Saturday, October 13, 2018

I.W. Harper 15 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $80
- 86 Proof
- 15 Years
- Kentucky

Over the years I've seen this bottle sitting on the shelves off and on. I'll see it, think about giving it a try, ultimately passing, and then I won't see it for a few months. However, it invariably shows up again. And the main reason I notice it is the sparkly, decanter type bottle that it comes in. While the age is certainly noteworthy as well, the bottle is simply easy to remember.

And yet, I never bothered to pick one up, despite the nice package and the age of the whiskey. For whatever reason, it just didn't appeal enough to me, almost as though it were trying too hard.

However, when a coworker is giving me one as a gift, I'm far from the type of person to turn it down, and so I accepted, opened, poured and enjoyed.  After all, the neck-label tells me that, "Anywhere, any time, it's always a pleasure." I took that quite literally, immediately giving this a swig at the office.

The nose is very heavy on the cinnamon. It immediately comes across as spicy and even a bit dry. It has distinct vanilla undertones. Also, I don't know if it comes from the wood or what, but it had a certain peanut note to it. Along with these somewhat earthy notes, I also got a slight bit of cherry and even some citrus, kind of like orange peel.

The first thing I noticed when I took a sip was the watery texture. I guess that's to be expected at only 86 proof, but given the age, I anticipated a bit more of an oily mouthfeel nonetheless. That simply wasn't the case. As a result, I felt the flavors were more subtle than expected too.

The most prominent flavor is the oak note that was consistent from beginning to end on this bottle. It's well-aged and it shows. I've had other 15 year bourbons where the influence wasn't nearly this strong, but this whiskey certainly had a bit of a chewing-on-a-stick quality to it.

Beyond the oak notes, however, it had some nice flavors going on, even if they were a bit muted. I got a primarily vanilla flavor that was almost as if it were coated in cinnamon and chocolate. In fact, that chocolate note, which was more of an unsweetened type of chocolate, became more and more pronounced as I made my way to the end of the bottle.  I also got a flavor that reminded me of corn flakes (but without the two tablespoons of sugar that I would otherwise pour on top of my cornflakes because I'm twelve). I wasn't a big fan of this note, as it just didn't seem to work with the other flavors going on here.

In the end, this is simply an oak-forward whiskey--not in a bad way, necessarily, just in a defining way. For those who like a good, dry, oaky bourbon, this might be their thing. For me, however, after a while it just seemed to become taxing, and I just couldn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

Grade: B-

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak Single Malt Whisky

- $119.00
- 92 Proof
- Region: Taiwan

Though I've had Japanese whiskeys before, this is my first foray into Taiwanese whisky. I've certainly heard of Kavalan and seen their bottles on the shelves, but I never grabbed one for whatever reason. My wife, however, was willing to make that leap for me, and she bought me a bottle of the Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak single malt as a birthday gift. Needless to say, I was eager to try it.

The nose is distinctly a single malt, not unlike your typical Highlands Scotch Whisky. It smelled soft, almost floral and certainly malty. I did not get a huge bourbon presence on the nose, but I did get more vanilla than I typically find in single malts. I also got that typical pipe tobacco note that I find in Irish malts.  Finally, there was a bit of a pepper spice to the nose. Clearly, at least as far as aroma goes, there was a lot going on here.

While the nose was soft and delicate (though full of aroma), the palate was a bit bolder.  At first I got a lot more cinnamon and wood than I ever would have expected. It was a lot like a single malt with American rye whiskey qualities.  I don't know if it was the wood tones or a combination of that with the cinnamon, but it gave the whiskey a bit of a sharp bite that I found to be a bit off-putting.

As I spent more time with the bottle, though, I came to appreciate many of the complexities of this whisky. After being open for a while, those sharp edges seemed to die off. It still retained some bitterness, but it took on more of an orange pith type bitterness, and was actually welcome. I even got fleeting notes of fresh mint.

Towards the end of the bottle, this seemed to be almost entirely butterscotch, cinnamon and vanilla, however. It sweetened up significantly, allowing the butterscotch and sweet vanilla to take more of a center stage, with the sharp, dry and bitter edges taking more of a back seat.

