Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bulleit 12 Year Straight American Rye

- $50
- 92 Proof
- 12 Years
- Indiana

It's been a while since I've been genuinely excited for a non-allocated release, but when I found out that Bulleit was releasing a 12 year old version of their rye, I was going to make sure I snagged one right away. Bulleit Rye (sourced from MGP) has always been one of my mainstay ryes, and I loved the idea of an older version.

So, the day it hit the shelves I made my way to Binny's and grabbed a bottle, brought it home and put it on my shelf. And for some reason, that's where it sat, unopened, for almost two months. I can't really explain why, I just sort of never got around to it.  Apparently there were other bottles that took priority. But they shouldn't have. I love rye, and in particular I love MGP rye, and once I finally did open this bottle it wasn't long for this world.

One of the first notes that I got on the nose was butterscotch. I can't say that I ever got such a note out of other MGP ryes, so it kind of stuck out to me. I also got the familiar pine and cinnamon notes, though the cinnamon was somewhat faint. I also smelled apple cider, and all of these flavors blended together very well to provide a nice, complex and delicious aroma, yet it didn't come off as pungent. It was light and inviting (perhaps due to the proof).

On the palate I immediately noticed that familiar, sweet pine and cinnamon profile. In fact, these two flavors really dominated. Sweet pine seems like an odd description, even as I type this, but I think anyone familiar with MGP rye might understand what I'm getting at. The cinnamon was prominent and immediately noticeable on the tip of my tongue.

I also got some of the traditional toffee and vanilla notes, which added some richness and sweetness to the flavor. On later pours, these flavors seemed to blend together to just a straight brown sugar flavor, which balanced well with the cinnamon and pine notes.

On the finish, I got a sweet, lingering caramel note that seemed to coat my mouth from front to back. Despite the lower proof, this had a surprisingly long finish, which was capped off by a sweet, cooling mint note that I absolutely loved. In fact, I found I couldn't help but go back for that next sip right way in order to keep replicating that flavor and sensation.

While all of this is good, I did find that there was a light woody note to this rye. More age will do that, certainly.  However, this seemed to impart a tannic bitterness that, while I enjoy wood notes and even a bit of tannin in some whiskeys, simply didn't work in this one. This note stood apart from the other flavors and just detracted from the flavor.

That being said, I think I got what I expected out of this rye. It hit all those notes I love in a rye, with a bit of added complexity. I would have preferred this at a higher proof, especially at barrel strength (a girl can dream!), but for what it is, it met all of my expectations.

Grade: B+

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $50
- 93 Proof
- Kentucky

This review is a perfect example of why nobody should put much stock into reviews. After all, they are completely subjected and dependent upon the reviewer's subjective tastes. What I like you may hate, and vice versa. And so it goes with Old Forester 1910.

I loved Old Forester 1920. It was complex, flavorful and a great buy for the price. And when 1910 was released, the response was pretty much equal to that of 1920. People absolutely love this stuff across the board. Since I opened my bottle, I've kept my eye out for any naysayers or dissenters, and to date I haven't seen one in the group.

So now I find myself in the minority here (which is why you should take my review with a grain of salt and try this for yourself), because I really disliked this bourbon. In fact, in my mind it shouldn't even be called bourbon, because to me it just didn't taste like bourbon, but rather some liqueur with a bit of bourbon flavor to it.

To be fair, the nose on this is great. It's full of sweet brown sugar and has a buttery aroma to it that reminded me of french toast. I even got a little bit of peanut on the nose as well as a light maltiness to balance the sweet and buttery flavors. The nose was unique and really good.

Unfortunately, what followed was a bit of a sloppy mess. On my initial sips I got some unsweetened cinnamon and some burnt orange and bitter orange pith flavors. I also got a decent amount of almond.  From time to time a bright note of dried apricot came through. So far so good.

But then the off-putting flavors came through, and they did so in a big way, smacking my mouth with offensive flavors. First it was a weird farmhouse kind of funk. I don't know how best to describe it other than that it was vegetal in quality, almost like hay and green pepper.

And then I got the fake cherry flavor that absolutely put me off. I'm good with cherry notes typically, but the fake cherry is just awful, reminding me of cough syrup. I had hopes that this note would eventually go away, but it never did, and it offended my tongue from the first pour to the last.

I also got a lot of black licorice, and I mean a LOT. I like a good anise note in my whiskey from time to time, but this was simply too much, and it seemed to get progressively worse the more I drank. By the final pours from the bottle, it was as though someone had actually taken Jagermeister or Herbsaint and added it directly to the bottle. As I took notes one evening while trying to enjoy a pour of this, I actually wrote down, "Blech!"

