Sunday, February 18, 2018

Michter's Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Rye

- $80
- 109.4 Proof
- Barrel No. 17C535
- Kentucky

It's been a while since I actively sought out a particular bottle. Most of my purchasing decisions are made on the spot while browsing the shelves of my local liquor store. I had heard great things about the Michter's Toasted Barrel Finish bourbons (though I never got to try one), and when I heard they were releasing a Toasted Barrel Finish Rye, I knew I had to get my hands on a bottle.

But, I had very little luck in securing a bottle. It seemed every time I asked a store they only got one or two bottles and each time they had just sold out. I had given up, and went back to my old ways of browsing the shelves and seeing what catches my eye, when I wandered into my local Binny's and found one sitting in their locked cabinet. Without hesitation I summoned the nearest employee and snatched it up (their last one, they told me).

So, I completely hyped this product in my mind, and I was going to be really disappointed if it didn't live up to expectations. I had really set myself up for disappointment here, but fortunately this did not disappoint! I've referenced in past posts what I like in a rye, and I've referred it as traditional rye flavors. I think what I've come to define as traditional is a more rye heavy mashbill (75%-95% rye), and with minimal barley influence, something I've started noticing in some ryes. I've found the barley mutes the spiciness, and that spicy kick is what I love in a rye.

Admittedly, I don't know what the mashbill is on the Michter's rye. I do know, however, that it fits my framework of "traditional" rye, and I really like it. And I love this barrel strength toasted barrel finish! Apparently maturing the rye and then finishing it in toasted barrels (as opposed to heavily charred barrels) has a very positive and delicious effect on the whiskey.

The nose gives of a sweet cereal smell, reminding me of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal, but without the milk. On top of that, though, it has an intriguing molasses note, and even hints of anise. The nose itself was more complex then most other whiskeys I've been drinking lately.

As noted above, the flavor is right in line with what I enjoy in a rye. It has a sweet vanilla flavor up front, followed by a long, cinnamon-spiced finish that just never went away. It has a very silky texture (comparatively speaking) that made it very easy to sip and enjoy and minimized any alcohol burn. It had a nice, viscous texture as well that coated the mouth with each sip, nice and thick and sticky.

Interestingly, along with that pronounced vanilla flavor up front was something that reminded me of wine, but not the grape or fruit notes of wine. I think it reminded me more of the tannins that you get in wines, perhaps a result of extra maturation in the toasted barrel. It was subtle, but certainly there. In later pours, I also got those molasses notes that I initially got on the nose, as well as a certain nutty flavor, kind of like pecan. When all combined, this was like drinking a pecan pie with ice cream that, for some reason, had a nice cinnamon kick at the end.

I couldn't get enough of this whiskey, and as I sit here typing this post out I'm wishing I had more. I'll move on to other whiskeys and I'm sure there will be plenty of other ryes that I enjoy, but this one certainly set the bar for me. This is absolutely delicious, goes great with Girl Scout cookies, and if you find it, buy it!

Grade: A+

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Quick Hits: Knob Creek Goose Island - Austonian Texas Whiskey - High West Bourye - High West Pinot Finished American Prairie Bourbon

Sometimes I find myself enjoying a bottle so much, that before I even have a chance to pause and pay attention to what I'm drinking, what I'm tasting, or to even take notes, that bottle is gone. It would be easy enough to just not bother reviewing it, and wait until I finish my next bottle to which I've given a bit more attention.

However, when I do go through a bottle so quickly (always with friends, of course -- I try to make it a point not to drink an entire bottle in one sitting when I'm drinking by myself), it's often due in part to the fact that it's really good whiskey. So, why shouldn't you hear about it, even if it doesn't provide all those bullshit tasting notes that nobody really believes I'm tasting anyway?!?!?

