Sunday, September 15, 2019

Driftless Glen Distiller's Select Cask Strength Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

- $60
- 119.8 Proof
- 4 years, 5 months
- Barrel No. 233
- Wisconsin

For her birthday, my daughter wanted to go to Great Wolf Lodge, but not the one that's only an hour away from where we live. No, she wanted to go to the one that's two and a half hours away in the Wisconsin Dells. Knowing reason was lost on a child who wants what she wants for her birthday, we conceded, and to the Dells we went.

However, all was not lost. I did manage to convince my wife that we should grab lunch before we head out, and, of course, I suggested we go one town over to Driftless Glen. I had never been there before, and, quite frankly, I'd never had anything from that distillery before. I really didn't know what to expect. But the distillery is absolutely beautiful, with a new facility set right on the river, looking across at a bunch of old circus trains that are part of the circus museum (perhaps providing an excuse to go back).  The food was great as well, including my maple old fashioned that came garnished with a piece of bacon. I sampled a few things while I waited for my food, and as I left, much to my chagrin, I grabbed this bottle, hand-picked by "Nate" and only available in their gift shop.

I feel like I've had a bad run of "craft" whiskeys of late, so it took me a while before I actually got around to opening this bottle.  That was a mistake!  This was one of the best, and at the same time most unique, ryes that I've had in a long time, and I'm wishing I had more!

The nose is sweet, giving off chocolate and hazelnut, with that sharp woody bitter note that hazelnut has.  I also got a lot of spice on the nose, like cloves and cinnamon. There was something earthy to it as well, kind of like a hearty rye bread. Quite frankly, the nose didn't clue me in to what I was about to taste.

On the tongue, I immediately noticed the thick, almost syrupy texture to this whiskey. I was floored, given its age, at the incredible viscosity that this rye had. It coated every inch of my mouth and throat and never went away.

The flavor could best be summed up as a pine flavored spice-bomb. I would have thought this was something that came from the northwest it had so much pine flavor to it. It tasted like a walk through the woods. While it may sound like an odd flavor, it was actually really delicious. Not like cleaner or an air freshener. Rather, it tasted like . . . Christmas.

This was even more emphasized by the incredible amount of spice that was in this bottle. Every sip was full of cinnamon and allspice. It also had a light amount of anise and nutmeg. It tasted like a blend of spices to be used in an apple or cherry pie.  Those spices were rounded out by delicious notes of fresh dark cherry and other dark fruit notes. While I couldn't pinpoint any specific fruit, the flavor reminded me of mulled wine. On the finish, all of these flavors lingered, seemingly forever, and a hint of mint seemed to make its way forward, adding a bit of a cooling note.

This whiskey restored my faith in craft whiskey!  It was full, rich and robust. It achieved a texture and flavor that I'd expect from much older whiskeys.  And, it was unique in flavor, like Christmas in a cup, absolutely full of spice and only a trace amount of sweetness -- what I love most in a rye.  I haven't had a spice-bomb like this in a long time, and it absolutely hit the spot. Once it was opened, this bottle went very quickly.  I guess I'll need to make a trip back to Baraboo, Wisconsin very soon.

Grade: A

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch No. B518

- $55
- 133.4 Proof
- 12 Years
- Batch No. B518
- Kentucky

There once was a time that I swear these bottles couldn't be found anywhere. a few years ago I remember feeling like I hit the jackpot when my local guy got three bottles in, and a few more of the following batch. I was buying them, even at his slightly marked up prices, as if they might vanish off the shelves otherwise.

Now, however, it seems as though they're at least somewhat available upon each release. In fact this one I've seen multiple times in multiple shops. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining.  This is a good thing!!  These are consistently one of my favorite bottles, and I will never hesitate to grab one off the shelf.

One of the consistent characters I've always gotten in the Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs is a heavier-than-most dose of vanilla.  Here, the nose at least did not let down. The vanilla seemed to pour out of the top of the bottle. It was accompanied but some earthier flavors, however, with some anise and some woodiness mixed in. I also got slightly bitter coffee notes. Along with those scents, however, were some nice dark fruit notes, like plum and even blueberry. This stuff smelled amazing!

