Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A.D. Laws Secale Straight Rye Whiskey Bottled In Bond

- $80
- 100 Proof
- 4 Years
- Region: Colorado

A.D. Laws is a distillery out of Colorado that seems to have burst onto the bourbon and rye scene. Despite that it's relatively new to our shelves here in Illinois, they are nonetheless stocking those shelves with a variety of different bourbons and ryes, including bottled-in-bond offerings such as this Secale Straight Rye.

Admittedly, I picked up this bottle having no clue what "secale" rye is, and I had to look it up when I got home. It's apparently a type of cultivated wild rye, offering a different flavor than the standard, domesticated ryes typically used for whiskey. However, in this case, it appears to be a Colorado-sourced rye that they use, keeping it local (per the label on the back of the bottle).

The mashbill is an interesting mix of 47.5% raw rye, 47.5% malted rye, and 5% malted barley. This, too, I had to look up after my first sip, because I thought I was getting a LOT more malted barley than just the 5%, both on the nose and on the palate.

The nose is sweet and very malty. It has a very distinct butterscotch scent that is very inviting, but it also has a little bit of bite, a light peppery spice to it that seems to really contrast with that sweet butterscotch note.

The flavor is really unique, and far from any other rye I've had before. It's very much like a 50/50 blend of Scotch and rye. There is a very strong and smokey malted barley flavor, along with the butterscotch flavor that I commonly associate with a Speyside single malt.

It is incredibly sweet throughout, almost molasses like. It still has those brown sugar and cinnamon spices that I get out of typical ryes, but that cinnamon blended with the butterscotch all comes together with almost a rum cask finish to it. While many people enjoy rum cask finished whiskeys and might enjoy that characteristic in this one, I am not one of them.

The finish threw me off a bit with a light mintiness to it that just did not seem to fit in with anything else that was going on, and that mint note seemed to linger forever, to the point where I was taking my next sip just to make it go away.

All in all this was a unique pour with lots going on, but it all just did not seem to work together for me. Certain characteristics on their own were good and tasty, but altogether, it just came across as a bit weird. Nothing about it was inviting me back for more, and I found myself finishing this bottle off more out of desire to get through the bottle to write the review than out of enjoyment of the whiskey.

Grade: C+

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blanton's Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 006 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $70
- 93 Proof
- Barrel No. 006, Warehouse C (though the paper label states that it's
- Region: Kentucky

I had only heard about Blanton's store picks, or better yet, read about them on social media and in online forums. To me they had always been nothing more than mythical creatures. But one day I walked into Warehouse Liquors in Chicago, having heard that it's a great source of private select bottlings, and right there at eye level staring back at me was this mythical beast, begging to come home with me. So home it came.

I will say up front, that having finished this bottle and being part way through a Warehouse Liquors private selection of Eagle Rare, these people know what they are doing! I have definitely found a go-to source for private bottlings that I can trust sight unseen (flavor untasted?)!

Right away I fell in love with the nose on this. It was a sweet amaretto flavor, kind of like almond cookies, along with cinnamon and some light wood notes that made for a nice sweet and savory scent. It was a delicious, pungent smell that you could notice from even a couple feet away.

With the first sip, I immediately noticed that this is a sweeter version of Blanton's than what I've had before, but it's a light sweetness, as opposed to a heavy, in your face sweetness. It wasn't sugary, but rather had that sweetness that you get from confectioner's sugar when it's sprinkled on a funnel cake, for example.

The bourbon is delicious and smooth, as would be expected from any Blanton's product.  The traditional vanilla and caramel are certainly prevalent, along with a nice amaretto tang that carried over from the nose. The sweet caramel and amaretto notes really seemed to linger on the finish for quite some time, often urging me to go in for that next sip or, if I was at the end of my pour, for the next glass.

I also found that it had a light and subtle smokiness to it. It wasn't overt, and at times it seemed to almost disappear, but then a few sips later I'd notice it again. This was a complex, and yet simple bourbon, as though it didn't try hard to be special, yet it nonetheless managed to compel me to go back for pour after pour, as opposed to having something else from my stash on a particular night.  Warehouse Liquors nailed this one, and I hope they continue getting these mythical beasts into their shop!

Grade: A

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Select Barrel #4521 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $40
- 120 Proof
- 12 1/2 years
- Region: Kentucky

I feel like I start off every review of a Knob Creek Private Select the same way, touting the great value and the fact that for the price, you're guaranteed at the least a very good pour, if not a great pour. Well, here I am doing it again, because these Private Selects continue to not disappoint, no matter which one I grab.

Binny's got in a bunch of barrels at once, and this was among the older of them, the oldest being a 13 1/2 year old. It didn't come recommended to me as with the last one, but how wrong could I really go hear?

The nose is heavy, full of burn but also full of flavor. It was pungent cinnamon bread on the nose. I'd say cinnamon roll, but it didn't seem to have that sweetness. Rather, it was cinnamon and grain, leading to a very inviting nose. After being open a bit, the nose also developed a dark cherry scent that seemed to fit right in with the strong cinnamon and bread notes.