So, below are my quick hit reviews from the four bottles of bourbon myself and some friends finished last weekend during our annual guys' ski trip:

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Goose Island Private Select Barrel #5555

- $40
- 120 Proof
- 12 years, 9 months
- Barrel #5555
- Kentucky

This was the bottle we enjoyed the first day of our trip. It was the first thing we cracked open when we got to the condo to toast the rest of our upcoming trip. More importantly, it was a really damn good whiskey, and we realized right off the bat that we had something delicious and potent here. I've had Barrel #'s 5556 and 5558 for comparison, as did one of my other friends on the trip, and we both agreed that we liked this Barrel #5555 the best. It was bold and strong, with nice spice overlaying molasses and vanilla. It was complex with a nice, oily mouthfeel that left a long, drawn out vanilla finish that (dangerously) had us going right back for that next sip, and then that next pour. My friend had previously had a Knob Creek private selection that was one of the best whiskeys I've ever tried, and he couldn't help but make a direct comparison. This bourbon was, in many ways, exactly what I look for in a bourbon, from flavor to texture to proof to price. It's a shame it's going to be hard to come by again (though the collectability of these bottles means more than a few are going to hang around for a while).

Grade: A


Austonian Texas Whiskey

- $26
- 90 Proof
- Texas

This was the surprise of the trip. We opened this bottle not knowing what to expect. However, given the price and the region, we expected it to be not so great. To the man we knew immediately after the first sip we were wrong! Although it's not bourbon, nor does it try to be, it is nonetheless a sweet, delicious whiskey. It's on the sweeter end, but it does a great job of doing what it seems to have set out to do. This was also the whiskey that accompanied me on the slopes in my hip flask, so I enjoyed this one in multiple settings. The most prominent flavor here was oatmeal cookie. I'm not sure what it is, but every time I took a sip, I kept coming back to that same note of oatmeal cookie.  And I really liked it! Something about it worked! It was a sweeter whiskey, but not a too-sweet whiskey. It certainly was not "rough" as I've heard some Texas whiskeys described, and it certainly did not have the harsh qualities that other "rapid-aging" or "alternative aging" whiskeys I've tried have had.

Grade: B+


High West Bourye Limited Sighting Blended Whiskey - 2018 Release

- $80
- 92 Proof
- Batch 17L21
- Utah, Indiana

We happened to be in town and, even better, at the distillery on the day that this year's Bourye was released. Of course I wasn't going home without a bottle. I did the same thing last year and that bottle went very quickly. This year was no different. Having had last year's as my most recent and direct comparison, that's what I immediately did was compare the two, and this year's, to me (at least from what I remember) was just a little better than last year's, which I thought was great. As with last year's, it had a unique nougat character that I really enjoyed, a sort of sweet, soft and creamy quality that seemed to envelop the more traditional vanilla and caramel flavors, and provided a nice contrast to the lightly cinnamon-spiced, finish. I thought this was a delicious blend of bourbons and ryes that really captured some amazing flavor. Curiosity got the best of me, and I should not have been surprised at my love for this year's release given its make-up:

2018 Batch (New Label - year two):
All sourced from: MGP, Lawrenceburg, Indiana
14yo - 95% rye, 5% barley malt
13yo - 95% rye, 5% barley malt
12yo - 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt
11yo - 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt
11yo - 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% barley malt

That's some well-aged bourbons and ryes which High West did an incredible job of blending to create an absolutely delicious whiskey!

Grade: A


High West American Prairie Bourbon Pinot Noir Finished Private Selection

- Not Available for Resale
- 106.6 Proof
- Finished 1 year, 9 mos.
- Bottled for Utah Whiskey Drinkers Union
- Utah

This was a special treat from a very good friend of mine at the High West Distillery, who accepted our invitation to our Super Bowl Party on our last full day in Utah. We had a chance to try a sample of this Pinot finished American Prairie while we were at the distillery, and all five of us were floored at just how good it was! Apparently this is a private bottling for a local whiskey club. As such, it's not available for retail whether at the gift shop or otherwise. However, we were nonetheless able to obtain a bottle through the good graces of our guy, and it still didn't disappoint. This was unanimously the best whiskey of the trip, and one of the best whiskeys I've had in quite some time. The flavor is fruity, but it doesn't overpower the bourbon. Rather, the dark raspberry, cherry and plum notes from the Pinot finish blend perfectly with the blended bourbon to create a silky, sweet and delicate whiskey that we could have enjoyed by the pint. Soooooo good!!!!

