Saturday, July 13, 2019

New Riff Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Rye

- $45
- 100 Proof
- 4 years
- Bottled Spring 2019
- Kentucky

I could not have been more excited when New Riff finally made it into our market here in Illinois. In fact, I grabbed the Single Barrel Bourbon at the same time I grabbed this rye, and I ended up plowing through that bottle.  I had heard only great things about their bottled in bond rye, and so I held off on opening that one, saving it for a time when I was in the mood for a good rye (which, quite honestly, was only a few days after I finished the Single Barrel).

This is a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted rye, so 100% rye, which already differentiates it from pretty much every other rye out of Kentucky. New Riff is certainly aware of what's trending as well, as they state right on the front of their bottle that this is "without chill filtration." Just what us whiskey geeks want to see!

The nose was everything I've come to expect from younger ryes.  It had the usual cinnamon, but it also had a light sweetness to it, a sort of essence of caramel that was really nice. I did get a light pine note, which at times just came across as more of a woody or oak note. At times I got something floral off of it, but I had a hard time narrowing it down beyond that. It just came across as a light whiskey.

The palate was pretty consistent with the nose. It did not have any sort of viscosity to it, which lended to it coming across as a lighter whiskey on the palate as well.  Up front the light sweetness was there, somewhere between caramel and toffee--a bit more rich than what came across on the nose. There was also a fleeting but distinct mint note that came across the tip of my tongue.

Pine notes seemed to come through now and then, but other than that caramel note, none of the flavors seemed to linger very long. It had the nice cinnamon and peppery spice that I love in rye, and those flavors were in sufficient abundance to keep me going back for that next pour.

The finish was short, but it did have that nice balance of sweet and heat, with caramel and vanilla blending with cinnamon on the back end. I did find a bit of a dill flavor lingered after each sip, however, which, while certainly not offensive, just seemed to be out of place with everything else going on with this whiskey.

Ultimately, this is a very solid rye, and if you're a rye guy (or gal), by all means give this a go. While it may not have knocked my socks off, it fits solidly in the rye category and perhaps it'll do something more for you!

Grade: B

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Oppidan Cane + Rye Straight Malted Rye Whiskey Finished in Caribbean Rum Barrels

- $45
- 101 Proof
- 1 Year, 9 mos.; Finished for 1 1/2 years
- Batch No. 1
- Illinois

This is a bottle that came highly recommended to me. My local liquor store guy had tried Oppidan's products at a whiskey festival and he couldn't say enough great things about this local distillery from Wheeling, Illinois. While my guy's palate doesn't always coincide with mine, given his insistence, I had to give this a try.

This is a straight 100% malted rye whiskey that was then finished in Caribbean Rum casks for a year and a half. That's more than enough time to allow those barrels to impart the flavors of the rum they previously held. And in some respects, perhaps too much time.

The nose is incredibly sweet, which was not expected, with a health dose of cooked sugar. However, it also had vibrant notes of apricot and banana, which worked particularly well with the burnt caramel notes. It also had a certain bready quality to it, as well as hints of tobacco leaf, but those sweet fruits remained front and center. It also had a slight overripe apple note that I've always noticed in young whiskeys, showing its age (or lack thereof).

As soon as it hit my tongue all I could think was how sweet and sugary this was. It was, quite frankly too much. While I felt like I enjoyed it a bit more than the Angel's Envy rye, I nonetheless found it to be cloyingly sweet, to the point that it seemed to overshadow anything else that was going on in this whiskey.

Eventually some of the rye spice slowly made its way in, but too slowly for my taste. I like rye because it tends to smack you in the mouth with flavor and spice. This was almost afraid of being a rye. In addition to that subtle cinnamon spice that slowly made its way forward, I got a light pine note which seemed to only come through on the back end.

As I worked my way through the bottle, though, those pine and cinnamon flavors seemed to meld together, leaving this to be nothing more than sugar wood. That's all I got was oak and burnt sugar, and the fruit notes from the nose, which were so bright and delicious, never made their way into the flavor. And so, it was just sugar wood.

