Sunday, January 26, 2020

Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Straight Kentucky Bourbon - 129.3 Proof

VITALS:
- $70
- 129.3 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

This is a second go round for me. The last time I had a bottle of Col. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof was three and a half years ago. At that time, the Barrel Proof wasn't as hard to find, nor as sought after, as it is these days. Looking back at that review, I liked it but didn't find it to be "great."

And yet, going forward from 2016, this has become a very sought after bourbon. It no longer sits on the shelf next to the small batch or the single barrel (which itself has become hard to find on shelves). It is also commanding double MSRP or more on the secondary market. So, when the chance came to get another bottle at retail, I figured it was about time I re-visited this one. Perhaps I missed something the first time around, or perhaps I just didn't appreciate what I had.

The nose on this one was really great, full of classic bourbon character. It had a lot of cinnamon and vanilla, giving it a very sweet and spicy profile that had me immediately salivating. I did at times get a bit of a hay note, but it reminded me more of a spice cabinet than a barn, if that makes any sense. I also seemed to get milk chocolate notes at times, but don't get me wrong, this was 95% vanilla and cinnamon with a few other notes mixed in.

Not sure what I didn't find so great about the previous bottle, but this bottle I did find to be great! This is very caramel forward, offering a sweet and rich flavor. It was buttery in texture and in taste, and it just reminded me of rich, creamy, really good caramel.

That sweetness was not in any sense overbearing. In fact, the cinnamon on the nose came through very well on the palate as well, offering a nice amount of spice to balance out the sweet notes. The sweet and spicy profile made it really hard for me to reach for other bottles while this one was sitting on my shelf.

There were also other great notes that all added to the deliciousness of this bourbon. There were fruity notes, reminding me of maraschino cherries, as well as a bit of bright bitterness that I likened to orange pith. Even that hay note from the nose seemed to materialize in the flavor as a sort of crackery flavor, like a buttery Ritz cracker.

All in all, this was an absolutely delicious whiskey, offering nearly everything I love in a bourbon, and providing a complexity mixed with balance that is hard to find. It's a shame this has gotten so hard to find, because I won't hesitate to grab more bottles should the opportunity ever present itself.

Grade: A

Friday, January 24, 2020

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 112.6 Proof

VITALS:
- $55
- 112.6 Proof
- 4 years
- Kentucky

My love for Willett Family Estate ryes is no secret, at least not to any of my friends or the one guy who actually reads this blog on the regular.  Oh, and also my local liquor store manager who always makes sure I get one whenever the newest batch comes in, such as the case here. It may not be super-allocated, but the gesture sure is appreciated!

Of course, I had to crack it open the second I got home. I've always got a bottle open, but that didn't stop me from seeing how this one fared against earlier batches.  The nose on this one was dominated by pine and cinnamon, more than I recall getting from earlier batches. It also had some notes of unsweetened vanilla, as well as a kind of nutmeg note. There was definitely something woody about the smell, kind of like walnuts. I did not, however, get that fruit-forward character that I'm used to.

The flavor of this batch was bold and really punched me in the face. It had a heavy pine note to match the nose, as well as a healthy dose of cinnamon spice. As was the case with the nose, these two flavors dominated throughout each sip, overwhelming most of the other flavors.

The other flavors, though, all where characteristic of ryes. I got a bit of a dill note, and on the back end even a bit of a mint note.  It's like the flavors that tend to separate rye from bourbon were all packed into this bottle. Even the cinnamon seemed to take on more of a cloves flavor as I made my way towards the bottom of the bottle.

The texture was thick and sticky, almost syrup-like. I don't know if it got in my head because of the texture, but at times I was getting a light maple syrup flavor. It wasn't a strong flavor by any means, but it did provide hints of sweetness from time to time in an otherwise spice-bomb.

However, as was the case with the nose, missing was the fruit forward notes that I've always gotten in the past from these Willett Family Estate Small Batch Ryes.  I didn't get any dark cherry, plum or red wine notes that I've loved in previous bottles.  While this was a really good rye, bold and spicy and full of flavor, it just wasn't my favorite batch.  Of course, given the track record, I will continue to buy them any chance I get, and I've already got the next batch lined up and ready to go. Hopefully that one will revert to the mean.

