Sunday, August 20, 2017

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 100 Proof
- 2 Years
- Region: Indiana (bottled in Kentucky)

This is one of those whiskeys that I've seen pretty regularly on the shelves, but frequently passed it over for no reason in particular. For a long time I knew little about it, and I guess that was reason enough. As someone who is a fan of MGP ryes, however, having happened upon a list of Non-Distilling Producers that are bottling MGP's product and seeing James E. Pepper 1776 Rye on the list, I then figured, what do I have to lose?

It's only a two-year rye, so my expectations going in weren't great, regardless of where it came from. On the nose I got a LOT of alcohol. It's not a super-high proofer, so that was quite off-putting, and it was pretty difficult to get past.

Once I was able to get past that alcohol smell, though, I was able to notice some distinct cherry and vanilla on the nose. Unfortunately, though, that alcohol smell made it very hard to enjoy what should otherwise have been some very pleasant aromas.

On the palate it had some harsh and rough edges. The cherry and vanilla flavors were there, even at times reminding me of a cherry Coca-Cola. The cherry was more dominant on the palate than on the nose, and it brought a significant sweetness to it, kind of like maraschino cherries.

There was a light, peppery spice on the back end to compliment that sweet, syrupy cherry flavor, but the finish was short and unremarkable. Any flavors I found myself enjoying seemed to disappear almost immediately.

On later pours I got some further notes that made this an interesting pour. Orange peel came through, giving some (not sure the word I'm looking for here . . . character? substance?) to the bitterness that I didn't really like at first. It sort of gave that bitterness a reason for being there, a purpose, rather than just being bitter for bitterness' sake.

In the end, though, this is a young, rough rye. It's interesting at times, but those times were fleeting, and ultimately those rough edges never seemed to smooth out. In the end it was a somewhat one dimensional pour, lacking any robustness or complexity. While I really enjoyed the unique, cherry cola flavor, it just wasn't enough for me.

Grade: C+

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Select Barrel #4519 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 10 Years
- Region: Kentucky

As I've said over and over again, the Knob Creek private selections, wherever they may be found, are one of the best deals out there. You're almost guaranteed to get a very good bottle of bourbon out of it, and sometimes you get something great. Either way, at $40.00 or less, at the very least you won't be stuck with buyer's remorse. Plus, no two barrels are alike, and I've really enjoyed just trying the different flavor profiles.

Binny's recently got a new batch of private selections in. Many people immediately went for the 13 1/2 year old, the oldest among their selections, but I was informed that Binny's main buyer, whoever he may be, liked this barrel the best. Perhaps I was fed a line, or perhaps it's true, but again, at $40, what's the risk? So I grabbed a bottle to find out.

The nose rich and heavy with the traditional vanilla and caramel notes. It has a mild alcohol burn, certainly less than would be expected from a high proofer. The nose is pungent, and it seems to forecast a heavy, rich and sweet flavored bourbon to follow.

On first sip, flavors aside, my primary thought was, "This is delicious!" Caramel is the foundation of this bourbon, providing a sweet, creamy flavor from beginning to end, with a nice cinnamon spice at the end. However, from front to back there were other flavors that seemed to come and go, not sticking around too long to offend the senses or to detract too much from that base-line caramel, but rather only long enough to make you appreciate those flavors while they're there, and love the caramel notes when they're not.

There was a anise flavor that I noticed in early pours. Again, though, it wasn't prevalent throughout, but just seemed to come and go, having me looking for it. It may seem weird, but this combination, with the heavy caramel and cinnamon finished reminded me of cinnamon roles.

On later pours, that anise flavor took on more of an amaretto flavor which, mixed with the caramel took on a very rich brown sugar syrup flavor. But, and possibly thanks to those amaretto and anise notes, this bourbon was never too sweet, and always had that tingly spice at the end. It also developed a light woody dryness to it towards the end that, again, kept it from being too sweet.

This bourbon was very rich, oily in texture and creamy in character. It had a lot going on, with different flavors coming in to play around with the caramel, but never upstaging it. Whether or not this was truly the barrel that Binny's buyer liked best, I don't know, but I can certainly see why it would be his favorite. This was a great pour, and I already miss it!

Grade: A-

Friday, August 11, 2017

Valentine Distilling Co. Mayor Pingree 9 Year Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $80
- 117.2 Proof
- 9 Years
- Region: Indiana (bottled in Michigan)

This is another one of those bottles that my wife randomly surprised me with following a recent success at work. As I've mentioned in the past, she enjoys bringing home bottles that I haven't had before. She knows it makes me happy!

It's worth noting right off the top that this whiskey, bottled by Valentine Distilling Co. in Detroit and named after its former mayor in the late 1800's, Mayor Hazen Pingree, is an MGP-sourced bourbon. It is a well-aged MGP bourbon, though, and as a general rule, it's going to be decent. Whether it's worth the $80 price tag is always a question with these NDPs, though.

On the nose I get a lot of soft caramel and brown sugar. It smells sweet, and I also get a lot of corn, which is a bit surprising from an MGP bourbon. It has minimal burn on the nose and promises to be a tasty pour.