The first sip I tried was an absolute cinnamon bomb, accompanied only by a heavy alcohol burn, which seemed to dissipate pretty quickly. There was also a significant amount of vanilla present, but it was dominated by the heavy dose of cinnamon on the tongue.

After being open for a bit, it sweetened up significantly. Where before it was primarily cinnamon and unsweetened vanilla, it added a welcome bit of a honey flavor that went perfectly with the cereal and bread notes that were present throughout, though, much like the vanilla, were also dominated by the cinnamon notes.

Towards the last few pours, the honey notes seemed to get stronger, as though they were fighting to compete with the cinnamon. Cinnamon and honey is not a combination that I would seek or would ever have even thought of as a good combination, but it certainly worked. This bottle carried heavy heat throughout, but not to the point where it turned me off. Rather, it helped with the complexity and the strong flavors.

Based on the age of the bourbon and the nose, I had half expected to get some significant wood notes, but they were noticeably absent throughout. As someone who doesn't like anything more than just a little dry woodiness, this was a plus.

All in all, this was a very good pour. While it didn't reach that greatness that some Private Selects I've had in the past have reached, it still didn't disappoint, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end!

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Widow Jane 10 Year Straight Bourbon

- $70
- 91 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #1398
- Region: Kentucky (bottled in New York)

Widow Jane was one of those bourbons I had only read about on social media and message boards. I knew very little other than that it existed and I had never seen it on the shelves in the Chicago area, at least until a few months ago when Binny's suddenly had three of their products sitting on the shelves.

Although a bit pricey, one of the options on the shelf was this 10 year old single barrel bourbon, and, with those qualities, I was certainly willing to give it a chance.

From what I understand, Widow Jane sources its bourbon from Kentucky, though the exact distiller is kept as something of a mystery. As they advertise, they then use "pure limestone mineral water from the Widow Jane Mine - Rosendale, NY" to proof the whiskey down. Not much more information than that is provided on the bottle's label.  In any event, it's at least worth a try to find out what difference, if any, New York limestone water can make to a 10 year Kentucky bourbon.

The nose is pleasant but soft, giving off some brown sugar and butter notes. It seems sweet, but not too sweet, and it certainly doesn't come across as pungent. There is almost no alcohol on the nose, which is good given the proof.

My initial impressions of this bourbon on the first pour or two was that it was kind of bland. Sure, it was easy to drink, but the flavors weren't very strong. What flavors were there were light cinnamon and brown sugar, with vanilla undertones. The flavor that I could find was very tasty, and there was something else that I just couldn't place my finger on.

After having the bottle open for a few weeks, this whiskey really opened up and all of a sudden seemed bursting with flavor. It sweetened up a bit, with a honey sweetness that seemed to also bring out the cinnamon and brown sugar notes. There was also a new and delicious chocolate now, and I was also able to figure out that the flavor I couldn't quite place was a kind of a plum flavor that I really enjoyed.

As I made my way through the last few pours, I also got a bit of bitterness, but a good kind of bitterness, the kind that you'd associate with a mix of coffee and dark chocolate. Again, these flavors seemed to complement the cinnamon and brown sugar that was found throughout.

At first I thought this bourbon was going to disappoint me. That first pour really was unimpressive. However, after letting it open up, even for just a short amount of time, I found myself really enjoying it! It developed a complexity that I didn't expect, and the varietal flavors all really worked well with one another to make for a very well-rounded bourbon.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ezra B Single Barrel 12 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $40
- 99 Proof
- 12 Years
- Barrel #623
- Region: Kentucky

When I first started to drink more bourbon and less Scotch, Ezra B was one of those bottles that I always saw on the shelf, memorable for the bottle design, particularly the ribbon and waxy medal on the front. And yet, it was that design that turned me away from it. I felt that the hokey design might signify a lesser quality bourbon, apparently ignoring the fact that this is a 12-year Kentucky bourbon at a very reasonable price.

And then it went away, and I just didn't see it on shelves anyway, and I had some regret at never having given it a chance. Two years later, though, I managed to locate a bottle in a gas station liquor store, and I didn't pass up the opportunity. I missed out on not grabbing it way back when.

The nose is rich, primarily oak and sweet vanilla--a traditional and welcome scent. There's also a bit of cherry on the nose, but not the medicine-like cherry. Rather, it's got a bit of fresh, real cherry that adds to the delicious nose.

This bourbon is incredibly drinkable. It's full of sweet vanilla and caramel, reminding me in the first few pours of a caramel sundae. The oak that was on the nose doesn't come through on the palate. It was so prevalent on the nose I really thought that it would, but there's no dryness or bitterness to this bourbon at all.

It has a nice, oily texture that coats the mouth, and it leaves behind a nice cinnamon spice that seems to stick around forever. The sweet vanilla also lingers a bit on the finish, though not nearly as long as the cinnamon.

