Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $23
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

It's certainly easy to get caught up in all the limited releases, barrel picks and fancy whiskeys sitting on the shelves these days, without consideration for the standards. I feel I've long ignored some of the basic ryes out there and I intend to remedy that situation.

So, I started off with Jim Beam Rye. Right or wrong, I've always used white label as my kind of baseline, the bourbon against which I compare everything else, serving as my standard "C" grade bourbon. So it only seems right that at some point I give the rye a try.

Admittedly, I went into this expecting something average, and it proved to be much more than average. The nose gave off a light cinnamon spice and minimal alcohol. It wasn't strong, though, and I had to hunt for the flavors.

Luckily that wasn't the case with the palate. The flavor of this rye is actually quite good. I got the cinnamon from the nose that carried from the beginning to the end, providing a decently long and spicy finish. It was also sweetened by some vanilla as well as a surprising light butterscotch note. These flavors and the sweetness complemented the lingering spice very well.

Despite it being watery in texture, it was still full of flavor and the flavor stuck around for quite a while, with a decent coating of the mouth, especially given the watery texture and low proof.

Interestingly, after leaving the bottle open for a couple weeks, it developed a very distinct pine flavor. It wasn't strong, but it was certainly noticeable. The pine flavor played well with the cinnamon, but seemed to be at odds a bit with the butterscotch.

This also came across as a younger rye. It was a bit jagged and rough around the edges, with sharp notes and, despite the low proof, some burn. However, for the price, it's a good rye and one I wouldn't hesitate to buy again. It certainly exceeded my expectations and was a nice surprise.

Grade: B-

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hancock's President's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 88.9 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Let me just start this out by saying that I love Buffalo Trace's mashbill #2. It seems to be my ideal flavor profile, and as a result I find myself frequently favoring the Blanton's, Rock Hill Farms and Elmer T. Lee's of the world. Hancock's President's Reserve, however, seems to be the red-headed stepchild of the mashbill #2 line. This lower proof version is not advertised on the Buffalo Trace Distillery website (see for yourself), and it seems to hit the shelves with the same limited frequency as Elmer T. Lee and Rock Hill Farms.

That being said, it is nonetheless without question a mashbill #2 bourbon. The nose is caramel and light cinnamon spice. It also has a hint of burnt orange and maple, giving it a nice, rich aroma.

Likewise, the first sip is full of that vanilla and caramel up front that I've become accustomed to with these sweeter yet slightly spicy bourbons. The back end has that nice cinnamon tingle that sticks at the back of your throat for a while.

Compared to the others in this line, this is, as expected, a bit watery in texture. That being said, I didn't feel as though it lost any boldness in flavor. It still has all its sweet and spicy character, just with minimal to no burn.

In later pours, the profile changed slightly, but quite frankly for the better. It seemed to develop a very tasty orange note, which I had noticed on the nose but up to that point missed on the palate. That orange seemed to mingle with the caramel and a sweet brown sugar to add some nice complexity to an otherwise thinly-textured bourbon.

The back end also developed an almond flavor that hung around with the cinnamon spice at the back end of each sip I took, leaving behind some much-welcome flavor to go along with the spice.

I'm a big fan of this as far as low proof bourbons go. Many refer to Basil Hayden's as a good bourbon to give to someone to try who is not familiar with bourbon. Availability aside, this to me would be a far better option. It's just not practical when it's not readily available. Again, my bias here is freely admitted, but for a lower proof bourbon, I found this to be excellent!!

A-

Monday, November 27, 2017

High West Binny's Private Selection A Midwinter Night's Dram Finished American Prairie Bourbon

VITALS:
- $35
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Utah

It's been a while since I've run out in search of a particular bourbon. But, when I got the e-mail that Binny's got in some new barrel select whiskeys from High West, and that one of them was the American Prairie Bourbon finished in Midwinter Night's Dram barrels, I knew I had to get my hands on one. It didn't hurt that they were $5 off either.

My hope was that taking a bourbon I already enjoy and finishing it in barrels that once held a finished whiskey that I love (A Midwinter Night's Dram), would result in a bourbon with just a subtle port finish and hopefully a bit of the rye spice as well.

The nose lived up to expectations. It's soft and light, with notes of vanilla and cereal grain, kind of like frosted flakes.  It also had the scent of dark fruits, like cherry and plum, transferred from the port wine barrels. The port influence was not overpowering, though, and I was encouraged by the traditional notes that came through on the nose, despite the finish.

On the palate, as expected, the port influence was more subtle than most wine barrel finished whiskeys. To me this was a good thing. It allowed the vanilla and caramel notes of the bourbon to come through without being overpowered by the raspberry and dark cherry flavors from the port. The "second fill" nature of this bourbon found a good balance of the right amount of the port finish to complement and not overpower.