Grade: A+

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Basil Hayden's Dark Rye

- $50
- 80 Proof
- Kentucky/Canada

Okay, let me start off by saying that I'm generally not much of a fan of Basil Hayden's bourbon. The time I tried it way back when, it just didn't do much for me at all, and the brand has been off my radar since then. Beam then released the Basil Hayden's Rye, and given my prior experience with Basil Hayden's, as well as the fact that the rye wasn't very well received, it remained off my radar.

However, the Basil Hayden's Dark Rye, a 2017 release, caught my attention primarily due to what it is. In fact, going in, based on the description, I wasn't certain it would be good at all and thought there was a decent chance of it being awful. After all, the Dark Rye is Kentucky straight rye whiskey that is blended with Canada rye whiskey (perhaps the Alberta dark rye?). As if that weren't enough, they also blended it with port. So, unlike so many of the port-finished ryes that are out there, this was not finished in port barrels, but actually had the port added directly to the blend.

Accordingly, this kind of a cocktail rather than a rye (blended or not), although the amount of port is certainly minimal compared what a normal mixer in a cocktail might be. Per the bottle, they add "just a touch" of port. The result is, as expected, a very dark whiskey, with substantial red hues.

The nose is rich and fruity, definitely showing off the added port. The fruit note is lighter than expected, taking on a significant cherry quality. The low proof leaves zero burn on the nose, and what's left is delicious, warm and inviting.

Going in for my first sip, I held no expectations. I knew this was not going to taste like any rye I've had before, and I wasn't expecting it to. I went in open-minded, just hoping I liked it, and I was very pleasantly surprised. If I had any expectations, this would have exceeded them.

This is one of the best combinations of sweet and spicy I've ever tasted from a bottle. The sweet obviously comes from the port, which contributed rich and long-lasting flavors of plum and dark cherry. The velvety texture (I expected it to come across as more watered down) allowed these flavors to completely coat the mouth and seemingly linger forever. There was also an underlying unsweetened vanilla note that balanced perfectly with the port.  Towards the back end it had a nice, nutty note, like walnut, that worked really well with the vanilla and even light caramel notes to underscore the dominant port notes.

This really is a delicious pour that from the first sip reminded me of Thanksgiving. In fact, I first opened this bottle just before Thanksgiving, and it was my drink of choice for our first Thanksgiving celebration with some of our former neighbors (who also really enjoyed this!). It is sweet, but not too sweet, and is really a dangerous pour due to just how easy it is to drink. I found myself working through this bottle faster than I had ever intended.

Although it's certainly different, and far from a traditional rye, the Basil Hayden's Dark Rye makes no bones about what it is, and if you can get past the fact that it has the port directly added, certainly give this a try. It was surprisingly incredibly tasty.

Grade: A-

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Four Roses Single Barrel Binny's Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OESQ

- $65
- 123.6 Proof
- 8 years, 9 months
- Kentucky

So here it is, recipe #9 of the ten different Four Roses recipes that I've had the chance of trying, leaving only the OBSO left to try (and I welcome any leads in the Chicago-land area!). At this point I've come to the conclusion that regardless of recipe, the Four Roses private barrel picks are can't-lose bottles, and I certainly recommend them to anyone that may come across one or more.

This OESQ recipe is a 20% rye mashbill and is described as having a "floral essence." Though that seems a bit odd to me for a bourbon, the OESF that I had came with a similar description and that was one of the best bourbons I've ever had. This is also the youngest of the Four Roses Private Selections that I've had, and in fact the youngest that I've ever seen bottled.

Despite that, however, this was an absolutely delicious bourbon! The nose was full of cinnamon, a nice, Christmas-y spice to it. It also had a nice, mellow caramel note to it that helped to offset the alcohol fumes.

The palate, though, was rich and decadent, offering much more than the traditional cinnamon and caramel notes. Right up front I was hit with dark fruit notes, like raisin or plum, which was nonetheless underscored by a nice layer of caramel.