In retrospect, it's probably unfair to Oppidan that I chose this as my first foray into their whiskey. I have yet to get on board with rum finished whiskeys. I was really not a fan of the Angel's Envy rye, and I knew going in that that the odds of my enjoying this were slim.  This is, however, yet another reason to ignore whiskey reviews and try it out for yourself, because while I was not a fan, my local guy, who is a huge whiskey lover, couldn't get enough of this stuff. It's all a matter of preference

Grade: B-

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Barrell Dovetail Whiskey Finished in Rum, Port and Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Barrels

- $100
- 124.34 Proof
- Indiana and Tennessee

Certainly finished whiskeys have been done before. And certainly finishing combos have been done before, such as Jos. A Magnus.  However, this one had a bit more draw to me than others. For one, it's barrel strength, something you don't see a whole lot of with finished American whiskeys, for whatever reason. Plus, this particular finished whiskey has been particularly well-received and regarded in online reviews--again, something you don't see a whole lot of with finished American whiskeys.

I tend to be a fan of finished whiskeys, particularly port-finished, and so I took the gamble on a pricey bottle to find out for myself. I will say up front, I was not disappointed nor did I have buyer's remorse, despite the hefty price tag.

The nose seemed to really favor the Cabernet over any of the other notes or finishes. I got a lot of that earthy and dry dark fruit and berry. This was a pleasant surprise. Given the rum and port finishes, I was half expecting something almost syrupy sweet. Instead, I got a nice mix of raisin and blackberry that had this sort of jammy note to it, but again, without being sweet (which I realize make little to no sense, but I don't know how else to explain it).

It was, however, very sweet in flavor. On the palate I immediately got a lot of dark fruits--plum and raisin, and again the jammy blackberry. Only this time it was very much a sweet jam. It is very dessert-like, and if you're not in the mood for something sweet, it may not hit you quite right. I thought it was delicious for what it is, though.

It also had a certain amount of bread or cracker-like quality that, along with the blackberry, reminded me of blackberry pie. It even had a nice, warming spice on the end, kind of an allspice note.  My initial impression was that this was similar to Magnus, but done much better, which is certainly attributable to far more than the proof.

Everything seemed to work very well together. The heat from the high alcohol content added a warmth and depth that seemed to make the flavors from the various finishes really lay heavy on my tongue. I'm not a huge fan of rum finished whiskey, and I actually didn't really notice the rum finish very much, which I particularly appreciated. Towards the end, though, the rum notes seemed to come forward, as I started to get notes of anise and molasses, and the blackberry seemed to fade.

While those last couple pours weren't as enjoyable as the first, this was nonetheless a great overall bottle that I really enjoyed. I would say that you'd have to be in the mood for this, as it may not necessarily scratch that bourbon itch, but yet I found myself going right back to this one regardless of my mood, simply because it was really good!

Grade: B+/A-

Saturday, June 22, 2019

J.T.S. Brown Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $18
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

While I feel as though I've been enjoying some really good whiskey lately, including store picks and some harder to find bottles, I keep reminding myself to try some of those standards that I've never gotten around to. I feel like I'd be doing myself a disservice if I simply ignored those affordable and readily available bottles because I'm too busy chasing down the allocated stuff.

After trying Heaven Hill's J.W. Dant, the next logical choice for a bottle that fits this bill was J.T.S. Brown. This is one of the uglier labels on the market, and perhaps that's the reason that I've taken this long to get around to trying it. But, that being said, it's Heaven Hill bourbon, it's bottled in bond, and it's a mere $18. This is one of those purchases where I knew that, even if it's not great, for the price and what I'm getting, I knew I couldn't go wrong.

The nose was very good, giving off all the traditional notes, but with a little kick. It was primarily toffee with some clove spice added. I also got some black pepper as well as vanilla, an odd but good combination. It also had an earthiness to it, a bit of a tobacco and leather smell that I just wasn't quite sure I liked. It was interesting, but I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it was enjoyable.

