Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Jeppson's Blended Straight Bourbon


VITALS:

- $24
- 100 Proof
- 4 yrs.
- Illinois

Okay, so it took me a while to actually pull the trigger on buying this one.  And there's really no reason for it.  It's a locally distilled bourbon. It's aged at least 4 years.  It's 100 proof.  And it's only $24.  Under any other circumstance, I would have had this in my cart the first time I saw it. But every time I looked at that label, I just had a hard time making the decision to take a bottle home.

For those not in the know, Jeppson's is notorious in the Chicago area. Jeppson's Malort is sort of a gag drink, that shot that you buy your unsuspecting friend just so you can see the strained look on their face as they choke down the bitter liqueur.  And the label looks just like the label on the Jeppson's bourbon, conjuring up horrible memories every time I'd see it. But, in the end, it's not bask liquor, but actually bourbon. And it's not bourbon aged for 2 years and rushed into the bottle, but it actually got four years in the bottle.  And it's only $24. So I knew I eventually had to try it.

I screwed off the top and took a sniff straight from the bottle. Surprisingly, I found a lot I liked about the smell. It had a soft, nougat-like nose to it, along with some milk chocolate and brown sugar. There were also some bright notes as well, like fresh orange or even orange zest. Something citrusy, bitter and sweet all at once. However, at times those citrus notes leaned a little bit towards a cleaning solvent scent, which wasn't so great. 

As to flavor, it certainly had a touch of that young, corny taste. I got a hint of that overripe apple flavor that I always find in young, not-quite-ready whiskeys.  However, those young notes actually seemed to dissipate pretty quickly, making way for some pretty flavorful whiskey.

The first thing I noted was a graham cracker taste. It was crackery but also with a honey sweetness.  I did get that nougat note that I was getting from the nose, but the milk chocolate didn't seem to follow.  Instead what I got was a bready note, like white bread--sweet and yeasty.  

On the back end, it did have a somewhat spicy finish. It was almost like a milder version of cinnamon candy, like red hots. I wished it had a bit more heat. I also wished some of the flavor carried forward more through the finish. But, all I was left with was that sweet, mild cinnamon heat that left a bit more to be desired.

In the end, this is right where I'd expect a $24 whiskey from a small distillery to land. Actually, it was quite a bit better than I was expecting, even removing my bias due to the similarity of the label to that of the aforementioned Malort. I don't know that I'll be running out for another bottle any time soon, but this was well worth a try.

Grade: C+

Monday, September 28, 2020

High West Woodman's Barrel Select Double Rye! Finished in Bourbon Barrels


VITALS:

- $45
- 102.2 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 10900
- Finished 1 yr, 4 mos.
- Utah

I feel like it's been quite some time since I've seen the High West Barrel Selects on the shelves. There once was a time that it was a somewhat regular occurrence and shops would get multiple barrels with a variety of finishes. But I feel like it's been well over a year since the last time I saw one on a shelf, maybe longer.

In fact, I didn't even see this one on the shelf. Rather, a buddy of mine found it for me when he was in Wisconsin and he graciously agreed to mule it back for me. Since then I've noticed on social media that some stores have gotten in new picks, and they now have a fancy new black label that really does look awesome. But I haven't seen any of those either. So, I was thrilled to get my hands on this one, and popped it open at the first opportunity.

When I sniffed my glass, my first impression was pecan pie. It was nutty, though perhaps a bit more peanut than pecan. But it also had notes of maple syrup and burnt sugar.  There was even a bit of graham cracker pie crust on the nose to create the full effect.  There was also a tangy side to it as well, with a slightly bitter but bright orange peel note and even a hit of anise.

The flavor wasn't nearly as sweet as the nose was, though. I didn't get the sweet pecan pie flavor that I was expecting. The orange peel actually came through more in the flavor than it did on the nose, with a light brown sugar sweetness to offer any of the bitter notes. The anise also seemed to come through more, as well as a distinct cloves note to add a bit of spice.

The finish was probably my favorite thing about this whiskey. It came across as buttery, both in flavor and texture, but it also had quite a bit of oak to it. With that oak was a light, bitter tannic note, but all of it was kind of balanced out by a cinnamon bread-type baked goods note. The finish was really interesting, full of flavors, and very complex  

From the nose, to the palate to the finish, this was almost three different whiskeys. Luckily, though, when it's the finish that I like best, it's really easy to keep diving right back in for that next sip. Plus, this really had minimal alcohol burn given the proof, also making it very easy to enjoy pour after pour. 