Grade: B+

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Limestone Branch Gallenstein's Selection Single Barrel Rye Whiskey - Barrel No. 148

VITALS:
- $25 (.375 ml)
- 94 Proof
- 13 mos.
- Barrel No. 148
- Kentucky

A while back a good friend of mine took a trip to Cincinnati, and while there he ventured across the river to see what goodies awaited at the Liquor City in Covington. I remember I was doing yard work when he started sending me pictures of bottles, ones that he and I haven't seen here. He sent some photos of bottles I'd been wanting to get my hands on, and then he sent me a picture of this bottle.

I had no clue what exactly it was. I didn't realize that Limestone Branch even had single barrel rye offerings, or that it was making a 100% malted rye. I was also very skeptical given the age -- very clearly stated that it was aged for only 13 months.  How good could it really be? In the end, though, for only $25, I was more than willing to just find out for myself.

This was one of the most unique, interesting and weird whiskeys I think I've ever had, but I enjoyed every bit of it. On the nose the first thing I noticed was a distinct marshmallow note. Not toasted marshmallows, just marshmallows right out of the bag. That was mixed with a bit of oak as well. At the same time, though, it also had a sweet spearmint note to it, like a chewing gum flavor. This lended to a slight toothpaste quality. Again, odd but good.

The flavor threw me off even more. Given that it was only aged for 13 months, I really expected it to come across as young and bitter, perhaps that rotten apple flavor I tend to get from young whiskeys. I didn't get that at all, but I also didn't get whiskey notes by any stretch. In fact, I took that first sip and the first word out of my mouth was, "Whoa!" I looked across at my buddy who was trying this with me, and he had the same reaction.

This was a very fruit forward whiskey, but not dark fruits or even stone fruits that I tend to get from whiskey. Rather, it was full of very bright fruit notes. I was getting raspberry, but also notes of kiwi and honeydew, flavors I've never gotten in any whiskey before. They weren't bitter at all, nor were they overly sweet. They were very much in line with fresh fruit notes. I couldn't get over how bright and vibrant and delicious these flavors were.

These bright fruit notes seemed to be followed by a burnt sugar note that carried with it some mild cinnamon notes. It didn't really make it spicy, just added that layer of flavor. Similar to the nose, I also noticed a sort of spearmint/peppermint flavor blended with vanilla, like a wintergreen Lifesaver. There was also a light, smokey flavor always in the background, but nothing close enough to put someone off who doesn't like peaty Scotches, for instance.

Overall, I loved this whiskey. I was floored at how much flavor and complexity it had after only 13 months of aging. I was even more shocked at the fact that I got notes of kiwi and honeydew throughout, something I've never noticed in a whiskey before, and the fact that as weird as it sounds it was really delicious.  I won't see this bottle again, I'm sure, but this was the most fun bottle I've had in a long time.

Grade: A

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Basil Hayden's 10 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 80 Proof
- 10 Years
- Kentucky

Aside from the rare pour when I'm at a hotel with a limited selection, for instance, I really haven't had regular Basil Hayden's in over five years (though I did like the Dark Rye for what it was).  The problem is that early on in my bourbon journey, when I was drinking less Scotch and starting to explore the bourbon world a bit more, Basil Hayden's was one of the first bourbons I tried.

Needless to say, my memories of that bottle weren't particularly great. I remember it having a significant peppery spice that distracted from all the other flavors, and it was a flavor or note that stuck with me for years. But, when Beam decided to release an older version, the tater in me prevailed and I just couldn't help myself. Although I didn't go out specifically looking for this bottle, I did immediately grab it once I came across it on the shelf.

The nose did not hit me with that peppery spice that I thought I was going to get going in.  In fact, it had a great, rich and fruity nose, full of cherry and plum. It also had a nice, rich chocolate note throughout. On later pours I noticed a distinct black licorice scent, but, even though I'm not really a fan of black licorice, still worked with everything else. I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed sniffing each pour.