In the flavor, the anise was not nearly as strong as it was in the nose, which for me was a good thing.  Rather, it had some pretty strong caramel and amaretto notes.  Unfortunately, the vanilla I got on the nose wasn't nearly as prevalent in the flavor, and almost nonexistent.

What seemed to take its place, though, was a whole lot of brown sugar. That sweetness was cut a bit, though, by that same wood note that I got on the nose. It didn't come across as bitter in any way.  Rather it just made it a bit more dry and mellowed out the sugar a bit. 

On the finish I got almost nothing but caramel, though this is where what little vanilla there was finally came through.  That caramel was long and strong, though, leaving me smacking my gums after each sip.

On the final few pours I got a distinct Coca-Cola flavor. Not just a generic cola flavor, but it actually tasted like Coca-Cola. Once I got that not, I couldn't seem to avoid that note, and it was hard to focus on the other flavors that were there. Luckily, though, it was a delicious flavor that seems to be a late-blooming marriage of everything I had before then.

While I wish some of those dark fruits, and especially that blueberry note that I got on the nose, came through (I think that would have been amazing!), I still really enjoyed what was here. It was a dessert whiskey that packed a punch. Quite frankly, that's what I've loved about all of the different batches of Elijah Craig Barrel proof, and that's why it never lets me down.

Grade: A-

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon Batch No. 23

- $60
- 113.9 Proof
- Batch No. 23
- Tennessee

I've been lucky enough to stumble on two of these bottles, and for some reason I started with this bottle rather than the earlier batch that I have. Belle Meade has been getting a lot of love lately for their single barrels and for their Reserve Cask Strength bourbons, and I've made it a point to grab them when I see them, which is not very often at all.

I haven't tried too much from Belle Meade. In fact, the only other bottle I've had from them was a 10-year Binny's private selection, which I do recall fondly. However, after finishing this bottle within a very short time after first opening it, I feel like I may need to make an effort to go through other bottles in their lineup.

The nose on this bourbon was rich and full and absolutely delicious. I immediately got notes of dark cherry and molasses, reminding me very much of Maraschino cherries. There was also a hint of maple and a slight cinnamon spice. To almost round everything out, it had a distinct vanilla bean smell to it that seemed to complement everything else going on.

As impressed as I was with the nose, the flavor held up as well and did not disappoint. Immediately I noticed the thick, oily texture it had, which coated my entire mouth with flavor. Also, despite the high proof, the alcohol was very well masked, making this dangerously easy to keep dipping back into pour after pour.

Up front I got the sweetness on my tongue, with kind of a salted caramel note. From there, however, what was clear is that this was a vanilla bomb. It was absolutely loaded with vanilla from front to back, and the other flavors that I picked up just seemed to play off that vanilla undercurrent.

The salty note seemed to evaporate almost immediately, but the caramel remained. It was more of a dark caramel note, however, with hints of burnt sugar. I even got some light char notes, though none of the woody bitterness, which was nice.

The Maraschino cherry note was there, but it was lighter on the actual cherry flavor than the nose had me anticipating. Rather, it was more of the flavor of the syrup than the cherries themselves.  I did not get the cinnamon that I got on the nose.  However, I did get a richer orange note. It wasn't a bright, citrusy note but rather like a candied orange note, even chocolate-orange at times.

But, again, it all started with the rich, delicious vanilla and each of the other flavors just acted as a complement to that note, and they each complemented that note very well.  This bourbon was rich, full of flavor, and it all worked really well! I couldn't help but keep going back to this bottle, even when I was trying to make an effort to try other things. It was delicious, and I have a feeling I'm going to be opening that other batch I have in my closet very soon!!

Grade: A-

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $80
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

This is one of those use-to-be-on-the-shelf-all-the-time bottles. Yet, in the past year or so, it seems to have nearly disappeared (a not uncommon experience when it comes to Buffalo Trace products).  It was always one of those bottles that I eventually wanted to try, but, figuring it'd always be there, was never a priority. After having not seen in on the shelves in quite some time, though, I took the opportunity to buy one when it came, even over some more desirable Buffalo Trace products that were available that day.

So far, I've only had the rye and the barrel proof from the E.H. Taylor line up, and while I've enjoyed what I've had, I've never fawned over these bottles like I see so many others do. But, I went into this one with an open mind.