The cinnamon and pepper spice remained throughout, giving this a bit more of a spicy character than a Highlands single malt. However, it still retained that malty character. There's no question that it was a single malt, as that buttery, almost floral character was consistent. I only wish the bourbon barrels had imparted more of an influence than they did. It seemed to have promise of lending some of those flavors to this single malt, but they either didn't lend as much, or not in the way I had hoped.

While I really enjoyed this bottle from beginning to end, it certainly wasn't consistent from beginning to end. It had a lot going on, but the flavors didn't complement one another as much as I would have liked. Rather, it was a cacophony of various flavors, some more enjoyable than others, all thrown together.

Grade: B

Friday, October 5, 2018

Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Rye Binny's Selection Barrel #6870

- $45
- 115 Proof
- 5 years, 8 months
- Kentucky

Recently Binny's got in four private selection barrels of Knob Creek Rye.  I happened to be in my local store as they got the boxes in, and I grabbed a bottle of whatever was in the top box. It just happened to be this barrel #6870. As with most Knob Creek store selects, I felt that I just couldn't go wrong. Granted, these are about $5 more than the store select bourbons, but still worth it.

The last such bottle that I had was decent. It didn't blow me away or anything, but it was certainly better than the standard rye, and it did not make me in any way shy away from trying another. Overall, at first I wasn't big on this one, but by the end, it had really grown on me. As a quick disclaimer, however, I may be a bit impartial due to the situation in which I drank a good portion of this bottle and the experience I now associate with it.

I first opened this bottle while on a canoe trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had never done anything quite like this, and while I've been camping a million times, I had never been "wilderness" camping, where there are zero amenities, and the closest civilization is a two hour canoe ride away. It was under these circumstances that I first opened, poured and enjoyed this rye, and I have to say, it was a great pour for the moment.

The nose was malty and piney. It had a certain amount of cinnamon spice that I've come to expect, but the pine notes really suited the scene, sitting next to a campfire in the middle of a forest, surrounded by pine trees and only the light of the fire to remind me where I was. Interestingly, I also got a peach note from the nose. This was a first for me, though I didn't find it offensive or anything. Just . . . different.

My initial impressions upon tasting was that it came across as watered down, despite its high proof. The flavor was almost all cinnamon and pine. That spicy and woody flavor seemed to last from front to back. It had a bit of a fleeting mint flavor on the back end which I really enjoyed and wished had stuck around a bit more. Those first few pours while camping, though, seemed to suit the scene well.

Of course, I didn't finish the bottle in that one night, and I continued to work my way through during the weeks that followed from the comfort of my couch. However, I found myself enjoying this rye more and more with each glass I poured. It sweetened up significantly, with a nice brown sugar flavor that really took center stage. The pine and cinnamon notes remained, but they took a back seat, and some of the rough edges that had previously come with those flavors were gone.

What was left at the end of this bottle was a sweet and rich whiskey. Though it wasn't overly complex, it was completely delicious, and the high proof never got in the way of the flavor. This bottle renewed my faith in the store pick Knob Creek Ryes.

Grade: A-

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Elijah Craig 18-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2017

- $130
- 90 Proof
- 18 Years
- Barrel No. 4370
- Region: Kentucky

I've been lucky enough to have lucked into finding a bottle of Elijah Craig 18-year at retail for three years running. I can't help but feel privileged in this respect, as it is consistently one of my favorite whiskeys. Here we are in the fall of 2018, now, with this year's set to release soon, and I can only hope to be so lucky once again. In the meantime, however, I finally polished off last year's release, and I think it may be the best one I've had yet!

What I've always loved about Elijah Craig 18-year is that noticeable-but-not-overpowering oak note. For me it has always been so well-balanced in this whiskey that, for those who like a little woodiness and dryness in their whiskey, really does that flavor profile well.

