Saturday, January 12, 2019

Starlight Distillery Binny's Private Selection Single Barrel Straight Rye Barrel #1372

- $55
- 119.2 Proof
- 3 years
- Barrel No. 1372
- Indiana

I was wondering through Benny's the other day, making my usual perusal through the bourbon and rye section, and I managed to strike up a conversation with a very friendly gentleman who happened to be one of the guys who picks barrels for Binny's. During our conversation, I expressed my love for the Willett Family Estate ryes, specifically the recent four-year rye that was released. Not much more came of the conversation, I made my purchases, and I went on my way.

The next day, while making a wine run for my wife, I was tracked down once again by the very same gentleman. He informed me of this distillery down in Indiana called Starlight Distillery. He explained that this is a family-run farm in southern Indiana that has been distilling spirits for approximately 10 years. However, for the first five years they only had an experimental license. So, while their whiskey being bottled is somewhat young, they've been distilling for quite a while and know what they're doing. I haven't verified any of this information, just passing along what I was told.

He explained how he had the pleasure of going to this barrel tasting where they selected this particular bottling of the Starlight Rye. The reason he was telling me all this is that he believed it to be fairly comparable to the Willett Family Estate rye, and also a decent value at $55. I'm sure he had a certain amount of bias towards this whiskey as well, given that he was involved in the selection process. Nonetheless, I was sold.

Of course once home I immediately cracked this open and poured myself a glass (and a glass of wine for my wife as well). Right away I noticed that the nose does have many of the same characteristics that I found and the Willett Family Estate 4-year Rye. It had a fruity, yet spicy character to it. It was almost as though it were raisins soaked in a red wine, like a Cabernet, and then hit with a bunch of cinnamon. The aroma was pungent, and at the same time earthy, fruity and spicy.

On the first sip, up front I immediately got hit with those dark fruit notes. It had certain wine characteristics to it that I really loved, even with a bit of tannin. Those notes weren't strong or overpowering, as you get with some wine barrel finished whiskeys. However, those notes of dark fruit, such as cherry and raisin, certainly were at the forefront.

As I made my way into the bottle, other more dessert-like notes began to come through. Certainly the cinnamon was present, offering a decent amount of spice from beginning to the end. It also had a hint of a butterscotch note on the tongue that seemed to play well with the wine notes that I was getting. Additionally, there was a hint of pine to add a little bit of a unique characteristic to this Rye. All in all, it came off as bold and rich, and fairly complex in flavor. Even the mouth feel was nice and oily, likely due to the fact that it was bottled that barrel proof. While it did have hints of being a young whiskey, I wasn't smacked in the face with those typical qualities of a young whiskey as I so often am. Rather, this came across as a young rye that stands up very well.

My only disappointment with this bottle was the finish. While everything was great up front and in the middle, on the end I found it to be very bitter and tannic. It was the kind of bitter that I notice on the sides of my tongue long after each poor. Unfortunately, the cinnamon flavors, the sweet butterscotch notes and those wine notes didn't really seem to linger. Rather, I was left with this lingering bitter note, which was a bit off-putting. Luckily, the front end of this poor was good enough that I found myself nonetheless going back for that next sip relatively quickly.

I really loved the recommendation from the Binny's employee here. I like the fact that he gave me a recommendation based on my stated preferences, and I also like the fact that he referred me to something unique, something that he was fairly certain I had never tried. In fact, this is one of the most nondescript bottles and labels that I have ever seen. I had probably looked at this bottle numerous times and never given it a second thought, which is quite frankly a shame. The label design certainly leaves much to be desired. However, the whiskey inside the bottle was absolutely delicious, and it certainly will have me looking out for other offerings from Starlight Distillery.

Grade: B

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Buffalo Trace Cap n' Cork & Catablu Grille Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $26
- 90 Proof
- Barrel No. 13
- Kentucky

As I travel, whether by plane or car, and whether for work or pleasure, I can't help but scan every sign and every strip mall I pass looking for liquor stores. This is especially true when I'm out of state, figuring that, while for the most part I'll see the same stuff on the shelves, sometimes there are things distributed in Indiana, for example, that just aren't available in Illinois.  Plus, you never know when you may come across a store or chain that surprises you with available store picks to try, something I certainly can't get anywhere else.

