Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $50
- 119.2 Proof

I've been wanting to try Bulleit Barrel Strength since it came out, but just had never seen it in my area. So, when I made a recent trip to Louisville I made it a point to grab a bottle to bring back with me (and actually to share with my fledgling whiskey club which I'm not allowed to talk about). Of course, now that I brought a bottle back, I'm seeing it on the shelves all over the Chicagoland area. But, that fear of missing out (or "FOMO") made certain that I got a bottle sooner than later, at least.

The nose is spicy, much like the regular Bulleit Bourbon. It's not the traditional rye spice, but rather a sweetened spice, an interesting combination of caramel and black pepper. It also had a light woodiness to it, telling me this is older than standard Bulleit Bourbon, though a quick Google search of other reviews indicates it's a blend of 5-8 year bourbons.

On the palate it's a lot of cinnamon spice, telling me that it's a rye-heavy mashbill. That spice is balanced very well with the traditional bourbon notes of toffee and vanilla, however, along with some light chocolate notes. It made me think of a cinnamon Heath Bar, if only such a thing existed! Up front this bourbon really is delicious.

On the finish it left a bit to be desired, however. With so many barrel strength bourbons, they tend to have a more viscous texture, leaving an almost oily residue that causes the flavor to linger for a much longer time. Not the case wit this one. It's on the watery end in texture, and it had a very short, surprisingly short, finish to it. As soon as I swallowed that was it, no lingering flavors whatsoever.

At 119.2 proof, the alcohol is present. However, it does fade fast and, as indicated, the flavor comes through very well up front. In addition to the cinnamon and toffee notes that predominate, a light woodiness as well as a light smoke flavor thrown in somewhere in the middle. While it is bold in flavor, at least on the front end, I wouldn't call it complex.

It's a very tasty bourbon, and a good buy for the price. It hits all the right notes to make it one of my favorites, at least in flavor. It's a nice mix of cinnamon spice with the vanilla and toffee. The watery texture and notably short finish, however, were difficult for me to get past. I seemed to linger on that flaw, much like I wished this bourbon would linger on my tongue a bit more. I wanted to love this bourbon at first sip, but that immediate potential was never going to be realized.

Grade: B

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Riff Distilling O.K.I. Reserve 10 Year Straight Bourbon

- $50
- 97.75 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch No. 20

I heard an interview with one of the owners of New Riff out of Newport, Kentucky, and, although I can't remember exactly who it was that was interviewed, I recalled appreciating the fact that they were very open about their distillery, their operations, and their business plan. In particular, she discussed their release of O.K.I., a bourbon they were sourcing and bottling as a means of keeping hte business afloat while their own distillate comes to maturation.

O.K.I. is a 10  year bourbon sourced from MGP in Indiana. New Riff never looked to hide that fact, even incorporating that fact as part of the brand (O.K.I. stands for Oklahoma, Kentucky and Indiana). Based upon that fact, and the fact that I've generally enjoyed the longer-aged products coming from MGP, I wanted to give this a try. Unfortunately, I can't get it in Illinois, so I had to wait a few months until my next trip to Louisville, but even though I was on a budget, this was the bottle I knew I was coming home with on that trip.

The nose is soft and full of vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco, that kind of sweet smell you get when you pass one of those specialty tobacco stores and the scent just wafts out the front door. It also had a kind of floral note to it, like lilac bushes, though it wasn't as strong as those flowers can be.

In flavor it struck me as very traditional, heavy on the vanilla and toffee. Towards the end it had a slight cinnamon spice as well as a light smoke on the finish. It was very bold and rich, full of flavor from beginning to end. The finish was long and the toffee flavor just seemed to linger forever, as though I let a Heath bar just sit and melt in my mouth.

Over time it seemed to sweet up and develop even more complexity. In addition to the sweet vanilla and toffee flavors, a more savory cocoa note came through, that played very well with the heavy vanilla. Perhaps it was those two flavors together or something completely new, but it also seemed to add in a peanut flavor. The cinnamon spice remained but was joined towards the end by a welcome orange-citrus note, just enough to make it interesting.

Although I wanted to savor this bottle, I found myself going back to it over and over again because I enjoyed it so much. I delayed a bit in opening it after I bought it, but once it was open, I couldn't help but make my way through this bottle relatively quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this bourbon, and I'm surprised it hasn't received more attention!

Grade: A

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year Single Malt Scotch

- $160
- 86 Proof
- 17 Years

This is one of those bottles that, though inviting it may be, is not one that I had ever really envisioned buying myself. Luckily for me, however, I was gifted one, so I got to give the Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year a go.

It's apparently called "Doublewood" due to its having spent time in two different casks.  It first spent "many years" in traditional whisky casks and is then matured in oak sherry casks. I'm not really sure the amount of time it spent in either type of barrel, though.

The nose is heavy on the sherry influence. It's very fruity in aroma, almost like a sangria, where you get the mix of red wine with fresh orange and apple. However, that aroma is complemented by sweet tobacco leave and vanilla, making for a very complex and very intriguing nose.