Unfortunately, the flavor just didn't quite live up.  The first thing I noticed was a blend of vanilla and black pepper.  I don't know if I've tricked my mind into tasting that whenever I have Basil Hayden's, but this vanilla/pepper note was there for me on every sip.

There were some other flavors that added some complexity and good flavor to this bourbon. I got a nice chocolate-orange note, reminding me a bit of those chocolate oranges that you'd have to smash on the table to break apart before eating. It lacked the sweetness, however.

In fact, I even got some cherry notes to go with the chocolate and orange, and at times I was reminded of an old fashioned, but one without the muddled sugar or simple syrup. It had the flavors, but not the sweetness. To be honest, that in and of itself is not so bad, as I don't always want something sweet. But, along with that unsweetened old fashioned note I also got a weird cardboard flavor. Now, I don't chew on cardboard on the regular, but I'm pretty sure most people can relate to the flavor, and that's what I was getting here.

While there were parts of this bourbon that I really liked, and some that I found to be a bit weird, all in all I found this bourbon to be underwhelming. I don't know that the extra aging added a whole lot of flavor or complexity. In fact, I found it to be not very flavorful generally.  I wanted more boldness in the flavor, especially after getting so much off the nose.

Grade: B-

Monday, January 6, 2020

Bardstown Bourbon Company Fusion Series #2 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $55
- 98.9 Proof
- Blend of 2, 3 and 12 years
- Batch #2
- Kentucky

I've heard a lot of media love for Bardstown Bourbon Company. From what I've picked up, they're primarily a contract distilling company but are also putting out some of their own distillate, and some of that distillate has been blended into their Fusion Series bourbons.

In this particular batch, 18% is their own 3 year wheated bourbon, 42% is their own 2 year and 10 month high rye bourbon, and 40% is a 12 year bourbon from an undisclosed source. What's great about these whiskeys is the transparency, providing not only the ratios for the blends, but also the age and the mashbill of each whiskey that makes up the blend.

I had sampled Batch #1 of the Fusion Series on two different occasions, and I wasn't overly impressed either time. Accordingly, I did not find myself reaching for a bottle off the shelf. However, as Christmas came around, this bottle came to me as a gift, and I was more than happy to now give it a fair shake.

It had a light, spicy cinnamon note on the nose, followed by a sweet and soft caramel undertone. I also got something bright and fruity, almost like dried apricot. All in all, it smelled sweet with a light spiciness and with a bit of rich cooked sugar.

The flavor, though was very caramel forward. This was definitely sweeter than the Batch #1 I had tried. It drank very much like a wheated bourbon. The caramel translated to an almost cola flavor, and at times came across as brown sugar.

I did get a nice black pepper spice to balance that sweetness out a bit. Some of the tangy qualities of the dried apricot seemed to make their way through from time to time, but those flavors were fleeting.

Aside from the rich cola and caramel notes, though, I also got a sweet vanilla along with baked goods. By the last few pours, I was distinctly reminded of those soft, store-bought iced sugar cookies, the ones that come in packs of 10 or 12 and come with really bright frosting and usually sprinkles. Perhaps you can relate, perhaps you can't, but that's what I was getting.

After sampling the first batch, I likely wasn't ever going to get around to trying Batch #2. Now that I was gifted a bottle, however, I realize that would have been a mistake. I found this bottle to be really tasty, and I certainly would go back to it again, not to mention try future batches.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye 2018

VITALS:
- $80
- 119.6 Proof
- NAS
- Batch 1 - 2018
- Kentucky

I've always been such a big fan of the Knob Creek private selections, both the bourbons and the ryes. It's a great way to get a nearly barrel strength bourbon or rye, at a good age, and at a relatively low price. More importantly, they always deliver in quality.