This bourbon also had a great viscosity to it, that allowed those delicious, rich, dessert-like flavors to carry from beginning to end, coating the mouth with flavor! By the second pour, the alcohol burn from both the nose and the palate had faded, leaving behind only flavor, and allowing the whiskey to really sweeten up.

What was raisin before sweetened to a more caramel appel flavor, but a nice, crisp, tart apple, like a Granny Smith. With additional notes of peanut and brown sugar, this really turned into an absolutely delicious pour, one that I couldn't help myself but to keep going back to over other bottles.

Towards the end it also seemed to develop a rich amaretto flavor, that seemed to complement perfectly the raisin, caramel and apple notes that were present throughout. Aside from that dark fruit note that was always there, the other real consistency with this bourbon was the richness of it, especially after it was open for a bit and the alcohol started to fade. This is one where I was disappointed when the bottle was finished, as I wished I had enough for at least one more pour.

Grade A

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Goose Island Private Select Barrel #5558

- $40
- 120 Proof
- 12 years, 9 months
- Barrel #5558
- Kentucky

Each year on Black Friday Goose Island releases its Bourbon County Brand Stout, a bourbon barrel aged stout. Each year people line up outside Binny's and other Chicago area retailers to get their hands not only on the Bourbon County Brand Stout, but also the variants that Goose Island also releases along with it. These variants, including a coffee stout and barleywine offering, are highly sought after, and certain of them command a premium on the secondary market.

This year Goose Island partnered with Knob Creek on on of their variants, the Bourbon County Brand Stout Reserve. As part of the partnership, Goose Island hand-selected barrels from Knob Creek to use to age their Reserve. Obviously, in order to hand select barrels, they would necessarily have had to try the whiskey in them (otherwise they're just looking at some barrels and saying, "That one"). So, those hand-selected barrels were bottled and released, coming in fancy boxes and each labeled as "Hand Selected by Goose Island Brewmaster Jared Jankoski." These Goose Island picks flew off the shelves, but I was lucky enough to get a couple before they were gone, the first being this Barrel #5558.

When I first popped the cork on this, the nose hit me immediately, which, unfortunately was a terrible thing. This is one of the worst smelling whiskies I have ever had . . . ever! It was pure ethanol on the nose, rubbing alcohol for days. And it was strong! I'd like to tell you about the other notes I got, but quite frankly there were none. This was pure nail polish remover. I had high hopes that the awful nose would fade as the bottle sat, but no such luck. That smell stuck with it from beginning to end.

However, and as much as the nose made me think I was in for a terrible tasting whiskey, the flavor of the bourbon was actually really good! In fact, if it weren't for the awful nose, I'd say this was one of the better bourbons I've ever had. The spiciness of the bourbon hits you right away, packing a heavy cinnamon punch to go along with a health burn as well. There was quite a bit of vanilla up front as well. The immediate finish was dry and spicy, with a light peppery spice that I enjoyed. It was also layered with cinnamon and oak notes and an unsweetened vanilla flavor. The oily texture allowed these flavors to stick around for quite some time.

This is where this bourbon got interesting, however. About two seconds after I swallow, I got a blast of caramel/toffee flavor at the back of my throat. It wasn't a subtle or light flavor, but rather as though somebody popped a Werther's into my mouth all of a sudden. I've never noticed anything quite like it before. It was incredibly noticeable and delicious, and it made me go right back for my next sip, wanting to experience it again!

As I worked my way through the bottle, it took on more of a salted caramel flavor, much like that caramel blast I was getting but more throughout. However, that kick of caramel after each swallow was still there.

I don't know what to make of this bourbon or exactly how to grade it out. Ultimately I'm drinking the stuff, not snorting it, right? So the nose shouldn't carry much weight. At the same time, it was so awful that it has to have some impact. Although this was one of the best whiskies I've ever tasted, I had a really hard time getting past the nail polish smell, which luckily didn't carry over to the taste. And so this one gets a grade just shy of an A from me.

Grade: B+

Saturday, January 6, 2018

House Spirits Westward American Single Malt Whiskey

- $100
- 90 Proof
- Oregon

House Spirits hooked me in early on when I first began writing this blog. I had read some positive reviews about their American Whiskey. So, wanting to try something different, I had my parents, who happened to live near Portland, swing by the distillery and grab a bottle, which they happily did as a Christmas gift to me. I tried it, and I have good memories of enjoying it.