The nose on this one was fantastic. It had a nice buttery cinnamon and caramel smell to it, like some rich and delicious dessert. I also got some almond as well as some beer-y yeast and even a bit of a nutty note as well.  All in all it gave of this sweet and familiar caramel apple note, with the apple note adding a bit of crispness to the nose.  Overall it was incredibly inviting.

The first thing that I noticed about this whiskey is that it was very smooth (yes, I know . . . but in this context I mean that despite being at 100 proof, the alcohol burn seemed nonexistent) and easy to drink. Perhaps dangerously so. 

As for flavor, I got a decent amount of amaretto and caramel, along with some light vanilla.  It was full of these rich, bakery-esque flavors. It even had that bready quality, kind of a yeast note similar to what I got on the nose.

This was all offset by a spiciness that was kind of a blend of cinnamon and white pepper. It had the sweeter and woody spice of the cinnamon, along with the bight of the white pepper that seemed to stick in the back of my throat for a bit.  The finish seemed relatively short, but that spicy tickle really lingered.

I also got a decent amount of wood notes on this bourbon, more than I expected really. It added a bit of dryness to a bourbon that was otherwise on the sweeter end.

All in all, I would like this as a standard go-to pour. But, for the price, it just can't be that.  I really wanted more out of this bottle, but it really was more good than great, and it didn't do much at all to separate itself from the crowd.

Grade: B

Friday, August 23, 2019

Three Rivers Distilling Franklin B. Rye Whiskey

- $35
- 95 Proof
- 6 Months
- Batch 6
- Indiana

Occasionally my work causes me to travel to far away and exotic places. Well, not really, but lately I've had to travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana quite a bit, to the extent that I've managed to identify all the decent shops in the area. On one of my scouting expeditions one night, I stopped into one shop that had a really good selection of Indiana whiskeys, and I figured it was about time to take a shot at something local.

Having no familiarity with any of the brands I was seeing on the shelf, I took to reading the bottles and the backstories. This particular bottle intrigued me. Not only is Three Rivers Distilling local to Fort Wayne, and not just Indiana in general, but it is also veteran owned. While the whiskey was notably young, I figured my money could certainly go to worse places, so I grabbed a bottle hoping for the best.

I popped open the cork and the first thing I noticed was that this smelled super young, which was certainly to be expected.  I got far more corn notes on the nose than I should in a rye. I also got that over-ripe apple note that I seem to find in young bourbons, as well as a weird sort of vegetal quality, almost a bell pepper smell. At times I seemed to get black pepper, and at other times I noted a sort of sugar cookie smell, but both of these notes were fleeting and inconsistent.

I will say that the flavor was certainly more enjoyable than the nose, but that was a pretty low bar. It was very sweet up front, and had some traditional notes of cinnamon and light pine, with even a slight mint note on the back end. However, what actual flavor there was to this whiskey was overwhelmed by that up front sweetness. This was almost cloyingly sweet, with almost a corn syrup quality to it.

On the finish, the light peppery spice did manage to find its way through. I also got a bit of a cinnamon applesauce flavor, which I again associated with the fact that this is a very young whiskey.

As I worked my way through this bottle, I just didn't find anything to change my impression of this whiskey. It remained cloyingly sweet throughout and always had that weird, over-ripe apple flavor to it. It did develop a slight smokey note which I thought was interesting, but as I had my last few pours of this bottle, my sole impression was that this was simply way to sweet, and it was incredibly harsh. I really struggled to finish it, unfortunately. 

As much as I wanted to like this, and there were a few hints of goodness from time to time, I just couldn't find much to enjoy.

Grade: C-

Saturday, August 17, 2019

1792 Full Proof Bruno's Liquors Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 125 Proof
- Kentucky

I recently took a trip to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with my wife, just an evening with just the two of us. Beforehand, however, I just happened to see some Facebook recommendations for good bourbon stores and restaurants in Lake Geneva, and one of the recommendations was Bruno's Liquors.

So, romance be damned, I made it a point to get over to Bruno's to see what they had to offer. For the most part, their whiskey selection was pretty decent, though it was a lot of stuff that I can find on the shelves by me. However, right up front they showcased two store picks they had recently gotten in--a Buffalo Trace single barrel and this one. Of course I grabbed them both, much to the chagrin of my wife.