As a bit of a rye-head, the idea of a cask strength rye release, even if only a bit higher proof than their 120 proof, had their desired effect of causing me to crack open my wallet. However, for the longest time I couldn't find this bottle anywhere. I kept seeing it all over social media and elsewhere on the internet, and the reviews were all positive, making me want it even more. But it just wasn't there . . . until I wasn't really looking for it. Months later I happened to spy a bottle sitting in the corner on a shelf of a store's higher end whiskey cabinet, and I snatched it up, even despite the somewhat hefty price tag.

The nose was interesting. I got a lot of both orange and pine. Even writing it down now I'm thinking of Pine Sol. But, to be clear, that is not at all what I was getting on the nose here. Rather, it was fresh, real orange (not that fake cleaner smell), and the pine had a more earthy note, and served to complement the fresh citrus note. Accompanying the pine note was a bit of a woody smell, and this was all sweetened up a bit by a nice brown sugar note.

The first thing I noticed when I took a sip was the great oily or buttery texture this rye had. It was one of the more viscous whiskeys I've had in a while, completely coating every inch of my mouth and tongue in flavor.

That flavor included a light note of that same pine that I got on the nose. That was accompanied by a sweet undercurrent, like a caramel and brown sugar note throughout each sip. The cinnamon seemed to then be layered on top of all of this, like a beautiful, sweet and spicy rye cake.

To complete this birthday party, I also got a bunch of vanilla from front to back. Towards the end of the bottle, a spearmint note came through, and mixed with the healthy vanilla flavors, had me thinking of mint ice cream (without the chocolate chips) but with a kick. It was at this point that I decided, "Holy crap this is good!"

Ont the finish I got a nice, spicy tickle in the back of my throat. It was almost like a sweet but spicy cinnamon, with a light touch of cayenne to give it that nice, spicy burn. It was just enough to make me want to go right back for that next sip.

Grade: A

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Pinhook Rye Humor Cask Strength Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $50
- 114 Proof
- 3 years
- Kentucky

I've been hearing mostly good things about Pinhook and the products they've been making, with only a smattering of negative reviews. It seems their rye has fared even better, with mostly universal acceptance as a "solid pour" among the online bourbon community.

I've had the intent of grabbing a bottle of their regular rye with the bright green wax for quite some time, just to give it a go. But it has always seemed that there's something else I'm more interested in each time I go to the store. However, when I heard of their release of a barrel strength rye, I knew I'd be grabbing it as soon as it appeared on the shelves . . . and so I did.

When I first popped the cork on this bottle, I had a hard time getting past the heavy fuel on the nose. It seemed to just pour out from the top of the bottle and fill the room. Luckily, this dissipated pretty quickly, though, allowing a nice aroma of rich and varying flavors to come through.

Once I was able to get past the alcohol, I got a lot of notes that reminded me of a rich brandy or even a good barleywine. I got some typical pine notes from the rye, but that was mixed with a dark cherry note. It also had a sort of butterscotch sweetness to take it in a different direction. I also got notes of toffee and raisin, giving this a rich and bold nose that I couldn't stop enjoying.

When I took my first sip, I couldn't help but notice the texture. It was this great, smooth and buttery texture, slightly oily, but exactly what I hope for in a whiskey, as that's a sign of a whiskey that's going to coat my mouth in flavor and provide for a nice, long finish. All good things so long as the whiskey tastes good.

The flavors were, for the most part, what I expect from and enjoy about a good rye. Up front I was immediately hit with cinnamon and just a light pine note, enough to notice that it's there, but not enough for it to be a primary flavor.

It had a lot of vanilla, both up front and on the back end. It was on the sweeter side, and it almost reminded me of cake frosting. This worked really well with the hazelnut flavor that came through as well, with all these flavors blending into a nice dessert-like note, but one that is unlike any dessert I've ever had (though I think I'd like to).

However, with all that going on, throughout the bottle I got a note that was distracting and even off-putting at times. The pine note took on a sort of cleaning solution note, like a bit of pine sol. I'd be enjoying a sip, focusing on all the great flavors noted above, and then out of nowhere I'd be hit with Pine Sol, and it was just . . . distracting. I can't think of any other word for it. It was hard to enjoy the great flavors going on with that one note stabbing at me.

Grade: B-