I wanted to enjoy this bottle, I really did. It has great viscosity, is super rich and is full of flavor. For me, however, it's full of the wrong flavors to the point that fit was nearly undrinkable. I don't get it. It's rare that I diverge so greatly from the masses, who have universally loved this product. In fact, my father-in-law, who is relatively new to bourbon, declared this the best bourbon he's ever tasted.  I, however, will never let it touch my tongue again. And so, with that being said, reviews are stupid, please disregard everything you just read and try it for yourself.

Grade: C-

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 042 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $31
- 90 Proof
- Kentucky

I've come to the conclusion that any time I come across a Buffalo Trace single barrel or even small batch select, just any Buffalo Trace store pick, I'm grabbing it. I always say the Knob Creek store picks are one of the best values out there at $40.  However, at $24-30, Buffalo Trace store picks might be just as good, assuming there's a place in your bourbon world for lower proof stuff.

Warehouse Liquors has always been right in my wheelhouse as well as far as private picks go, and this one was no different.  The nose had that nice, soft caramel that I love in Buffalo Trace products, as well as a ribbon of rich vanilla. These flavors seemed to blend a bit to give it a nice, graham cracker-y, molasses aroma that had me salivating. Additionally, there was a light peppery kick that only added to my excitement to try a sip.  As weird as it may sound, the nose on this is one of the best I've ever sniffed!

The flavors that immediately hit my tongue on first sip were cinnamon layered over vanilla. It had a nice, spicy tingle on the tip of my tongue, that was immediately supplanted by a sweet vanilla bean characteristic. It also had a nice yeasty quality, like a sweet soft bread. As I sipped on it my mind wandered to thoughts of King's Hawaiian dinner rolls.

As I made my way through the bottle, those sweet, decadent flavors persisted. However, other flavors developed that made this one of the more complex Buffalo Traces that I've had, and certainly more complex than most 90 proof bourbons.

What was once a sweet bread note now took on more of a graham cracker note, but like a lightly frosted graham cracker, as that vanilla was always present.  At times, I even caught light hints of a cocoa-gingerbread note that offered just the slightest bit of spice or tang. It wasn't enough to put me off, rather it was just enough to make it interesting.

The same can be said for the finish. In addition to the long, vanilla finish, I also got a cinnamon sugar toast note. The bread notes were still there, as well as this distant butter note in the background. The cinnamon sat in the back of my throat for a while long after each pour, but it still remained on the sweet side.  The black pepper from the nose never made an appearance, but I did get a light anise note on the finish, which for my tastes was enough of an anise note for me.

While the taste didn't quite live up to the nose, this was still a fantastic bourbon. Had I not already finished it, it would be the perfect bottle to keep on hand for when someone not so experienced with bourbon came by and wanted to try something delicious.  Perhaps I'll have to track down another bottle just for that purpose.

Grade: A-

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Eight & Sand Blended Bourbon Whiskey

- $28
- 88 Proof
- Indiana

MGP is apparently tired of other companies making money off of their product (I say this tongue-in-cheek, as MGP is certainly doing just fine making their money their way).  And so, to compete with other, what I would call "mid-tier" products on the shelf, they've released Eight & Sand, a blended bourbon with at a very approachable proof point and, unlike MGP's previous releases, a very approachable price point.

The name Eight & Sand comes from a railroad term representing a safe and swift journey or smooth sailing. The name hints at what MGP was likely going for here with a smooth, not to high proofed blended bourbon that will be an easy drinker and also easy to grab off the shelf.

Upon opening the bottle, I was immediately impressed by the nose.  It was heavy on toffee notes, but also had a light kick of cinnamon and even some raisin notes. I also got a yeasty, bready flavor that gave this a distinct raisin bread nose. On later pours I found the vanilla that was light to start really came forward after a bit, which only added to the experience.  I loved the way this bourbon smelled.

On the tongue, it was not nearly as watery as I expected it to be given its proof Rather, I got a nice, good oily texture that coated my mouth with cinnamon and caramel right up front. There also was a light milk chocolate note to it as well. Unfortunately, these flavors at the front just didn't seem to stick around very long.  In fact, despite its more oily texture, all of the flavors seemed to be almost fleeting--there for me to notice them but gone before I could really enjoy them.

On the back end I got a slight banana note and a nutmeg-like woodiness came through as well, giving it a nice balance of sweet and savory. Meanwhile, those cinnamon and caramel notes seemed to bounce in and out throughout. It was kind of a weird experience in that way. Additionally, on more than one occasion I couldn't help but notice a light smokiness, which I almost wished was a tad more prevalent, because it added a nice twist.

What I liked most about this whiskey was its finish, though. Despite the fleeting flavors up to that point, this left a nice, lingering note that was a mix of butterscotch and toffee. It was absolutely delicious and seemed to stick right at the back of my throat for quite some time.