I've been a big fan of pretty much every bottle of 1792 Full Proof I've picked up to date, so I cracked into this one first. Upon opening the bottle, I was immediately hit with strong scents of brown sugar and orange peel. It almost had an Old Fashioned smell to it. It also had a nice cinnamon spice on the nose that tickled just a bit, and some wood tones carried through as well. This was all seemingly layered over a subtle but ever-present caramel note.

The flavor was a bit different from the nose. Rather than getting that brown sugar and orange peel up front, the cinnamon was probably the most forward flavor, along with a distinct chocolate flavor. I've encountered this combination before, and while I do love finding both flavors in my whiskeys, together they tend to make a bit of an odd combination.

However, there was a lot more going on with this as well. I got a distinct candied cherry note, not the cough syrup kind of flavor, but also not the fresh cherry flavor. Perhaps more along the lines of a maraschino cherry flavor.

There was a bit of an oak flavor which, along with the heat from the high ABV, added a touch of harshness to this bourbon. I found that it had this sort of weird tongue-numbing quality, something that I've found before in foods where too much liquid smoke was used. I realize that's probably not very relatable to anyone reading this, but that's where my mind when as I was tasting this.

There was also this anise or licorice flavor to it, which, along with the wood notes, left a bit of an odd flavor behind after each sip. The orange peel bitterness seemed to linger for a bit, and between all that and that weird numbing quality, I had a hard time enjoying the finish.

And yet, on the last few pours, the sweet brown sugar and pleasant cinnamon spice was all I really noticed, with the bitterness and weird numbing thing having gone by the wayside.  I really wish the rest of the bottle were like those last two or three pours, because I found them to be asbolutely delicious.  This was a bit of a schizophrenic bottle, so I'm finding it hard to attribute a grade to it, because different pours could have been anything from a C- to an A, so I've got to park this one somewhere right in the middle.  Now to open that Buffalo Trace!

Grade: B

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Buffalo Trace Jewel-Osco Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel No. 528

- $24
- 90 Proof
- Barrel No. 528

If there is one thing that Jewel-Osco is known for, it's their incredible private picks . . . no, that's not right. It's their incredibly refined palate . . . no, that's not right either. In the bourbon world, at least around me, Jewel is primarily known for occasionally having Blanton's in stock at retail, and that's just about it.

Yet, despite not being actively in the market for Blanton's, and knowing that I'm not going to find much else, I nonetheless wandered into the whiskey aisle during a shopping trip, and I saw all the usual suspects sitting on the shelf.  Then something caught my eye.  Was that a sticker?!?  I quickly pulled a bottle of Buffalo Trace off the shelf, figured I must have seen something, turned the bottle in my hands, and sure enough, it was a Jewel-Osco Single Barrel Select! I had no clue such a thing existed.  So, of course, at only $24 a bottle, I picked one up, because what the hell, why not?!?

I got home and cracked it right away, because quite frankly my curiosity was getting the best of me. On the nose I immediately got caramel and almond, almost a hint of amaretto. I also detected a certain amount of Maraschino cherry as well. Later on, after making my way through a good portion of the bottle, I got hints of dark chocolate, and it also seemed to sweeten up quite a bit, providing a rich, dark molasses note.

Flavor-wise, it seemed to follow suit with the nose. On the first few pours, I got primarily burnt sugar and oak. It was more char and wood than I expected from a Buffalo Trace. The sugars were there, but they were buried. It was as thought it wanted to be sweet but just wasn't quite there. I also got a bit of a cherry cough syrup note, which is always a bit of a turn off for me.

However, as with the nose, after a number of pours from this bottle, it sweetened up significantly. Rather than char and sugar on top of wood, it turned into something far more delicious ad interesting. I got more of a brown sugar tone to it, and a certain amount of cinnamon also came through.

I also got a certain bread quality, which together with these "developed" other flavors gave it a sort of cinnamon french toast quality that I really liked.  Unfortunately, though, that fake cherry flavor still seemed to linger as well, and it just didn't fit. While the flavor softened, it still retained a bit of that medicinal quality that I do find off-putting, and it was really weird with that bready, yeasty flavor that developed.

All in all, if Jewel-Osco released another private selection of Buffalo Trace, I assure you I'd grab that as well.  While it has some off notes for me, overall it was still a tasty bourbon at a great price, and it was fun to see what I was going to get with such a pick.

Grade: B-