The flavor was very spice forward. I got a healthy dose of clove mixed with anise. I tend not to be a fan of anise-forward whiskeys, but in this case, the anise was light enough that it did not put me off in any way. Rather, it just added a bit of tang to the spicy clove notes.

I did get the traditional notes of caramel and toffee throughout. They provided a nice baseline. However, I also got a decent amount of orange. At first it was a brighter, citrusy orange flavor. At some point, though, it seemed to turn into more of a bitter orange note, like orange peel.

While this bourbon surprisingly had a nice, oily texture to it, unfortunately I found that it coated my mouth with the flavors that I didn't particularly enjoy. The bitter orange and the anise were the two flavors that seemed to stick around, while the caramel and clove notes seemed to fade quickly. This left an odd flavor lingering in my mouth and at the back of my throat, and I found it caused me to reach for a different bottle whenever I was ready for that next pour.

Ultimately, this to me was just a slightly above average bourbon. Even at this price point there are certainly better ones to be had. In fact, given that they're both from the same distillery, both bottled in bond, both in the same price range, and often times both found next to each other on the shelf, I'd easily take J.W. Dant over this bottle. It just didn't do a whole lot for me.

Grade: C+

Saturday, June 15, 2019

George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2017)

- $90.00 MSRP
- 129.2 proof
- 15 years, 3 months
- Kentucky

The one problem with the theme of this blog--waiting until I finish a bottle before posting a review--is that when it comes to "special" bottles, by the time I finish them off, they're a bit outdated. Here it is now June, only a few months away from the 2019 BTAC releases, and I'm just now getting around to reviewing the 2017 George T. Stagg.

And, quite frankly, what can I say about this that hasn't already been said at this point? Because reviews are completely subjective, and therefore stupid, I'm just going to front the fact that Stagg has always been right in my wheelhouse.  It's my measuring stick for great bourbons. Don't get me wrong, I've had others that I've enjoyed more (maybe two), but they're always measured against Stagg.  Something about it just hits me right, and the 2017 release was certainly no exception.

The nose is full of vanilla and cinnamon, with the cinnamon leaning more towards a cloves kind of scent. I certainly got a decent amount of alcohol, which is to be expected at this proof, but nothing offensive by any stretch. There was a light oak on the nose, along with a rich toffee note to offset that slightest bitter note. Towards the end of the bottle I was also getting some anise notes. The nose was pretty much everything you'd expect from a high quality, 15 year old, barrel strength bourbon.

When I took my first sip, the first thing I noticed was the rich, coating, oily mouthfeel.  I hate using the word "mouthfeel," but the point is that this is a nice, creamy and oily bourbon that just coated my mouth and throat with flavor right up front.

The most noticeable of these flavors were the vanilla and wood flavors. I did not get any bitter tannins, though, as I had somewhat expected, even just a little. Rather, it was a nice, rich vanilla bean flavor that was absolutely delicious.

There was also a burnt sugar note that made for a sweet bourbon but kept it from coming close to being too sweet (did I mention this is in my wheelhouse?).  It seemed to balance that sweetness very well, perhaps due to the age, and also perhaps due to the nice cinnamon note that seemed to linger at the back of my throat forever, begging me to take another sip.

In addition to these traditional vanilla, caramel and cinnamon notes, however, I got hints of dark cherry (natural dark cherry, not that fake flavor that I sometimes get in whiskeys). I also got a coffee note which was pleasant and unexpected. I can't recall ever having such a tasting note in the past.

To be clear, however, this was a vanilla, caramel, cinnamon bomb. I know that phrase is used often, and usually it's used to demonstrate the dominance of one particular flavor (i.e. a "vanilla bomb").  Here, however, all of these flavors are bold, independent and absolutely delicious, culminating in one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth.

Aside from the fact that I have a particular sentimental attachment to this bourbon for reasons that I don't need to get into here, this is a bourbon that I will forever chase, buy and drink at every opportunity.

Grade: A+

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 109.8 Proof

- $50
- 109.8 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

So, to start this post off with a spoiler, I really liked this one. I knew I was going to like this one when I bought it (so, take this completely biased review with a grain of salt). That, of course, is why I bought it.  My local liquor store knows of my love for Willett ryes, and when this new batch came in, he didn't even bother asking if I wanted it. He just put it in my hands and said, "Here, I know you want this."