Grade: B

Monday, September 21, 2020

Cadee Distillery Cascadia Rye Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels


VITALS:
- $50
- 87 Proof
- 22 mos.
- Indiana/Washington

Over the years I've found myself trying out various different whiskey podcasts. It gives me something to do on my long commutes to and from work, or when I have to travel to such exotic places as central Michigan or Fort Wayne, Indiana. At one point I listened to a podcast (I can't think for the life of me which one) that featured the owner of Cadee Distillery.  He was (and I'm sure still is) a Scott who transplanted to Washington where he is now making American whiskey. While I can't recall too many specifics from the interview (it was quite some time ago), I recall really enjoying listening to this guy talk and his passion for distilling, so I made a note of a couple of Cadee's brands in my phone in case I ever came across them.

And that note sat on my phone for probably a couple years with no sign of Cadee whiskeys showing up on my shelf. But, one day on a local Facebook group somebody advertised this service that delivered craft whiskeys from all over the country to your doorstep--but only if you live in Illinois. With my interest piqued, I checked out the site through its app - SpiritHub - and sure enough they had the very Cadee whiskeys that had sat as a forgotten-about note in my phone.  While their bourbon finished in port barrels, Deceptivus, was sold out, I was able to place an order for Cascadia, along with a couple other spirits I've so far only been able to get in the Northwest. And for only $8 shipping, I had my bottle in my hand within two days.

So, it's interesting. I wouldn't exactly say this bottle was hyped in my mind. It was just something that I've wanted to try. So I popped the cork right away, even if it was only early evening, and I immediately got hit with sweet and rich notes, almost like a plum sauce. It surprisingly came across initially as a bit hot, and even bitter. It had some woody notes and even a slight astringent note. 

As to flavor, given the nose, it was certainly smoother than expected.  I got notes of honey and vanilla mixed with raspberry. There was also that dark fruit element, like plum, that I was getting on the nose. It had some earthy tones to it as well, almost like raisin and walnut.

I did get a bit of pipe tobacco, sweet and a bit earthy. Unfortunately, though, I also got notes of young whiskey that so often turns me off of young, craft whiskeys. I got that all too familiar flavor of overripe or overcooked apples. That being said, that note was not as much of a turnoff with this bottle as it usually is. I'm guessing that the flavor was masked to some extent by the barrel finish.

It had a decent, sticky sweet finish to it, like apple and cherry hard candy mixed together. Alone that might have been awful, but the sweetness of that note was tempered by a malty note that also lingered. Unfortunately, there was also this chalky note that seemed to accompany it, and that was what I didn't like about the finish. 

I was thrilled to have gotten my hands on a bottle and thrilled to have tried it. While I was a bit underwhelmed, I'm still intrigued by their port finished bourbon, and I'm sure I'd give that a try as well if given a chance.

Grade: C+

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Maker's Mark Binny's Private Select Kentucky Bourbon - NP


VITALS:

- $70
- 110.6 Proof
- NAS
- Staves: 4 Seared French Cuvee; 2 Maker's 46; 3 Roasted French Mocha; 1 Toasted French Spice
- Kentucky

The last couple times that Binny's has selected barrels from the Maker's Mark Private Select program, they've had employees go along for the tasting and to make their own stave selection to be bottled. I previously reviewed one picked by the former spirits manager at my local Binny's (he's since moved to another location).  

So, when another friend of mine, who is also a Binny's employee, got to slap his initials on the label of one of these Private Selects, I was more than obliged to grab one. Mr. NP has become one of my favorite drinking buddies, as I've found that our palates seem to line up pretty closely. In fact, as I'm sitting here writing this, I'm struggling to think of anything he's recommended that I've disliked. He's even turned me on to Armagnac.  So, take this review for what it is -- a review of a whiskey selected by a good friend that I know going in I'm probably going to like. There's bias across the board here!  