The nose on this one is soft and sweet. It had a lot of vanilla and honey up front, providing a nice, subtly sweet scent. The dry, woodiness was also immediately noticeable, and that combination of vanilla and wood had me salivating. I also got some rich notes of raisin and even some baking spices, giving a bit of an unsweetened raisin bread note. All of this together provided for an absolutely incredible aroma coming off my glass.

In the past with this release, I've found that the first few pours tended to be oak-heavy, but that after having the bottle open for a bit, the sharp edges smoothed out. Here, there was no smoothing out to be done. The oak was right up front with this one, but not in a sharp or abrasive way. Rather, it worked well with a heavy vanilla profile. In fact, I didn't expect to get as much vanilla as I did.

It also matched its nose with some rich notes of dark fruit, almost like a pinot noir flavor. However, that dark fruit or wine note was sweetened up with a honey note that also matched the nose. All these flavors combined to create an incredible rich and complex flavor, the likes I haven't really had before, though others have come close.

The vanilla sticks around from beginning to end, and lingers for quite a while after each sip. What was nice, though, was an added cinnamon spice on the back end that I really didn't get up front. That, paired with the oak notes I was getting really worked well to counter-balance the sweetness of this whiskey on the back end, and the result was me immediately reaching for that next sip.  It's safe to say that each glass I poured from this bottle seemed to disappear faster than most.

As mentioned above, for three straight years I've been able to get a bottle of the Elijah Craig 18-year, and this bottle is easily the best of the three. It had everything I look for in a bourbon, and then some--an absolutely fantastic pour!!

Grade: A+

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

High West Double Rye! Warehouse Liquors Private Selection Rye Finished Blended Rye Whiskey

- $45
- 103.2 Proof
- Barrel No. 4218
- Finish Time: 1.4 yrs. - Rye
- Utah

Gifted whiskey is so often the best whiskey, and this one proved to be no exception. Warehouse Liquors in Chicago has been killing it with their private picks for years now. Without hesitation, I have grabbed numerous private picks off their shelves knowing that I would almost certainly enjoy what's inside, and I've never been let down. 

This bottle, which was given to me by a departing co-worker who apparently just didn't want to pack it up, carried on Warehouse Liquors' tradition of making outstanding private picks. This particular Double Rye! was finished for an additional 1.4 years in rye barrels (apparently different barrels from those in which the rye initially matured). I'm guessing the idea is to add to the richness of the typical rye flavors and spices, resulting in a bolder, more pronounced rye whiskey.

The nose is all traditional rye, full of cinnamon spice from front to back. I also got lesser, complementary notes, including a light mint note and even some pine notes. Along with the cinnamon, it reminded me a bit of Christmas. I don't know if it's all these combined, or just the particular cinnamon smells, but I got a lot of baking spices on the nose, adding to a rich and enticing aroma.

Although it didn't really come through on the nose, there was a lot of vanilla on the palate. In fact, it kind of hit me unexpectedly given that the aroma did not provide any forewarning. The cinnamon spice was in full force as well, hitting the tip of the tongue and leaving a nice, lingering spice at the back of my throat after each swallow.

The pine flavor also came through, adding a nice, earthy flavor and even a bit of woody dryness to the mix. This seemed to help keep the whiskey from seeming too sweet and helped balance it out. It even had a bit of orange peel, especially on the finish, that added just the right amount of bitterness, not going overboard. It also added a bit of a citrus note that, despite the spice and wood notes, made this seem a bit refreshing.

I think I would have liked to get more of the mint that I found on the nose, but it just wasn't there. That kind of left me wanting a bit more. Not that it's anyone's fault, it's just that I enjoyed it on the nose, and if it were noticeable on the palate I think that those mint notes would have really worked well with the bitter citrus notes to create something wonderful. 

Then again, maybe not. After all, regardless of what I may have wanted to taste, in the end this is an excellent rye, and once I started into the bottle I had a hard time turning to anything else until the very last drop was poured.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Booker's "Front Porch Batch" Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $65
- 125.9 Proof
- 6 yrs., 5 mos., 25 days
- Batch No. 2017-03
- Kentucky

It's been quite some times since I've taken on a bottle of Booker's. In fact, aside from the occasional bar pour, it's been almost three years. The last bottle I had was on New Year's Eve, and I recall having one of the worst hangovers in recent history the next day. I also recall, however, being a fan.