My job has required me to take somewhat frequent trips to Fort Wayne lately, and on each drive I pass Cap n' Cork, which I could tell just from the road was a decent-sized store that would likely have a pretty good selection.  So naturally, I took a brief side trip and stopped in. Much to my pleasure, not only did they have a good selection of bourbons, but they had multiple store picks on their shelves, including Knob Creek, Maker's Mark and this bottle of Buffalo Trace.  At $26, it was a no-brainer to pick this up and give it a try. That's about as "low-risk" as you can get.

Though I had only just learned of Cap n' Cork, and I have not heard of, yet been to, Catablu Grille, I was excited to pop this open and give it a try. The nose provided quite the bouquet of aromas, with brown sugar right up front, along with some anise notes to give it a twist and a solid layer of vanilla. I also got a hint of sweet pipe tobacco, kind of what I'm used to getting from an Irish whiskey. The nose had a nice balance of sweet and earthy notes that was really enjoyable.

Although thin in texture, this bottle offered a lot of complexity in flavor. There's no question that this bourbon is on the sweeter side, but it's a kind of subtle sweetness, with soft notes of caramel and vanilla (certainly nothing slapping me in my face with flavor). I even got a bit of flavor that reminded me of chocolate milk.

On the back end I got some nice but subtle warm cinnamon, which carried with it a bit of a pine note. This was all layered on top of a consistent caramel flavor that persisted from front to back.

The finish on this one was interesting. Despite being sweet but not overly sweet on the palate, it had a finish that was very sweet. It left my mouth with flavors of brown sugar and cotton candy. It seems an odd mix, but in the end it resulted in a sort of candy corn flavor. Of course, this was accompanied by that same caramel flavor that was always around. While enjoyable, this was one of the sweetest finishes I can recall having in a whiskey in a very long time.

All in all, given the low proof and thin texture, this bourbon had a lot going on. It provided for a fun and interesting pour every time, and one that I couldn't help but contemplate about how much I enjoyed it with each sip. In fact, it served very well as my New Year's Eve drink! While the finish was overly sweet for my tastes, this was still an excellent pour, and easily a recommended buy at this price. So, if you're ever in the Fort Wayne area, be sure to stop in to Cap n' Cork and grab a bottle (or try it at Catablu Grille--though I haven't confirmed, I'd imagine they've got some to serve up)!

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Willett Family Estate 15 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel No. 2371

- $225
- 118.8 Proof
- 15 Years
- Barrel No. 2371
- Region: Kentucky

As far as bourbon hunting goes, I've never been an "active" bourbon hunter. Rather, I've been more of an opportunistic bourbon hunter, making sure to take advantage of opportunities to purchase those rare and special bottles when they present themselves. While I haven't had hauls of BTAC or Pappy, I've managed to land some very nice bottles over the years, and luck had everything to do with it.

As for this bottle, that couldn't be more true. I have purchased bottles on the secondary market two times, once as a straight up purchase, and once as the via an online raffle. Thanks to that online raffle, I was able to purchase this incredible bottle, #32/104 from this barrel, at only a fraction of the price.

Knowing how fortunate I was, not to mention wanting to savor every drop, it took me quite some time to eventually make my way through it, well over a year, tapping into it only on special occasions or when I had good friends over to share it with. Plus, I love the look of these bottles and simply enjoyed looking at it on my whiskey shelf!

The nose is sweet and subtle, with almost no burn despite its high proof. Though not very strong, the aromas are a nice blend of vanilla, caramel, and a light dryness from the oak. These flavors all seemed to be sweetened by a bit of burnt sugar and even a bit of almond.

The flavor hits you immediately with caramel and vanilla. A light spice tickles the tongue up front, and the wood tones add just a touch of bitterness, but not enough to really dry it out. This is an excellent balance of sweet, spicy and dry.

That sweetness seems to linger a bit, almost transforming to some dark sherry notes to go with the rich caramel and even dark chocolate notes, giving it a very decadent flavor. On later pours I even started to get other notes, including a light peanut flavor and even a light saltiness, just enough to keep it well balanced and intriguing.

Interestingly, the peppery spice on the front end didn't linger on the back end like so many spicy whiskeys do. Rather, a thick, oily caramel coating stuck around, seemingly forever. I couldn't help but enjoy that lingering flavor for a while between each sip.

Again, I was lucky to be able to get this bottle, and I couldn't be happier to have had the benefit of enjoying such a fine whiskey. This is certainly one of the best I've ever had, with a flavor profile that matches my tastes nearly to perfection. I miss this one already!