On the nose I got a peppery caramel--a bit different from salted caramel but just as good. It had a nice mix of sweet and spicy. It also had notes of creamy vanilla and even a sweet grain-forward note, like graham cracker. I also got a light pickle note from time to time, which I can't say I've ever gotten from a Maker's Mark bottle before.

The flavor was all toffee forward. It was kind of that creamy caramel but with an added richness and depth. It was very sweet up front, but not cloyingly so. It had a light pastry note to it that was somewhat hard to place my finger on, but it was like a not-as-sweet honey bun. 

While the toffee and caramel notes dominated up front, they gave way to other flavors, most notable of which was a distinct chocolate flavor. I'm not a big dark chocolate fan, but here it worked really well to temper the sweet caramel notes. This was like a dessert whiskey, but the kind of dessert you might get at a nicer restaurant where the dessert is rich and delectable and a play on flavors, as opposed to some sugary treat in a bowl--the kind of restaurant you don't take your kids to. 

I think what I liked most about this whiskey, though, was the finish. It had a nice, viscous texture that coated the mouth and the back of the throat, allowing for these flavors of toffee and dark chocolate to linger for an incredibly long time. This is also where the black pepper spice that I was getting on the nose finally made its appearance. If there was anything at all lacking on the front end of the palate it was a bit of spice, and it showed up on the finish in a way that seemed to perfectly balance everything out.

Again, take this review for what it is. Perhaps I'm a shill, but I think Mr. NP did a fantastic job with this pick and his combination of staves. When it first hit the shelves, I tried some from a friend's bottle and loved it then. I was afraid that when I finally got around to opening my bottle, months later, it wouldn't be the same experience. But that was not the case, and this was a bottle that I absolutely flew through once opened.

Grade: A

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lux Row Distiller's Collection Binny's Private Select Rebel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey


VITALS:
- $35
- 113 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 6819639
- Kentucky

Binny's got quite a run of Lux Row single barrel store picks a while back, having gotten multiple barrels from Rebel, Ezra Brooks and Yellowstone. The best part about it was that they were at pretty good prices (a 113 proof single barrel pick for $35 is pretty impossible to pass up), and there were plenty of bottles to go around, so seemingly nobody missed out.

Despite that I'm not a wheated bourbon junkie as some people are, when I saw the row of these picks lining the shelf, I immediately grabbed one. Looking back on this and on the Ezra Brooks pick that I previously enjoyed, I really should have grabbed a few more of these. All single barrels means each one is going to be unique, and have I mentioned the price?!?  For that price, my feeling was that even if I get something good but not great, still a value.

On the nose I got a soft, pillowy nougat note, like the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar. I also got a certain sweet but nutty note, like honey roasted peanuts. It had traditional toffee and brown sugar notes as well, along with a bit of burnt sugar to it. It smelled good, but nothing that really stood out to me.

On my first sip, it was immediately clear that this was a very toffee-forward bourbon, with a pronounced sweetness to it. However, kind of like the nose, it had a certain salt element to it as well that provided a bit of balance. It came across a bit like salted caramel, but with some of that burnt sugar that I was getting from the nose.

Part way through it developed a little bit of spice, but it was sort of a tangy spice, like a light anise note along with some amaretto flavors. That nuttiness still stuck around, but any peanut notes came more in the form of rich almond flavors. It even had a bit of an old fashioned flavor to it, with a nice mix of that cherry and muddled orange peel to it.

The finish on this was pretty long and flavorful, and honestly my favorite part of this whiskey. I got that almond flavor, but it came across as more of a toasted almond, and that was all in a layer of toffee that just refused to go away.

This was a really good bourbon. I prefer a spicier versus a sweeter bourbon, but nonetheless I really liked this, especially for the price! Wheated bourbon lovers should be jumping all over these when they see them, because it has a good mix of sweet and heat.

Grade: B+

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Willett Family Estate 10 Year Small Batch Rye


VITALS:
- $200
- 115 Proof
- 10 Years
- Indiana

This bottle really needs no introduction by me. After all, Willett has been releasing ryes under their Willett Family Estate label for some time, now, and their older single barrel ryes fetch a lot of money on the secondary market. Relatively recently Willett started releasing younger, small batch ryes under their Willett Family Estate Ryes, starting with a two year old and most recently four year old batches. I have absolutely fallen in love with their small batch ryes and I grab them any chance I get.

