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Return of the Mystery Whisky Shopper | Blog #67

Last year I had a lot of fun visiting Total Wine in Orlando and pulling a “mystery shopper” on them to see which direction they would steer me for whisky choice. See Blog HERE

Finding myself back in Orlando again I made a bee line back to Total Wine to visit Chris and the team and grab another interesting bottle.

Chris remembered us so there was no mystery shopping this time around. A lot of interesting drams that were available last year were no longer on the shelf. Willet, Angel’s Envy Rye and even Buffalo Trace were all non existant.

To say that American Whiskey has exploded in popularity would be an understatement.

So I asked Chris to suggest something a little secret and unknown to the majority of whisky hunters.

Chris handed me a bottle of Mellow Corn for the bargain basement price of $ 12.99. I had to admit looking at the garishly bright old school label and even…cough… the inexpensive nature of the whisky that it was a hard sell. Chris was not perturbed however and jumped right into explaining why it was worth a shot.

Apart from the amazing price, Chris promised a smooth and delicious dram at 50% alcohol with lovely bourbon sweet notes.

According to Chris, Mellow Corn will not be around much longer as the corn fields used have been converted to a different strain used to make ethanol. Definitely not drinking a bottle of that.

Distilled by Heaven Hills Distillery in Louisville Kentucky Mellow Corn has the same label that it had when it was released in the 1940’s. The ugly yellow label has now become a cool retro badge of honor and Mellow Corn has found a niche in mixology bars in California and New York.

Bourbon by law requires a minimum of 51% corn in the mashbill. Mellow Corn is 90% corn which is a rarity and is considered a Straight Corn Whiskey.

Right so with bottle of Mellow Corn purchased and a bit more time waxing lyrical with Chris about the state of Scotch sales and other interesting whisky topics it was back to the hotel for a much anticipated dram.

Tasted in a hotel rocks glass outside on the deck in sticky 30 degree Orlando weather.

Mellow Corn Whisky Mellow Corn Whisky

Nose: A touch closed at 50% and getting in too close gives the 50% a chance to make it’s presence felt but no where near what you might expect. With gentle swirling and placement lovely buttery sweet and lightly spicy character comes to the fore and actually a little more time in the glass and it starts to shine with even the slight prickle I got at the start completely gone.

Palate: Great combination of sweet buttered corn on the cob with a dusting of cinnamon. I have never tried this combo but could be worth a go next time I am throwing foil wrapped cobs on the BBQ. You would not guess that this whiskey is 50%. Balanced, smooth and well….. mellow.

Finish: A touch of heat does acompany the finish and the spice level kicks up a notch but all the while still underpinned with lovely sweet corn notes. It lingers on and the sweetness hangs right there till the end keeping the spice from overpowering.

Water/ice: While I didn’t add water or try it on the rocks for this tasting given the warm weather I think that might be on the agenda for tomorrow. I think it will lend itself well to a wee splash or one nice cube.

After 4 years of aging in used casks Mellow Corn is impressive to say the least. Of course there is no way you can buy a bottle of 50% anything in Canada for $12.99 and I would think even if Mellow Corn was available it would run closer to $ 30 or more and would still be worth every penny.

If Chris is right about the imminent demise of this throw back label then I would grab a bottle or two of Mellow Corn the next time you are down in the US. Total Wine still has good stocks and I’m sure some searching online will offer up other options.

Thanks heaps Chris for steering me into something I would never have normally picked up off the shelf.

I have always cried a mantra of not judging labelling or price or being snobby about whisky/ey, however standing there cringing at the price and label I’m ashamed to say that I failed to live up to it on this occassion. Never judge a book by it’s cover. Great call Chris.

I look forward to another fun visit to Total Wine Orlando next year.


Secret Whisky Shopper Part 1 | Blog #12

What do vacationing in Florida, Bourbon, Scotch, Rye and the Largest liquor store in Orlando have in common? They all come together as the subject for this series of blogs.

Being normally on the selling side of the whisky transaction I thought it would be fun to head into Total Wine in Orlando while on vacation with my wife Cindy. I posed as an interested consumer to see where the staff would direct me to make my purchase.

Total wine has a good reputation for knowledgable staff and an amazing selection. Having been to numerous Total Wine stores in the past I was somewhat prepared and expected a great experience.

My wife Cindy inconspicously took photos and recorded conversations while I made my way around the whisky aisle and started browsing.

To say that Total Wine has a large selection would be a gross understatement. The only thing holding retailers in the United States back is the government regulation to have 750ml bottles. This cuts out smaller United Kingdom producers that use the UK standard 700ml and are not willing to do 750ml due to additional expense and stringent labelling requirements.

The whisky aisle was long, high and imposing with a ton of whiskies that I had never seen and of course a lot that I had.

The first staff member to notice my perusing was Tony. A very nice young guy that instantly wanted to help me find the right whisky. He happily took me down the aisle pointing out a number of selections based on my criteria.

I indicated that I was looking for an interesting whisky that I had not tried before under $100 and if there were some options that would allow it that I could buy two whiskies keeping that $100 cap as a total. I mentioned that I liked Bourbon, Rye, Scotch etc. and was open to any and all suggestions. I’m sure that retailers would love an endless stream of customers like me. Open to suggestion, eager and ready to buy.

Here are the whiskies that Tony suggested.

1.        As we passed the Scotch section he pointed out a 30 year old blend called Grangestone. This is an exclusive whisky to Total Wine put together especially for them in their own packaging. It is $ 89.99 which is a really good price for a 30 year old blend and also picked up a Double Gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. A combination of Speyside and Highland Malts combined with Lowland Grain all 30 years or more. A very tempting bottle indeed. However, I wanted a lot more out of this journey so continued on awaiting with baited breath to Tony’s next suggestion. He didn’t really offer any more suggestions in the Scotch category and headed over to the Bourbon section.

2.        His number one choice for Bourbon was Angel’s Envy Barrel Selection. I have had the Port Pipe finish on many occasions and am a true fan of the brand. The Barrel selection was awarded 98 points in Wine Enthusiast and was $46.99. This was straight away a front runner in my bid to buy two whiskies for under $ 100 and left me intrigued as to what might change my mind and see me walking out with something else.

Upon reaching the Rye section Tony had several options that were both out of stock.

1.        Angel’s Envy Rye – limited release and apparently almost never on the shelf this Rye got 94 points with Wine Enthusiast and was $ 75.99. It was out of stock and would have been tempting as I have never tried it and I have a real soft spot for good rye.

2.        Willet Single Barrel Rye receiving 90 points from Wine Advocate and only $42.99. This was according to Tony another sought after Rye and was also conspicuous by it’s absence on the shelf.

Tony was extremely helpful and was doing a great job for Total Wine. He was definitely keen on points and accolades and gravitated towards special, popular and rarer bottlings. I wanted of course to buy everything that I couldn’t have especially the Angel’s Envy Rye.

I asked him about High West Double Rye as both of his suggestions were unavailable. He said that he had not tried it and that he would go and get the whisky expert Chris, who could potentially help me with that and perhaps give me some other suggestions.

At this point I already had some great options but wanted to press further and find out what Chris would have in store for me and if there would be any suggestions in common between the two staff.

Part 2 next week is dedicated to Chris who spent a good long time with Cindy and I and ultimately led to my purchasing decisions. I had already, before entering the store, resolved myself to buy the clear winner in price and suggestion based entirely on what the staff told me to buy. I was just hoping that they were going to sell me something yummy.

What is your favorite whisky category? Let me know in the comments.

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