Grade: A+

Friday, December 21, 2018

Sons of Liberty Joyal's Liquors Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon

- $45
- 90 Proof
- 1 year, 4 months
- Barrel No. 15-0159
- Rhode Island

You know what I love? Free whiskey.  You know what I love even more? Free whiskey that I otherwise can't get on my own. That's the case here. Before getting this as a Christmas gift from a good friend of mine who moved to Rhode Island not to long ago, I had never heard of Sons of Liberty Distilling, let alone tried anything they offered. At the very least, I was intrigued.

After all, this is their own distillate. That being said, it was only aged for one year and four months. This is also one of those whiskeys that was barreled in smaller barrels, presumably in an effort to recreate the effect of a standard aging in a normal sized barrel but in a significantly abbreviated time span. It's been my experience that these methods simply don't work, that there's no substitution for time and tradition, but I remained open-minded, which was slightly easier to do once I realized that this was a store select. After all, presumably someone liked this particular mini-barrel enough to want to have it bottled.

Cracking it open, the first thing I noticed, even before putting my nose to the bottle, was the sweetness. I'm guessing this is due, at least in part, to the fact that it has a mashbill of 100% Rhode Island grown corn.  In addition to having a very, almost sugary nose, it had that distinct smell of over-ripe fruit, specifically apple, that I've found to be common in young bourbons. It smelled like a mixture of sugar cookies and baked apples, but without the cinnamon (which probably would have helped).

The tasted tended to match the smell, for the most part. Interestingly, rather than sugar cookies, I was distinctly reminded of oatmeal cookies. It still had that sugary pastry quality, but also an added earthy note that reminded me of oatmeal. Perhaps that's because the sweetness tended to be more of a molasses sweetness, than a sugar sweetness, if that makes sense.

It certainly has all the hallmarks of being a young whiskey, with that over-ripe apple note. However, unlike so many others, it wasn't an offensive note. Rather, it was just an odd note that seemed to not play well with others. For instance, there was a distinct coffee note that seemed to underscore everything else. Although I couldn't place my tongue on it right away, once I did I couldn't help but notice it, and that over-ripe fruit flavor just seemed to clash with that flavor. 

Again, this wasn't an offensive combination, but even towards the end of the bottle it seemed to be about the depth of what this whiskey had to offer--an odd combination of coffee and baked, over-ripe apples. As much as I wanted it to work, and as much as I hoped to like this whiskey, it just never seemed to be . . . right. There's something to be said for the fact that the big guys in the industry have been doing it a certain way for centuries, and that there simply are no shortcuts. This proved to be no exception.

Grade: C-

Friday, December 14, 2018

Knob Creek Twice Barreled Kentucky Straight Rye

- $45
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

I feel like I haven't quite found that Knob Creek Rye that I love. I can't get enough of the private selection bourbons, having found a few amazing bourbons among them, and at the very least, always a very good bourbon for a very good price.

As for Knob Creek ryes, however, between the regular rye and the few private selections I've tried, I have yet to find that "very good" rye, one that comes off as exceptional. That being said, I still keep looking, and in recent months I've grabbed both the barrel strength rye and this bottle, the twice barreled rye. I can't help myself when I see a limited release (though I don't know just how "limited") at a decent price.

The nose is full of spice, mostly cinnamon, but other baking spices as well, along with a distinct oak quality (true to its name).  There's a slight pine note as well on the nose, but the cinnamon and wood notes really prevail, almost like a subtle cinnamon stick.

The flavor is far more complex than the nose, however. On the first sip, I immediately got notes of maraschino cherry and amaretto, a nice, rich blend of dark fruits with a more decadent nutty flavor. I also got the cinnamon from the nose, though not as heavily as I expected.  All of this is underscored by a light layer of unsweetened vanilla.

On the back end there was a mint note that seemed to linger forever, almost cooling the back of the throat. Meanwhile, I was smacking my lips as they seemed to stick together. It was as though after each sip, powdered sugar came into the picture to balance out the cinnamon spice.

In later pours, while the cool mint note was still there, I found that I noticed more a sweet caramel stickiness that not only stuck on my lips but hung around at the back of my throat, as though I had just let a soft caramel dissolve in my mouth for the last half hour.