On the palate I get a lot of caramel and just a light amount of cinnamon. Up front it does not come across as very complex. It's easy to drink but not exactly dynamic or interesting.

However, on the finish it develops some appreciable complexity. The sweet caramel (which is clearly the most prominent takeaway flavor from this bourbon) continues from beginning to end, serving as the foundation upon which all the other flavors are added. However, on the finish (much unlike the front end) I get a light nuttiness, but not the more bitter walnut kind. Rather, it's kind of a cashew nuttiness, a sweeter kind that lingers for a bit. I also got a lot of warm amaretto notes that seem to stick around at the back of my throat forever.

After the bottle being opened for a few weeks, the bourbon seemed to open up quite a bit. Despite being a caramel-bomb from the beginning, it somehow managed to get sweeter and added some light baking spices towards the back end.

This bourbon really turned into a delicious and sweet (but not too sweet) bourbon. Despite the first few pours being somewhat mundane, towards the middle and end of this bottle, I found myself wanting it more and more, and by the end I was disappointed that it was gone. At first the $80 price tag seemed like a complete bust, but at least toward the end it was palatable (the price, that is--the bourbon was very good!).

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jefferson's Chef's Collaboration Blended Straight Whiskey

VITALS
- $40
- 90 Proof
- 2 Years
- Batch No. 12
- Region: Kentucky

This is one of those whiskeys that I've wanted to try for quite some time, but I saw it so frequently on the shelves that I seemed to always have something else I wanted to try first, not worrying that this would become difficult to find. And then it did, at least for a while. There was a dry spell where I actively looked for the Jefferson's Chef's Collaboration and just couldn't find it. Eventually, though, it came back to the shelves and appears to have a regular place once again. This time I didn't take the chance and finally grabbed a bottle.

Chef's Collaboration is, as it's name would suggest, a collaboration between Jefferson's and world-famous chef Edward Lee of the 610 Magnolia and Milkwood restaurants in Louisville. It's not a bourbon, however, but rather a blended whiskey, consisting of a blend of bourbon and rye, much like High West's Bourye, Wild Turkey's Forgiven or Smooth Ambler's Contradiction. Some of these blended bourbons and ryes have seen success, and some haven't, but in general I'd heard good things about Chef Lee's design, and I couldn't wait to try it for myself.

The first thing that I noticed is its color. I rarely comment on color, as it really seems to have no bearing on anything, but this was noticeably lighter than the other whiskeys sitting next to it on my shelf. I can't say that it's attributable to one thing or another, just merely an observation.

The nose is sweet and spicy. I get a lot of vanilla and caramel with the cinnamon spice you'd expect from the rye. In that sense it had me expecting something traditional and bold, despite its lighter color.

On the first pour, it came across as very smooth and certainly on the sweeter side. I got distinct molasses flavors, and even a hint of peach. It also had a long, spicy cinnamon finish that really complimented that peach note. The texture is a bit on the watery side, yet the finish was nonetheless long and flavorful.

Interestingly, I also got a mintiness in the finish, which created a bit of a strange balance with the spicy cinnamon notes. Long after each sip I got a sort of cooling in the throat, which was particularly noticeable once the spice subsided.

Even towards the end of the bottle, after being open for a while, that minty sensation remained. In fact, the flavor profile of this whiskey didn't really change at all over time. It's the most consistent bottle in that respect that I've had in a long time. The only really noticeable change was that I got a slight wood note in the last few pours. Nothing tannic or dry about it, just a slight woody flavor to it.

Although this is not an overly complex whiskey, it is nonetheless an interesting and flavorful one. The transition in flavors from front to back is what really sticks out. It's very sweet up front, spicy at the back end, and then it leaves you with a cool minty sensation once the flavors have kind of evaporated. It's a solid pour, and is probably offered at the right price. It's not spectacular, but it is full of flavor and very easy to drink.

Grade: B

Monday, July 24, 2017

Four Roses Single Barrel Binny's Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OESK

VITALS:
- $60
- 107.8 Proof
- 9 years, 8 months
- Region: Kentucky

Let me start out by saying that the Four Roses Single Barrel private selections will, after I've had a chance to get through all ten recipes, or perhaps even before then, be one of those bourbons that I will grab off the shelf every time I see it. Each private selection that I've tried has been nothing short of very good, and a few have been great.

This recipe, OESK, is my eighth of the ten different recipes, and it held true to the above premise. Although I might not describe this one as "great," it is nonetheless very good, and far from a disappointment or giving me buyer's remorse.

On the nose there was surprisingly no burn at all. Rather, it was full of the familiar scents of cinnamon and a whole bunch of vanilla. It even had a bit of a buttery note on the nose that made me never want to stop sniffing the stuff.

On the first few pours, there was a light cinnamon spice, and the wood tones were stronger than I'm used to getting in Four Roses bourbons. What set it apart even more, however, was the very distinct dark chocolate flavor. Between the wood and the dark chocolate flavors, there wasn't much sweetness up front.

Over time, however, that changed. It did sweeten up pretty significantly, yet it still maintained that cinnamon spice. Rather than wood tones, it took on more of an almond flavor and lost some of the edge it initially had. It really smoothed out and had a sort of red hots mixed with amaretto thing going.