Unfortunately, the flavors from the rye that previously filled the barrel did not seem to carry through to the bourbon. The spiciness I wanted just wasn't there.

The finish left a nice, lingering vanilla and raspberry flavor that was absolutely delicious. At first it wasn't noticeable, but on later pours it was all I noticed, and had me reaching for the next pour. I enjoyed it so much that I finished the second half of the bottle in about a third of the time it took me to finish the first half.

Overall, this is a soft, easy-drinking finished bourbon that seemed to find a great balance of port influence, simply by reusing the barrels that once housed what has become High West's most sought after product. Part marketing gimmick and part great idea turned out a pretty good whiskey!

Grade: B/B+

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Eagle Rare Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 196 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 196
- Region: Kentucky

Eagle Rare has always held a special place in my heart. It is, after all, the bourbon that got me into bourbon. It's the bourbon that told me maybe I need to expand my horizons and try something other than Scotch. It's the bourbon that started this "journey."

And when I found a new store in Chicago, not too far from my office, a store with multiple shelves of store picks of all kinds, there was no way I was leaving there without one of their Eagle Rare store picks. Interestingly, they had three to choose from, so I made my pick based on the tasting notes. This particular barrel was described as having strawberry notes. I was skeptical, having never tasted anything like strawberry in my bourbon before, but I was willing to give it a chance.

I got home and pretty much cracked this one open right away. The nose is vanilla and cinnamon, somewhat traditional and what I've come to expect from Eagle Rare. It also had a light and bright fruitiness to it, kind of like raspberry, or even . . . strawberry!

And the palate? Strawberries! Seriously! The notes weren't lying! Of course, there was a nice amount of vanilla, which balanced well with the traditional rye spice that would linger on the back end, tickling the throat and begging for the next pour.

But I just could not get past the strawberries. I immediately went for my next sip, and even then my next pour, each time trying not to taste the strawberries, if for no other reason than to justify my skepticism, but it was there and unavoidable.

It was a soft strawberry flavor, like dried strawberries, rather than syrupy or imitation strawberry. And while strawberry isn't a traditional or typical flavor in bourbon, this works, and it works very well!! It offers the perfect sweetness to complement the spicy cinnamon finish, and it of course is amazing with the underlying vanilla tones throughout that hearken back to what a bourbon should be, just in this case with a little bit more.

This is one of the best bourbons I have ever tried! Seriously, frickin' strawberries! I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't taste it myself! I have never enjoyed a bourbon so much that I felt compelled to go back and grab another just to have in reserve. I usually look to buy things I haven't had before, otherwise I'd have nothing to write about. But as a testament to just how much I loved this bourbon, in this instance I made it a point to grab a back-up, so that I'd have no reason to refrain from drinking this one.

Grade: A+

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Virginia Limited Edition Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 90 Proof
- 9 years, 9 months
- Region: Virginia
- 375 ml

This is one of the weirdest ideas/experiments I've seen yet. A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, VA has been releasing limited releases, and last year they released a "Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon." I had never seen one on the shelf until recently, so I never had reason to question it as anything other than being kind of an odd finish.

When I did finally come across one, my curiosity got the best of me, and I just had to wonder, what exactly does it mean to be "gingerbread cocoa finished"? It's not exactly like port finished bourbons, where the product typically requires use of a barrel, thus allowing for the finishing of the bourbon in said barrel. I haven't exactly seen barrels of cocoa or gingerbread, and I'm pretty certain that's not a thing.

So what is this whiskey exactly? What isn't immediately apparent from the label is that this whiskey was, in fact, finished in barrels. These barrels originated in the A. Smith Bowman distillery and originally held bourbon. After they were emptied, Hardywood Park Brewery in Virginia got their hands on the barrels and used them to age two types of beer: their Gingerbread Stout and their Foolery Imperial Milk Stout (both of which sound delicious!).  Hence the gingerbread and cocoa.  After the barrels were done being used for aging the beer, they made their way back to A. Smith Bowman, where they were used to then finish this particular limited release whiskey. So, with all that out of the way, how does it taste?

Before we get to that, the gingerbread is very noticeable on the nose. I also got some corn as well as a light cinnamon. Beyond that, it didn't give of much that made it seem too far afield from traditional bourbon. I did kind of expect a boozy, beery smell that simply wasn't there.

And it didn't have any boozy, beer flavor either. Rather, the palate was loaded with unsweetened cocoa. It did not have the chocolate notes that I kind of expected, but rather the baking cocoa flavor. Interestingly, I did not get the gingerbread on the palate that I got on the nose, which was a bit surprising.

Beyond the influence of the finish, it comes across as a higher rye bourbon, somewhat spicy on the back end yet with a decent vanilla finish. However, it just did not have any sort of "pop" to it. It has an almost creamy texture to it, which seemed to almost mute the flavor. While the cocoa and vanilla and cinnamon notes were there, they were soft and undefined.