But, in the middle of their periodic releases of their small batch ryes, which is their own distillate, Willett released a 10-year small batch rye. This was not their own distillate, as it's clearly labeled it was distilled in Indiana. Apparently Willett was still sitting on some aged MGP rye, the same rye they frequently used in their single barrel releases, and they chose to release it as a limited and very pricey small batch. Of course, I, being a sucker for all things WFE rye, had to get my hands on a bottle, and so here we are.

On the nose I got a lot of mint and vanilla, almost like a vanilla/spearmint chewing gum type note. I also got some oak notes as well as a light note of sawdust. It had a little bit of cinnamon spice as well. At times the flavors all mixed to make a sort of mint tea note, and at other times I got more of a root beer note. Either way, it always smelled delicious.

On the palate I got a lot of the traditional rye notes, particularly MGP rye. I got pine and an herbal dill note. I also got a some of the mint that I was getting on the nose. The vanilla was present as well, which really seemed to compliment that mint note. It reminded me a bit of spearmint lifesavers (are those the ones that would spark when you ate them in the dark as a kid?).

It also had some richer and more non-traditional notes to it. I got a bit of a dark cocoa note to it to add some richness and a teaser of some sweetness. However, additional sweetness came along in the form of a maple syrup flavor that seemed to come into play after having the bottle open for a bit. A bit of a toffee note also came through.

On the finish I got a lot of that spearmint and vanilla, and it was also the toffee note that really seemed to stick around. I also got the cinnamon spice in the back of my throat after each swallow. Surprisingly, despite being 115 proof, I got almost no alcohol burn from this rye. It really seemed to drink less than its proof.  Sometimes that would be a good thing and other times a bad thing. Here it was good, because I felt like added heat would have taken away from the otherwise great mix of flavors going on here. 

This one certainly hurt the wallet a bit, but I'm nonetheless glad to have had the chance to enjoy this bottle, as I loved every sip of it.

Grade: A

Monday, September 7, 2020

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $45
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I love getting my hands on new products from the big guys. It seems that with the big distillers like Heaven Hill it's getting harder and harder to release creative new products that are not allocated or limited releases. That's why we're seeing traditionally bourbon brands releasing rye whiskeys (Old Forester and Rare Breed) as well as expansions of existing lines (such as Weller and Benchmark).

That being said, when it's a solid, well-loved brand like Elijah Craig, and when the creativity doesn't stray too far from what's been working, I'm all for it! Toasted barrel finishes certainly aren't anything new, but it is new to Heaven Hill. I think Elijah Craig was a good product to use for it, too, being on the lighter side of pricing which helps keep more limited releases such as this (I honestly have no idea just how limited this will be) at a reasonable price.  The same can be said for the Barrel Strength as well.

As expected based on my experience with other toasted barrel finish whiskeys, this immediately came off sweeter than normal Elijah Craig on the nose. I got some light burnt orange or orange peel, as well as some salted peanuts.  However, I also got some rich toffee as well as kind of a white sugar note. It was almost like light corn syrup, and I got a bit of sugar cookie from it.

As to flavor, one of the first notes I got was a light oak flavor. It wasn't strong, and I was surprised that it was what hit me first. Immediately behind that, though, were the flavors I was getting from the nose. I got a lot of toffee from front to back, including on the finish. I also got that orange peel or burnt orange note. This combo was pretty consistent throughout.

I also got some dark cherry, with a little bit of anise bite to it. There were some notes of almond extract as well to add a bit of richness and complexity to the flavor.  I'm not sure exactly which notes may have been added by the finishing in the toasted barrel, whether it was the toffee notes or the anise spice--perhaps both.

Overall, though, this came across as a bit sweeter than Elijah Craig, but also spicier. However, the added spice wasn't peppery or even cinnamon, as so many bourbons tend to lean.  Rather, it was that anise note, even a bit of a ginger bite, that seemed to amp this bourbon up a bit. Additionally, there was an added rich layer of dark cherry and dark chocolate, particularly towards the end, that added to the richness and complexity.  While this isn't necessarily in my wheelhouse (anise and dark chocolate aren't really my thing), I know many bourbon drinkers that would love this profile. So take my grade with a grain of salt.  There are those out there that will love this for sure.

Grade: B