The dark chocolate tones stuck around throughout, and I got an added peanut butter flavor in the latter half of the bottle that was subtle, but once I noticed it, I couldn't not notice it, if that makes sense.

Needless to day, this bottle had quite a bit going for it. While I wouldn't say the flavors blended perfectly together, they were pleasant, unique and nonetheless very tasty. It didn't change in profile as much as I thought it would, but it did improve over time, and the flavors that developed were . . . fun? Yeah, I'll go with fun.

Grade: B+

Monday, July 17, 2017

Angel's Envy 2016 Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $180
- 124.6 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I've been on the lookout for ever since I tried the regular Angel's Envy Bourbon, but I just never seemed to come across a bottle. The 2016 version, however, was more than available, albeit due in large part to the much higher price tag. Nonetheless, I parted ways with some hard-earned money for a chance to finally enjoy what I'd been after for years.

Of course, it required a special occasion before I popped the cork, so my neighbor, the one who recently moved away, and I enjoyed this bottle on the last day he was in town . . . and enjoy it we did. It was one of those mornings where I looked at the bottle, with only a few ounces remaining, and immediately realized why I felt the way I did.

What I enjoyed, at least those first couple pours and then the last few remnants months later, though, I REALLY enjoyed! This release is unique in that it's unfiltered. Accordingly, you can actually see the char from the barrels floating around in the bottle, even some relatively decent-sized chunks. I never noticed any of the char, however, as I drank it.

Rather, what I noticed is that this is an amped up and better version of Angel's Envy! It has a pungent nose, full of plum and cherry layered on top of sweet vanilla. There's also the slight scent of cloves on the nose. Of course, the expected port and alcohol burn are there, but they, by no means, detract from the complex and delicious nose that this bourbon otherwise offers.

On the palate I immediately notice the flavor of candied fruits, like dried and sweetened plum and cherry mixed with brown sugar. There's also a heavy dose of vanilla behind the dark fruits that really makes this a rich and delicious dessert-like pour!

It's very oily in texture and has surprisingly little burn. Don't get me wrong, the proof is high and this bourbon makes you notice, but rather than ethanol flavors taking over, it just has a nice, long, warm hug, even from the smallest sip. It's easy to drink and immediately coats the mouth with sweet, fruity flavors, but then leaves behind a cinnamon flavor in the back of the throat that seemingly never goes away.

The last pour from the bottle (which I decided to enjoy while I watched the season premier of Game of Thrones) was almost as if it were a slightly condensed version, or a reduction. It seemed to have thickened and was almost sticky and sweet. It almost reminded me of some of George R.R. Martin's descriptions of some of the wines in his books.  However, it never came across too sweet, perhaps due to the heavy amounts of vanilla and long, warming cinnamon spice that followed. 

I wish I didn't have to pay the price I did for this bottle. However, I was glad to have gotten to enjoy it, as I found this to be fantastic. As I would expect it to be, it was an amped up, better version of a product I already enjoy, and it met all expectations I might have had.

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Journeyman Distillery Kissing Cousins Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 5
- Region: Michigan

Among the various whiskey and bourbon related Podcasts I've listened to over the years is one called, simply, the Bourbon Show. One of the hosts, Evan Haskill, is from Michigan, near Journeyman Distillery, and early on in the show's series he began touting just how amazing this product was. Of course, hearing him speak so highly of a product that I could never seem to find on the shelves only made me want it more. So when I stumbled across a bottle at Binny's, not even looking for bourbon, I made sure to snatch one up.

Kissing Cousins gets its name from the fact that it's a collaboration with Wyncroft Winery, placing Journeyman's Featherbone Bourbon into barrels that formerly held Cabernet Sauvignon. As one who is a fan of wine barrel-finished whiskeys, I was more than happy to give this a go, despite it only coming in a 375 ml bottle.

On the nose the wine notes are heavy up front, carrying significant plumb and dark cherry notes. Those are offset a touch by some citrus-y orange notes as well. It's very soft and fruity, seemingly layered over a distinct caramel note.

After enjoying that nose, the first taste came across much less sweet than I expected, which was not necessarily a bad thing. I got the traditional vanilla notes up front, but they seemed fleeting, as they were quickly overpowered by the strong flavor from the Cabernet Sauvignon, which lingered long after the vanilla notes dissipated. There is also a bit of amaretto flavor and the slightest hint of sour or over-ripe fruit, indicative of young bourbon being used.

The finish is primarily dark chocolate and cherry, lingering for a good amount of time after each swallow. There is almost no spice to speak of with this whiskey, which was a touch disappointing. The traditional bourbon notes just don't seem to ever show up either. Had the traditional vanilla or toffee notes been more prevalent, I might have found this whiskey much more enjoyable.

I guess ultimately it tastes like what it is, a young bourbon with a little too much wine influence for my tastes. I tried letting it sit for a bit, hoping it might open up some and some of the other flavors might come through, but that was not the case.  Nor did it seem to smooth out, almost developing even rougher edges over time than what it started with.

I was glad to finally try this one, but it just did not live up to Mr. Haskill's hype.

Grade: C+