When it's all said and done, I think this is a bourbon that is very good for its price point. For a whiskey in the $25-30 range, I'd have this among my top recommendations, as it's very well done and offers something interesting and flavorful.

Grade: B

Friday, April 26, 2019

Drinking With a Legend - A Night With Al Young at Warehouse Liquors

The other night I got to be a "lucky duck" -- at least that's what we were called in our confirmation e-mails.  I was one of only about 30 or so people who managed to score a ticket for a private tasting with Al Young at Warehouse Liquors in Chicago.  As many in the bourbon world are aware, Gene, the owner of Warehouse Liquors, is well-known and has a sort of cult following for his store picks. In conjunction with his most recent Four Roses selections, he put on this tasting with the one and only Al Young!

As my buddy and I walked into the room, a sort of bowling alley of a tasting room with place settings lined up on both sides, we immediately went straight to the front and parked ourselves right next to where Al was standing in hopes that that's where he'd remain throughout the night.

As people trickled into the room over the next twenty minutes or so, aside from the people who came up to introduce themselves, take pictures and shake his hand, we had pretty much a good ten minutes of one-on-one time with Al to just shoot the shit, talking with him about the charity event he attended the day before, his time in Lexington the past few days, and even a little bit about the bourbon he drinks.

Throughout the evening, we got to taste four different store picks that Gene had recently selected for Warehouse Liquors, in the following order:
  • OESV - 9 yrs., 7 mos. - 121.2 Proof
  • OBSV - 9 yrs., 10 mos. - 114.2 Proof
  • OESK - 10 yrs., 8 mos - 106.6 Proof
  • OBSQ - 9 yrs., 10 mos. - 112.4 Proof
Interestingly, we started with the highest proof one first -- the OESV.  I'm not sure if the order was arbitrary or not, but ultimately, of the four, this is the one that we went back to to try again, and it ended up being  my favorite. It seemed to lean more towards traditional bourbon notes than the others did, with lots of caramel, a great, creamy, buttery texture, and a long, kettle corn finish. I absolutely loved this one and a bottle came home with me that night.

The OBSV was a short-barrel. I'm not sure how many bottles came from it, but it's my understanding it was very limited. While this was the one that sold out first, it ended up being my least favorite, as it had a significant astringent quality to it, making me reach for my bottle of water immediately. I really liked the OESK and the OBSQ as well, and both were tied for a close second for me.  The OESK was the most unique of the barrels, as I got a white wine, almost a pinot grigio note out of it. It sounds weird, and it's the first time that I've ever gotten such a note off a bourbon, but it worked really well with the vanilla and light anise flavors. The OBSQ leaned more towards softer wood and caramel notes, with a light orange zest to it. The fact of the matter is, if you get the opportunity to purchase any of these bottles, do so!

In addition to these store picks, we also got to taste the 130th Anniversary Small Batch, which was absolutely amazing (and my buddy and I may or may not have snuck a couple extra pours when people weren't looking) as well as the Small Batch Select, which isn't yet available in our market. While Al was there, at least in part, to talk up the new Four Roses product, he legitimately seemed very proud, touting the higher proof (104 proof) and that it is non-chill filtered. He seemed genuinely eager to get feedback from everyone in the room about their thoughts. While everyone really enjoyed it (myself included--it drinks much lower than its proof), the consensus was that he did it a disservice by having it follow the 130th.

Even despite getting to taste all this great bourbon, however, what made the night was Al himself.. I had never met Al before, and my immediate impression was that he is truly a man of the people. He was not there just on another stop to hawk his products. He genuinely enjoyed meeting people, answering their questions, discussing bourbon, telling stories (both personal and industry-related), signing copies of his book and giving his time to anyone that wanted it.

The highlight for me (other than his mention of a desire to eventually produce a Four Roses Rye--yay!) was hearing him tell stories about his home life, particularly about how proud his wife was when Four Roses released a bourbon named after him.  It was that or his double-take when asked, when doing tastings, whether he spits or swallows. Al is a great storyteller and has a wonderful (and even at times crass) sense of humor.

I had never met Al Young before, and within minutes of meeting him, I wished I had met him sooner. As I told him at the end of the night, I've met a handful of industry icons, leaders and what have you, and meeting Jimmy Russel always stuck with me, because he was genuine. He truly loved interacting with his customers and meeting people, and it came through. Al Young is right there as well. He is as friendly and inviting, and more importantly, as genuine as they come! This was easily one of the best tastings I've ever been a part of.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

1792 Full Proof Binny's Single Barrel Select Barrel #2482 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $55
- 125 Proof
- Barrel #2482
- Kentucky

The more I have of these 1792 Full Proofs, the harder they are to pass up. Each and every one that I've had has been very good, if not great. They are always rich and bold in flavor and are, at the very least, well worth the price tag.  What's interesting about it is that, while people seem to be chasing certain store picks such that stores are running out of them in a matter of hours, these tend to remain pretty available. People make runs on Buffalo Trace single barrel selections, yet seem to ignore its cousin Barton.