I had heard good things about this particular batch, and when I found it on the shelf, a good year after its release, I figured now was the time to re-visit Booker's.

When I first popped this cork, I got pure ethanol. It did nothing but singe my nose hairs, and I couldn't even attempt to find other notes.  In fact, my first pour was no different -- pure burn. So much so that I didn't even bother with a second glass, and I didn't even go back to the bottle for a couple weeks.

However, when I did, while the burn remained there, the flavors really started to take over, layered just beneath that alcohol burn. It developed a nice richness and complexity that I wasn't sure was possible at first. The nose took on notes of cherry and brown sugar, even a molasses type note. It also had a distinct clove quality to it which is one of my favorite smells. It was very rich and very spicy, but with some sweetness mixed in.

The palate for the most part matched the nose. It was heavy on the vanilla up front, with a decent amount of dark cherry added. It also had a significant cinnamon note up front, something I usually get more on the back end, making this taste a lot like a spiced cherry pie.

The back end was a bit different, though. The vanilla didn't linger as I would have expected it, but rather it was a sweet brown sugar finish that coated the throat. Slowly, cinnamon and amaretto notes then snuck in, leading to a nice, complex finish that never seemed to go away. I found myself enjoying the flavor of this one long after each sip.

It also had a certain amount of dryness to it, some wood notes that I didn't expect given its age. While I liked all the flavors that were going on, I had a hard time getting past the alcohol burn on this one. I've had a number of bourbons at even higher proofs than this that weren't so full of burn. This one was very aggressive in that respect, and it never seemed to peter out like I had hoped it would, even on the last few pours. It's a shame, because everything else about this bourbon was great!

Grade: B

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Straight Bourbon

- $59
- 100 Proof
- Batch No. 11
- West Virginia

Smooth Ambler has been able to develop quite the cult following around its Old Scout line, sourcing delicious bourbons for years. They've bottled some of their own stuff as well, though those offerings haven't quite garnered the attention that the Old Scout line has. Recently, Smooth Ambler released Big Level, a wheated bourbon that is all their own.

Although no age is stated on the bottle, the interwebs tell me that it's 5+ years old.  What I take from that is that, while that is certainly still on the younger end, it's not as though they rushed this product out early for the sake of generating revenues. Rather, somebody felt it was aged well enough to bottle it under Smooth Ambler's name and release it to market.

The nose on this was interesting. I got some alcohol off of it, but oddly got a bit of a charcoal flavor. I know it was distilled in Virginia, but that alone should not have imparted such a note. I also got a bit of overripe apple, which I've always associated with young, craft whiskies.

My first impression upon taking a sip was that this is very sweet, like sugar cookie sweet. It had a bit of a baked goods flavor to it, but with a whole bunch of sugar to it. Unfortunately, it also had that craft-ish flavor to it, that familiar over-ripe apple flavor that is just so off-putting. Granted, the sweetness was something that other craft whiskies haven't been able to accomplish, but it was still hard to get past.

On the finish I got a certain amount of tartness that just didn't work for me either. I like a good cherry tart note. However, this was more of a "bad blackberry" type note. It had that dark berry note, but it just wasn't quite right, and it certainly wasn't enjoyable.

I don't know if it was the wheat or what, but I also got a distinct wood note, like chewing on a twig. It was earthy and dry. That with the tartness gave a bit of an orange peal, and even some amaretto flavor. Don't get me wrong, though, this did not approach the flavor of an old fashioned or anything like that. Rather, these were just more the bitter aspects of these flavors, and they just didn't work to make this much more enjoyable.

I had high hopes for this whiskey, and as I made my way through the bottle I wanted very badly for it to improve over time and with a little oxidation. But, in the end, it came across as unbalanced and unrefined, and I just didn't find it that enjoyable.

Grade: C-