Whatever it is that Willett is doing with their ryes really nails everything I love about a rye. I get that fruity characteristic that seems to balance so well with the spiciness of the rye as well as the underlying sweeter caramel and toffee flavors. I have yet to find one that I haven't been thoroughly impressed with, and this one is no different.

On the nose, I immediately got orange peel and brown sugar -- a bit of an unexpected note, but nonetheless delicious. I also got a creamy vanilla scent that was incredibly inviting. It also had a light pine scent as well as a certain nutty quality to it. On later pours I swore I got hints of dark cherry, but those notes seemed to be fleeting.

When I took my first sip, the first thing I noticed was that this batch was sweeter than previous batches. It had a certain frosted sugar cookie note to it. Not quite that sweet, but that's the direction it was leaning. 

It had a nice dose of the typical cinnamon spice to balance out the sweet, as well as a little bit of orange peel bitterness. Nothing seemed overdone, and it all seemed to balance really well. Throughout I got hints of dill and pine, but those flavors weren't nearly as prominent as I've found them in other ryes. I also got a light hint of mint on the back end.

This was, in the end, a sweeter rye. In addition to the vanilla and sugar cookie notes, I also got this sort of tangy molasses note, which worked really well with the light cinnamon spice and the nice warm hug on the end  to create a long-lasting, complex and rich rye, with a bit more sweetness than usual, but still hitting all those notes that I love.

Again, I was thoroughly impressed with this one, so much so that I easily made my way through this bottle within a week. It was just so easy to keep going back to pour after pour. This is one of those bottles that I'll just keep purchasing as I see them on the shelf, whether it's a batch I've had before or not. I'll be making it a point to always have a bottle on hand.

Grade: A

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Weller Antique 107 Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #4 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $35
- 107 Proof
- Kentucky

A short while back a good friend of mine picked this bottle up for me. During this time I had a lot going on, and it was a really nice positive amongst a see of negative at the time. Did I mention he's a really good friend?

Weller Antique, which was once a regular shelfie, is now locked away in back rooms or displayed on shelves behind counters in nearly every store, either saved for their best customers or marked up beyond reason. The store picks seem to be even more sought after at this point, and so, as far as free bourbon goes, this is about as good as it gets!

While I've always preferred bourbon with rye as the tertiary grain, as far as wheated bourbons go, Weller Antique and Maker's Mark Cask Strength have always been my preference. This one had a nose that was a bit different from any previous Weller Antique I've had before. It had a very bready quality to it. It smelled sweet and reminded me a lot of graham cracker at first. At times I also got raisin notes, giving it a nice cinnamon raisin aroma as well. The nose was absolutely delicious on this one.

The flavor tended to match the nose, with cinnamon and raisin being the first to flavors I picked up. However, it wasn't quite as sweet as the nose. Rather, it had a spicier cinnamon note to it, as well as a distinct wood note that helped offset the sweetness. I still got that sweet, graham-crackery note to it as well.

As wheaters tend to be, though, this was still a sweeter bourbon. The sweetness really kicked in towards the middle of the palate, with a sugary and vanilla-like note, almost like cake frosting (which I love on graham crackers, by the way). It all seemed to work together for a sort of Frosted Flakes flavor.

The finish was very short-lived. It was sweet vanilla and corn notes, again taking me back to Frosted Flakes. But it was gone in an instant. I was actually surprised at the watery texture of this one, particularly given the proof and the fact that it's non-chill filtered. I guess those two things don't automatically mean you'll get an oily or buttery texture, as this one certainly came across a bit thin. This is about the only criticism I have for this pick, however.

Some buddies and I had this bottle among others for a whiskey tasting, including Weller Special Reserve, Weller 12 Year, Weller C.Y.P.B. and another private select single barrel. While the consensus favorite was the Weller 12 Year, this one got the nod from me. This was an excellent pick, and as I type this I sit here wishing I only had more.

Grade: A-