Interestingly, and perhaps this is where the beer influence came in, it had a weird finish that came through almost as an afterthought. It was as though when I stopped paying attention to the finish, an odd, sour/musty note came through that I couldn't really place but which certainly gave me pause. I wish I could describe it better, but it reminded me of when you get a sour piece of lettuce in your salad (real relatable, I know).

This was a fun experiment, and I'm glad I got to try it. However, I don't see this as something I'd seek out again. I would like to give those barrel-aged beers a try, though!

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Jefferson's Grand Selection Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes Cask Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $130
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Jefferson's has recently put out a couple of incredibly fancy-looking, and incredibly pricy bottles of bourbon finished in highly acclaimed or rated ex-wine casks. In addition to this Sauternes finish, they also shortly thereafter released a bourbon finished in ex-Pinchon Baron casks.

I'll admit, the fancy packaging absolutely drew me in. I also know that I am prone to really liking wine-barrel finished bourbons. Though some are better than others, certainly, for the most part I haven't found one I didn't enjoy. So, despite the hefty price tag, I nonetheless wanted to give this a try. After all, Jefferson's, although they do like to experiment, have also become a brand that I trust and am willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

The nose, as expected, is fruity and sweet. The wine notes are immediately prevalent and pungent, noticeable from a few feet away as soon as I popped the cork. They gave off notes of strawberry and dark cherry, but also the sweetness of honey. Much of this seemed to mask the traditional bourbon notes on the nose, however.

The palate is likewise sweet and fruity. It's heavy on the raspberry notes, mixed with a whole bunch of vanilla bean. It reminded me of those vanilla ice cream cups that have the raspberry swirl in them. It's that sweet and that noticeable.

In fact, the bourbon notes were very much buried in those first few pours. I really struggled to find them, and, though I really wanted to enjoy it, I just found it hard to do so.

However, as this bottle was allowed to sit for a while after being opened, it did seem to transform. The sweetness died down a bit, and some of the traditional bourbon notes came through. It reminded me more now of those raspberry fruit strips that you can get a Trader Joe's or Whole Foods—the kinds with no artificial sweeteners in them. It was like unsweetened raspberry jelly.

While it was good and had solid influence from the wine, it still just wasn't what I look for in a wine-finished bourbon. The influence was almost too heavy on this one for me. It just wasn't what I was hoping for. That being said, I've got bourbon-loving friends that I know would absolutely love this product, and this is just one of those that whether it's loved or not is going to completely depend on the individual drinker.

Grade: B-

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon 2017 Batch No. B517

VITALS:
- $65
- 124.2 Proof
- 12 Years
- Region: Kentucky

Disclaimer: I love Elijah Craig Barrel Proof! This is the one bourbon that my wife know to grab when she sees it in a store. In fact, she stocked me up on some of the private releases, to the point that I've still got partial bottles sitting bot at home and at my office. So, please understand my bias going into this review.

Though I did not come across the first release in 2017, I certainly jumped all over the second release once I found it, and I opened it up right away. This one comes in at a lower proof than many past offerings, but it is still a robust 128 proof. That being said, the nose was much softer than expected. It was full of pleasant vanilla and caramel mixed with a baked apple smell that reminds me of the kind of smells you associate with Thanksgiving. Immediately I was excited to take that first sip.

The initial sip was sweeter than expected but with a light burn. It was very caramel and molasses forward, lending a sort of heaviness to that sweetness, the kind that coats the mouth and sticks around for a while.

There was also a bit of dryness to it, typical of longer-aged witnesses, but again, even that seemed to be quickly overpowered by the molasses flavor that seemed to dominate. That, however, was just fine by me, as though I do enjoy a light oakiness, more than that is too much for me, so this was kind of just the right amount.

The finish was probably my favorite part, though, as that caramel and molasses flavor that seemed to dominate the palate gave way to a heavy influence of vanilla on the back end that stuck around forever! You'd think this was a vanilla bomb from start to finish with as much as the vanilla dominated the finish, but that's not the case. It just seemed to completely change from front to back, all within the same sip.

In later pours, that heavy molasses flavor seemed to lighten up a bit (which is good—it was way to serious!), allowing more traditional flavors to come through, and the palate was more balanced with notes of vanilla and toffee, and even a bit of root beer coming through. The finish, nonetheless, remained vanilla heavy.

It's interesting how this bourbon changed. Though it was interesting to start, it was never bad, because even though the caramel and molasses seemed to dominate at first, it worked because it held back those dry oak notes, and then gave way to the long vanilla finish. It then opened up and turned into an absolutely delicious, complex and yet well-balanced bourbon, and I thoroughly enjoyed what it became. 

And now I get to track down the third release this year!

Grade: A-