As would be expected, on the palate the whisky is smooth as silk--almost TOO easy to drink, as each glass seemed to go down very easily. The traditional maltiness is there, blended nicely with vanilla and walnut, but it quickly gives way to the prominent fruit notes. Though it didn't taste like the sangria I got from the nose, it was almost a mix of raisin and strawberry (perhaps that's hard to imagine, but that's what struck me as I drank this).

There's a mile spice that lingers, along with the vanilla and dark fruit flavors, for a bit on the finish, but unfortunately that's as long as it stayed--only for a bit.  The finish, while sweet and lightly spice and very enjoyable, was also very short. Perhaps this is due to the more watery texture of this whisky, something I didn't necessarily expect given its age.

Interestingly, about halfway through the bottle, the flavors seemed to blend a bit into more of a dark chocolate flavor, which went very well with that strawberry and raisin combo I mentioned. I really enjoyed this slight metamorphosis, and what's more, that chocolate note seemed to linger longer than the other flavors, seeming to last even after the other flavors had dissipated.

All in all, there was a lot going on in this whisky, and, as far as flavor goes, it was all incredible. It had fruity notes balanced well with chocolate and vanilla notes, balanced well with a slight spiciness. My only knock is the low proof and watery texture, but that's a mild complaint considering the wonderful blend of flavor in this bottle.

Grade: A-

Monday, May 29, 2017

Michter's 10 Year Single Barrel Straight Rye (2016)

- $110
- 10 Yrs.
- Barrel No. 16A131

The Michter's 10 Year Rye is one of those highly sought after "chase" whiskeys. I've long since resigned myself to being nothing more than an opportunistic bourbon hunter, grabbing those rarities when the chance presents itself, but not going out of my way to track them down. This was one, however, that I would have been happy to chase. I love Michter's in general, I love their ryes, and I'm a big fan of aged ryes. This one seemed to me like it'd be right up my alley, and I wanted one!

I did not pay secondary for mine, nor did I even pay the retail price of $110 or so. I actually won this on a whim, having entered into a raffle believing going in that I wasn't going to win it. But, for $11/spot, I figured the $22 I spent for the chance would suffice as my "chase." So when my number came up the winner, I couldn't have been more stoked, nabbing this bottle for a fraction of the retail cost, let alone the secondary which is close to double that amount!

Upon arrival, I popped it open and was hit with a caramel heavy nose, sweet but with a light amount of that rye spice on top. I also got come scent of cloves coming off it as well. It smelled very good, but along the sweeter, fruitier lines, kind of like Baby Saz.

On my first sip I couldn't help but notice how light in texture this rye is. It's soft, even a bit watery. Yet it still had plenty of flavor and a decently long finish. While it has the traditional vanilla flavor with the cinnamon spice finish that you usually get in a rye, it also had a nice orange peel tang to it.

It also had a light peppery and brown sugar finish that seemed to stick around for quite some time despite the watery texture. That orange peel, brown sugar and cinnamon spice really made me feel like I was drinking an Old Fashioned poured right out of a bottle. It was very enjoyable in that sense, as I'm a big fan of Old Fashioned's.

All that being said, the price on this bottle, bot retail and secondary, isn't really justified. There are better, more complex and more interesting ryes on the market for half the cost or less (see Baby Saz, Pikesville and Willett to name a few). While I can't be disappointed considering what I paid, if I'm reviewing this from the perspective of one who paid full price, this rye is a bit of a let down considering the price and the high demand for this product. The watery texture and lack of complexity left me feeling that while this was very good, it just wasn't . . . special.

Grade: B/B+

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $150
- 86.8 Proof
- 17 Years

Wild Turkey Master's Keep has been sitting on shelves around here (Chicago area) for quite some time. A lot of that certainly has to do with the cost. I'm sure some of it has to do with the low proof of this premium bourbon, clocking in at a mere 86.8 proof, despite being cask strength. I would also imagine that some of it is due to the lackluster reviews this bourbon has received. In any event, thanks to some Binny's gift cards, I decided to splurge and give this a try.

Quite frankly, bad reviews aside (though I did come across some very positive reviews as well), I was most intrigued by the fact that this bourbon was not cut down with water to arrive at this low proof. It had me hoping that it would be as full of flavor as other cask strength bottlings, but with minimal burn. This is one of the first projects of Eddie Russel, son of the great Jimmy Russel and relatively new master distiller at Wild Turkey. He attributes the low proof to the fact that this bourbon was aged in stone warehouses, so in a cooler and damper environment, resulting in a low-proof product coming out of the barrel. If nothing else, I figured it'd be unique.

The nose is very pungent and enjoyable. It's full of caramel and vanilla, with a little bit of cinnamon spice. With the age, I expected to get a lot of wood, but that simply wasn't there. Interestingly, over time the nose developed a rich, fruity quality, kind of an apricot flavor that reminded me of brandy.

On the palate the first thing I noticed was that there was absolutely no burn and nothing but flavor. I also immediately recognized that Wild Turkey profile that so many people either love it or don't. However, this has less spice than Wild Turkey 101 or Rare Breed. Despite it not being present in the nose, the wood comes forward, though in a softer, subtler manner. It is more of flavor only and doesn't make the bourbon seem dry. It's like it got the wood flavor but without the tannins.  