But it's bottles such as this and the various Knob Creek private selections that I've had over the years that always bring back that necessary perspective for me. While I, too, love finding a new store pick of Eagle Rare or Blanton's, when those aren't available (which is pretty much all the time), there are still plenty of good store picks to whet my whistle.  This particular barrel proved to be no exception to the rule!

When I first cracked into this bottle, I got a TON of alcohol on the nose. I realize this is a high proof bourbon, but it was still more than I expected. However, after having the bottle open for only a couple days, that alcohol note faded away almost entirely.

Even on that first whiff, however, behind the strong alcohol note, was a nice combination of peanuts and caramel, reminding me of a turtle with a little less chocolate. I got slight bitter wood notes as well. Throughout there was also this odd, musty smell to it, like a damp basement. All in all, this had kind of a weird nose which at first really put me off.

I say at first, though, because as soon as I took a sip, I forgot all about the weird nose. I immediately noticed a delicious, rich and creamy caramel up front. This creaminess was supported by the nice, buttery texture of the bourbon. For something that had a lot of alcohol on the nose and a weird, musty smell to it, the flavor was completely opposite in as good of a was as possible. This was one of the smoothest 125 proof bourbons I've ever had.

The prominent caramel flavor was there on each and every pour from this bottle, and it probably earned the moniker "caramel bomb." While that caramel dominated, though, other flavors came through to complement that flavor, including some dark fruit flavors and a bready, pastry note which, combined with the sweetness from the caramel, reminded me of cinnamon raisin bread.

That cinnamon note carried over to provide a nice, spicy finish that worked really well with the sweetness up front to provide some nice balance. The finish seemed to linger for days and seemed to be even more rich than the front end. Some dark fruit notes seemed to come out of nowhere, with flavors of black cherry and blackberry, which added to the complexity and played so well with all the other flavors.

Again, the nose on this one was incredibly misleading. I've yet to get a dud from these Full Proof private selections, and when I opened it I wondered if this would be my first. But, from that first sip I knew I had something delicious and that the nose was just a big, fat liar.

Grade: A-

Sunday, April 21, 2019

High West Double Rye! Official Whiskey of 2018 Sundance Film Festival Rye Finished Blended Rye Whiskey

- $40
- 101.4 Proof
- Barrel #5212
- Finish Time: 1 yr., 9 mos. - Rye
- Utah

Every so often I come into a bottle that I know I'm just never going to see again. Usually they're some private select single barrel where it's limited to whatever one barrel might have yielded. And even then, I usually know there's going to be another store pick, albeit a different barrel, somewhere in my future.

This bottle is a bit different, though. This was held back for me by a good friend who gave it to me on my last ski trip to Park City, which happened to be a week after the Sundance Film Festival. As far as I know, this was a gift shop only release, hand-selected by the powers that be at High West, and it was, as indicated by its name, released to commemorate the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Even a week later, it was gone.

This particular bottling was aged and blended in its normal course, then that blended whiskey was put into another rye whiskey barrel for finishing, which would theoretically impart more of the rye characters, such as cinnamon spice, mint, perhaps even pine and caramel.

On the nose I definitely got the pine. However, I also got a very distinct anise flavor. The cinnamon was there as well, but it came across more as buttered cinnamon toast. It was sort of spicy and sweet, all with this underlying maltiness that for fleeting moments was almost cocoa powder. Altogether it sounds like a really weird combination of aromas, but yet it really worked!

On my first sip, the first thing I noticed was the nice, oily texture. That texture delivered a great, buttery quality, which could be why the first tasting note I got was butterscotch. Immediately after that upfront, sweet butterscotch flavor, though, I got cherry (like fresh-picked cherries, not that fake cherry flavor) and pine. Again, as I write this it seems like a weird combination in my head, but it really did work.

This rye was complex and bold. Each of these flavors wasn't just sitting in the background, mixing with the others, but was bold and stood on its own. The cherry note, in particular, really stood out, even through the finish. I also got brown sugar and a light mint flavor that lingered for quite some time on the back end.  Throughout each sip was that spicy cinnamon note that, consistent with the nose, was balanced out by the malt character.

This rye had much more going on than any rye I've had in recent memory. Though the flavor profile is different, the closest comparison I have for sheer complexity and boldness is Thomas H. Handy. It packed a punch with flavor, and although on paper they don't look like they'd go together, in the bottle it all worked really well. From fruity to spicy to sweet to malty, this was an incredibly complex yet incredibly well-balanced and delicious rye . . . and I'm never going to get it again!

Grade: A