final note: I think that if Fritz Maytag maintains intrest in distilling,
    then he's going to come up with some great stuff. The first offerings
    are good, but I don't think they'll ever be anyone's favorite. This is
    definitely something unlike any rye, bourbon, scotch, or canadian I've
    ever had.


  2. #2

    Re: Tasting Notes for Whisk(e)y Fest: Old Portero


    Thanks for your notes.

    Anyone can make a decent rye for about fifty cents a gallon. It dosen't need to aged at all and tastes just fine right off the worm.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. [IMG]/wwwthreads/images/smile.gif[/IMG] Will Travel.

  3. #3

    Re: Tasting Notes for Whisk(e)y Fest: Old Portero

    Wow, Tim. In fact, double-wow. First, for your excellent account and description. I've read about Fritz's product, but never seen it. Of course, I'm probably a good candidate for Old Potrero simply because it's unique and historic (actually, I'm too stingy; but Linda's a good candidate because she likes to buy us expensive bourbon for special occasions like Christmas, birthdays, and Tuesdays).

    And second, for that seminar. That would almost be worth admission to the Whisk(e)y Fest all by itself. Note to Ken Weber, Lincoln Henderson, et al: For us Straightbourbonheads, how about a tasting of your product something like that? I think the Bardstown festival tasting and gala was special, but it didn't have anything like that going on.

    Thanks for telling us about it.
    Envious in Cincinnati,


  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999

    Re: Tasting Notes for Whisk(e)y Fest: Old Portero

    John is right to be jealous of us (yes, I was there too). Maytag's seminar was way cool. I did manage to lift a full set of the mini-bottles after the tasting.

    Two corrections. Change "a few times" to "twice." In number 3 change "3 years" to "18 months." Numbers 3 and 4 are the two products he actually has on the market. Only the 3 year old can be called "straight rye whiskey" legally.

    The seminar was really fascinating and Fritz essentially made the same point Linn is making, that this stuff is very flavorful and engaging right off the still. I greatly admire and respect the investment he has made and the interest he has shown in genuine creative experimentation. We need more like him.

    However, either he believes something with which I disagree, or he is stretching a point for marketing purposes. He says his purpose is to recreate pioneer whiskey. He characterizes the 18 mo., toasted barrel product as "18th century whiskey" and the 3-year-old, charred barrel product as "19th century whiskey."

    By my reading of history, his low wines (bottle number one) are probably most like 18th century whiskey. Certainly on the frontier, distillers struggled to make proof (i.e., 50% alc/vol). His high wines are like 140 proof. How many distillers in the 18th century could regularly achieve 140 proof?

    A product distilled out at 140, entered at 120, and aged 18 months in a "toasted" barrel probably typifies pre-Civil War 19th century whiskey, while the 3-year-old, charred barrel product probably typifies post-Civil War 19th century whiskey.

    What is a "toasted" barrel, you may ask? It is an artisan-made barrel using a small fire to heat and thereby soften the staves for bending.

    It was nice to meet you there. I'll write a little more about my experience, probably under the "tasting" topic, since that is 90% of what I did there.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Midland, MI

    Re: Tasting Notes for Whisk(e)y Fest: Old Portero

    I managed to grab a full set of the mini-bottles, too. I probably should
    have grabbed two or three, but my bag was filling up. I'm probably end up
    trading them for something. (Yes, that's an offer, for those interested).

    I figured that I'd update my tasting once I compared notes with my compatriots,
    and watched the little videotape that they were handing out at the Old Portero
    booth. The VCR is acting up, so I haven't had a chance to see it yet.
    (I have an extra one of those if anyone is interested...)

    I thought that the seminar was a little thinly attended... I also figured that
    no one with any knowlege at all was there (except for the fellow from
    Brown-Forman who I talked to afterward) because most questions were things
    like "You didn't actually use the barrel that caught on fire, did you?" and
    "Are we on bottle number 3?".

    I think I'm also a little confused between Jefferson's Reserve and Sam Houston.
    I've had both of them side-by-side a few times, and there's one with the
    traditional Big Taste, but the other is aged in barrels with much less char.
    It's the "less char" version that I adore (it's two slots down on my "buy next"
    list). If anyone has any suggestions as to other bourbons/ryes that are
    made from lightly charred barrels, then I'm all ears. It's a side of bourbon
    that I'd really like to explore.

    One things that didn't really come through in my tasting is how different
    the Old Portero tastes than any other American whiskey. It's made from
    100% malted rye, and you can taste that for sure. The taste is unique,
    and although my friend Brent liked it right off the bat, I was a little
    put off at first when I tried it at the Old Portero display table. The
    tasting / seminar allowed me to try it again and get to know it better.
    The appeal of the 18th/19th century style is HUGE in my book. I think
    every distillery should put out such a whiskey. And they should also
    sell it right off the still, too, as we've said before. I didn't think
    to ask about chill filtering, but I'm guessing that Old Portero is not
    chill filtered. I'd love to taste a number of American whiskeys before
    and after chill filtering. (I'm very anti- chill filtering, although
    some say that it makes little difference.)

    I'd certainly say that the 18 month toasted barrel (not charred) is the bottle
    to buy if anyone is thinking of investing in a bottle.



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