The finish is sweet and long, like a nice blend of amaretto and cloves. The cinnamon spice I expected on the palate finally comes through at the end as well, and it seems to contribute to that nice, warm Kentucky hug. I never found the fruity profile in the flavor that I was getting off the nose. Had it been there I may have enjoyed this much more, as I really enjoyed it on the nose.

This is a very easy bourbon to drink, and, as mentioned above, not nearly as dry as other 15+ year bourbons I've had. It's rich and full of flavor. However, there was something about this bottle that turned me off. I kept getting a weird, musty flavor, like that taste in your mouth when you walk into a damp basement. At first I thought I just got it stuck in my head after reading about the "damp environment" in which the barrels were aged, but I kept noticing it every time I went back to this bottle. It was kind of weird, and, quite frankly, for the price, weird is not the conclusion I was going for.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Maker's Mark Whisky Magazine & Binny's Private Select Kentucky Bourbon

- $70
- 110.2 Proof

This is the second Maker's Mark Private Select that I've picked up. I loved the first bottle I tried, just as I have absolutely loved every other pour that I've had in bars. The Maker's Mark Private Selects are bottles that, when I see them on the shelves, I just grab them without question. Much like the Four Roses private selections, I feel like I'm guaranteed, at the least, a very good pour.

This particular bottling was no different. For those not in the know, the Private Select program allows a purchaser to create a custom recipe using a combination of ten different oak finishing staves of different types, and each stave adds different character and flavor. In the past the ones I've had were heavy on the Roasted French Mocha and the Toasted French Spice. This one is not so much:

On the nose I smelled a lot of wood and spice, like a peppery spice that tickled the nostrils. Though it lacked those traditional vanilla and caramel notes, as well as the chocolate notes that I've found in previous Private Selects, it did have an interesting buttery note to it as well. Not sure it played really well with the peppery spice, but it was certainly different and unique.

The palate very much matched the nose as well. Up front I was hit with the peppery wood notes. Though a bit dry in that sense, it was still complex and full of flavor, and it didn't strike me as an offensive dry-ness in any sense. Rather, it was a very full-bodied bourbon with an incredibly long, cinnamon finish that kept me salivating long after each swallow.

Towards the end of the bottle, it began to sweeten up a bit. Along with the pepper and long cinnamon finish, the traditional caramel flavor began to take center stage, and all the flavors were not complemented by an orange peel flavor that seemed to blend all the flavors together into one delicious flavor profile. While I enjoyed it from the start, by the end I found myself eager for the nex pour and couldn't get enough of it.

Though I didn't LOVE this one quite like I've loved other private selects, it was still a very good whiskey, and well-worth the price. It's still a complex, bold and spicy whiskey which, if I weren't comparing it to other Private Selects that I've had, would certainly be considered a top-tier pour. I did learn, however, that I'm apparently partial to the flavor profiles provided by the French Mocha and French Spice staves, and, if given options, I can look for that particular profile going forward (though I'll still probably just continue to grab them regardless of the recipe).

Grade: A-

Friday, May 12, 2017

1792 Full Proof Binny's Single Barrel Select

- $50
- 125 Proof

Having had my eye out for the 1792 Full Proof as soon as I heard of its release, it was a no-brainer for me to grab this one off the shelf. At $50, just the fact that it's a barrel strength release from one of the big guys makes this a reasonable buy. I've come to love what 1792 has been producing, so I was very excited to try this one.

The nose is softer than expected and quite sweet. It certainly didn't hit me like a ton of bricks, either with alcohol burn or flavor. However, the sweet smell was reminiscent of cinnamon and raisin bread with brown sugar. An incredibly pleasant and enjoyable smell, so much so that I sat there sniffing my glass for a good few minutes before taking the first sip.

The first thing that I noticed about this high-proofer is the minimal amount of burn. The fact that the high alcohol content didn't seem to get in the way really allowed all the flavor to come through, and this whiskey is certainly full of flavor. It had a long spicy finish, kind of a blend of cinnamon and black pepper spice. That spiciness seemed to linger forever both in the mouth and at the back of the throat.

Up front was a delicious blend of plum and almond. It was sweet, but only subtly sweet, but was still very rich. Those flavors were rounded out by a light smokiness that was strong enough to be noticed and not strong enough to detract from the other flavors. It was really more savory than expected, as the nose had me thinking this was going to be a dessert (or possible a breakfast) whiskey.

As good as it was on that first pour, this bourbon only got better from pour to pour. Towards the end, the more traditional caramel and vanilla flavors came through, and they really complemented the plum and almond notes that I was noticing previously. The peppery spice seemed to dissipate and it eventually developed that sweet cinnamon note that I expected from the nose.

From beginning to end, despite the noticeable transformation, this bourbon was absolutely delicious. At this price, for what you're getting, it's absolutely worth it and I wouldn't hesitate to buy it again!

Grade: A