Fast forward a couple years to when my sister and her family came to visit, also from the Portland area. On their way through the airport to their gate, my brother-in-law (who is a regular beneficiary of all the different bottles I try) picked up a bottle at House Spirits' store within the airport and personally delivered their new offering, a Single Malt as opposed to just an American Whiskey (and this time a full 750 ml bottle, as opposed to the 375 ml bottle that the American Whiskey came in).

The nose, as expected with a single malt, is soft, malty and lightly sweet. It's similar to a Scotch, and yet not. It's like sweetened cereal, like frosted Cheerios or rice crispy treats. It was, at the least, a very good start!

The flavor is also lightly sweet, but a different type of sweet than what I got on the nose. Rather, this was more of a brown sugar flavor, mixed with the dominant malt flavors that are to be expected. It nonetheless resulted in a combination that reminded me of honey nut Cheerios (I guess the take away is whether it's the nose or the palate, I'm getting some version of Cheerios on this one).

I also got a nice, light smoky flavor on this whiskey, as well as some crisp, light fruit notes that came through, kind of a pear flavor mixed with cinnamon. Also at times I couldn't help but notice a floral flavor to it (yes, I have eaten a flower before). However, those flavors were fleeting and that cinnamon flavor seemed to be more dominant.

As if that weren't enough going on, at the back end I got something different still. The finish had a distinct and lingering pine flavor to it, perhaps appropriate for a Portland whiskey. It wasn't overly strong to the point that it reminded me of air fresheners or cleaning products. Rather, it was just a light, pine note that lingered a while but didn't overpower by any stretch.

This whiskey really has a lot going on, a true cacophony of flavors. At times they didn't seem to really mesh, and at other times they seemed to complement each other in oddly tasty ways. In the end, however, it was a delicious product, though a bit higher in price than I'd like to see. Nonetheless, I'll continue to encourage my family to bring me more tasty treats from House Spirits any time they make it out my way.

Grade: B

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Jefferson's Reserve Ridiculously Very Small Batch Warehouse Liquors Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 90.2 Proof
- Kentucky

Once again Warehouse Liquors in Chicago proves that they know what they're doing when it comes to picking barrels. Having never run across a private select from Jefferson's, and being a fan of Jefferson's generally, I had to pick this one up and give it a loving home.

The nose was interesting. It had almost a cola scent to it. It smelled like a Vanilla Coke, just with not as much vanilla in it. It was sweet with absolutely no burn. The notes were subtle, and it certainly wasn't pungent, but what was there made me eager to try my first pour.

Unfortunately, I went in with high expectations, having loved every other private selection I've tried from Warehouse Liquors, and initially this one underwhelmed. It came across as soft and simple, with no complexities and very straight-forward flavor. Initially I got a bunch of amaretto flavor, but on the sweet and mild side. It was almost candy-like in this way, though I just couldn't think of a candy to compare it to.

I also got notes of milk chocolate and caramel, and while all of this sounds good, each of these flavors were soft and muted, and I really wanted more from it.

However, as I made my way through this bottle over the next few weeks, this bourbon just got better and better as I went. What was disappointing at the start, ended up exceeding my expectations and turning out to be a great whiskey!

The amaretto, which was the most forward flavor to start, seemed to fade to the background, making way for the milk chocolate and even a marshmallow note. It also seemed to get sweeter and sweeter as it went.

The last few pours were like drinking candy corn and buttery marshmallows. It also maintained a cereal quality, like Corn Checks, throughout, that, when mixed with that buttery marshmallow, made this a dessert-like whiskey that I found myself craving. It was as though I developed a sweet tooth for this whiskey.

Considering the first few pours were underwhelming, I nonetheless give this whiskey a high grade because of just how strong it finished. By the end I found myself wishing I had grabbed another bottle for future consumption. This is one of those bottles that reminds me why I prefer writing my reviews only after I've finished a bottle.

Grade: A-