Compared to other Knob Creek ryes (and most other ryes I've had for that matter), this is sweet and spicy, and complex in that it offers all sorts of flavors from front to back and from pour to pour. It had a nice, oily and sticky mouthfeel that you find in older and higher proof bourbons, and it was absolutely delicious. I should have grabbed more!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

High West Double Rye! Binny's Private Selection Muscatel Finished Blended Rye

- $40
- 99.6 Proof
- Barrel No. 9595
- Min. 2 years
- Finish Time: 1 Year
- Utah

I feel like it's been quite some time since I've done a wine barrel-finished anything. That's a bit odd to me, as I've always enjoyed a good port or similar type of wine barrel-finished rye. Perhaps it's simply due to the fact that I just haven't been seeing these High West barrel finishes hitting the shelves like I used to. The other day, however, that iridescent, shiny bottle certainly caught my attention, and as is always the case with these, the price was right!

This had a decent amount of time in the Muscatel barrel, a full year, and it shows. The nose is pungent, full of black currant and plum. It also has a sweet and syrupy note to it, making it almost jammy. There's a richness to it as well, a sort of chocolate note. All in all, it combines with the traditional rye spices of cinnamon and clove to give an overall aroma that reminded me of mulled wine--something I've only had around Christmas time, making this a very timely bottle!

The palate is immediately plum and raisin up front, a rich, full flavored sweetness that overwhelms the tip of the tongue. Some cinnamon hits the back of the tongue pretty quickly as well, giving a nice contrast. Overall this has a really good mix of spices and dark, unsweetened fruit, bringing me right back to the mulled wine notes.

Everything about this makes me think of Christmas, and I really enjoyed it as I sat in my family room with a fire going inside while there was a blizzard outside. The wine notes are strong but not too sweet, and they work great with the cinnamon and black pepper spices from the rye. It also has a nice balance of graham cracker, vanilla and wood tones to keep everything on even keel.

The last few pours of this were certainly sweeter, but I actually found myself wishing they weren't. Although this may not fit all moods, I really enjoyed this for what it was on the first 3/4 of this bottle. It was a nice, warming pour, with rich fruit notes and spices that refrained from being overwhelming.

The last few pours were just too syrupy or jammy for my tastes. This is a rare instance, as I usually find myself enjoying those last few pours the most. While it was still good, and it wasn't exactly a drain pour or anything, it wasn't as good as it was at the start.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 19, 2018

Maker's Mark Private Select Binny's Beverage Depot #6 Kentucky Bourbon

- $70
- 110.4 Proof
- Kentucky

I feel like I've been seeing more of these Maker's Mark Private Selects on shelves these days, with the big box stores getting four at a time, and even the little guys getting in on the game with their own private selections. All in all, it's not a bad thing, particularly where I'm typically such a fan of these. However, where before I grabbed these bottles without thinking twice, now even just a little bit of saturation has me seeing what else there may be first.

However, when Binny's got in a new batch of these, and I just happened to be there with a friend who understands my willingness to bend to peer pressure, at his suggestion we each grabbed a bottle to taste and compare. And, naturally, I don't regret it.  That being said, however, I think his bottle was better than mine.  C'est la vie.

The particular breakdown of oak finishing staves added to this barrel is as follows:

I have a tendency to gravitate to the ones with the Roasted french Mocha or the Toasted French Spice. I think this is because the first couple Private Selects I ever had absolutely blew me away, and I find myself trying to recreate that experience. So, I look for the same usage of staves. Unfortunately, I've never quite been successful in that endeavor.

The nose on this one was kinda weird. It was malty and grainy, along with a decent amount of ethanol, which never seemed to fade away, even on the last few pours. In addition, it had an interesting citrus note on the nose, like orange peel, adding a bit of bitterness that seemed to mix with an out-of-place peanut scent. All in all, the nose was . . . weird. These different aromas, while making the nose complex, just didn't seem to jive together

The flavor, however, was not weird or confusing, but was actually really tasty! It had this floral note (something I usually get in single malts, not bourbons), almost like a lavender flavor. I know, right away it seems weird, but that flavor seemed to merely add something unique (and inoffensive) to the more traditional caramel and vanilla flavors that really stood out.

This was unquestionably a sweeter bourbon, even more so compared to other wheated bourbons. However, it carried this nice buttery quality to it as well, with an almost creamy mouthfeel, that reminded me of the kind of brown sugar and butter crumble you'd put on top of a cobbler. At other times, the buttery, buttery and sweet qualities reminded me of funnel cake. Either way, this was delicious and sweet.

I realize that taste is what matters most, and in this category, this bourbon was amazing. However, the nose on this one really threw me off. Even on the last couple pours I still got not only the strong ethanol note, but that weird citrus note was not only present, but was unavoidable. If this didn't smell so odd, it would have received top marks from me. Nonetheless, this was still very delicious, and I found it hard to go to other bottles before finishing this one first

Grade: B+/A-