As much as I enjoyed the first few pours, this bottle only got better and better as I made my way through it. The caramel sundae comparison holds strong, if not becoming even more apt. It is a sweet and smooth bourbon, an excellent example that I'd pour for a novice drinker as a prime example of what I would want in a bourbon.

The last few pours might have been the best, as the cinnamon spice turned more into a cinnamon sugar flavor, the kind I used to put on toast with butter as a sweet snack when I was a kid. It also picked up some maple syrup notes that made this a very breakfast-y bourbon.

Overall, this is an absolutely delicious bourbon, not one to be passed up due to off-putting ribbon and medal draped around the bottle's neck.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 4, 2017

Whiskey Acres Distiling Co. Bourbon

- $42
- 87 Proof
- 1 Year
- Region: Illinois

DeKalb, Illinois is not exactly known for its rich history of bourbon distilling. Around me, anyway, it's known for Northern Illinois University, the closest college campus to go hunting for a kegger, and also for being surrounded by corn. On a recent trip to a small boutique in Geneva, Illinois, however, my wife came across Whiskey Acres Bourbon. Knowing I hadn't tried this one and that I'd at least want to give it a shot, she picked up a bottle for me.

Now, going in, I knew this was not going to be the next Pappy. First, I had never heard of it. Second, it's only a one-year old bourbon--hardly enough time for any bourbon to mature, no matter who is making it. So, while I more than appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into buying this whiskey, I wasn't exactly calling all my friends to come over to give it a try.

And it's a good thing I didn't. As expected, being such a young bourbon, it has both the smell and taste of over-ripe fruit, like apples that have been sitting on the counter for too long. I've noticed that this is a common flavor when a bourbon has not had the right amount of time in the barrel, and it's become a common flavor profile in bourbons bottled by new craft distilleries.

The flavor is rough. It has no sweetness to it whatsoever, but is rather tart and bitter. In addition to the spoiled fruit flavor, there's a distinct coffee note. Not a good coffee flavor, though. More like "gas station right off the highway in the middle of Tennessee" bad coffee (yes, I know, that's not exactly relatable, but the flavor clearly brought back a bad memory).

On a more positive note, the back end provided a nice cinnamon note that stuck around the back of my throat for a while. The texture of the bourbon was actually nice and oily, coating the mouth and throat well, and allowing for that cinnamon to linger. Unfortunately, some of the less-desirable flavors also lingered around.

In the end, this is a bourbon that clearly needs more time in the barrel to mature and interact with the wood and the sugars in the barrel. It's young and obviously so. The flavor and smell are both tough to get past, and I only drank this as a third pour for the night. Even then I did so with difficulty. In fact, my wife wouldn't even sit next to me while I drank it, she found the smell so offensive. I hope with time this bourbon improves, and after a few more years I'd be willing to try it again. Until then, though, this is a hard pass.

Grade: D-

Saturday, September 2, 2017

David Nicholson Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $30
- 100 Proof
- Region: Kentucky

So many times I've seen this bottle on the shelf and so many times I've passed it up. It's an unassuming bottle, short and squat, with no cartoon birds or profiles of bourbon pioneers on the label. It's got a name that doesn't resonate either--couldn't tell you who David Nicholson is. At a $30 price tag, though, it was worth at least giving a try, and I couldn't be happier that I did!

This is a sourced bourbon from Luxco, the same company that brings you Rebel Yell and Blood Oath. The name itself has ties to the Van Winkle family, and it was purchased by Luxco in 2000. I have not been able to determine (through admittedly only brief internet research) where this bourbon is sourced from.

All that aside, regardless of where it comes from, this is very good whiskey! The nose is heavy caramel with a light undertone of vanilla, the traditional bourbon notes we've all come to know and love. This one also has a light smokiness on the nose that I really enjoyed. It had some alcohol burn, but that seemed to evaporate pretty quickly, and this was one of those pours that I found myself frequently shoving under my nose to enjoy the aroma.

With my first pour, my initial impression was that this was a somewhat bland bourbon. It didn't hit me with much flavor and seemed a bit watered down. I make note of this only because, looking back now, it seems a bit odd and perhaps, somehow, an anomaly. I say that because every other pour thereafter was full of flavor and very delicious!

The watery texture remained. This was not a chewy, oily bourbon. It was, however, a sweet and flavorful bourbon. The heavy caramel from the nose dominates the palate as well. That light smokiness from the nose came through on the palate as well, and there was minimal burn.

The caramel itself reminded me of smooth, warm caramel. While the differences may be somewhat subtle, there is a difference in caramel flavors from the hard caramels, to the caramel found in Rolos to the warm caramel you'd top a sundae with. This is the latter.

Accompanying that sweet, warm caramel flavor, though were notes of milk chocolate and even hints of crisp, green apple. These flavors complemented that caramel and light smoke flavor so well that, even though I wanted to open and try other whiskeys currently sitting in my bar, I couldn't help but keep going back for pour after pour of this stuff.

At $30, this is absolutely a bourbon worth buying and trying, and I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this bourbon that I've glossed over so many times before.

Grade: A-