Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Brandy Cask Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $100
- 90.4 Proof

The 2016 Woodford Reserve Master's Collection release was a brandy cask finished bourbon. Though intriguing as it sounds, and perhaps indicative of the kind of reception this series has received the past few years, these are still sitting around on shelves in some places collecting dust. I, for one, was excited to give this a try. I love finished bourbons, and I can enjoy the occasional brandy, so this seemed like a tasty proposition.

The nose gives away the fruity characters from the brandy. It's sweet on the nose, with distinct notes of raisin and brown sugar, complemented by some crisper, softer fruits including lighter notes of pear as well as heavier notes of plum.

As expected, this bourbon is very fruit forward on the palate. What I didn't expect, however, is how vanilla forward it is. I didn't really get any vanilla on the nose, but it underscored every sip.

It also wasn't as sweet as I expected based on the nose. It carried the fruity notes that I expected, including plum and pear. The sweetness was there, but it was more of a wine sweetness, a sweetness that occurs naturally from the fruit.

This bourbon seemed to change significantly as I made my way through the bottle. The fruit-flavor profile seemed to change, and later pours were dominated by the sweet flavor of dried apricots mixed with brown sugar. It was very jelly-like in flavor and had me smacking my lips after each sip. Though it wasn't what I'd look for in an every day drinker, I really enjoyed it for what it is. It's kind of like peach cobbler to me in that sense. Something that I really enjoy on occasion, but nothing I'd want to have with any regularity.

The bourbon is somewhat watery in texture, and overall soft on the palate. By that I mean that you aren't smacked with intense flavors, bold spice or high heat. It's an easy drinker that is sweet up front and has an inoffensive finish of lingering fruit and light baking spice that lasted, though not as long as I'd prefer, more than a few seconds anyway.

This bourbon is incredibly unique in taste, and overall, the brandy finish is a success. When the mood struck me, this was exactly what I needed. It's kind of like how most of the time when I eat candy I eat chocolate, a Snickers or something. But, sometimes, I want that fruity, chewy Starburst, and when I have it, it satisfies that craving, and I'm back to my Snickers and Milky Ways. This is a niche bourbon, but it fills that niche very well.

Grade: B+

Friday, March 17, 2017

Old Ripy The Whiskey Barons Collection Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $50
- 104 Proof
- Batch No. 1

Old Ripy is the other initial release in The Whiskey Barons Collection from Campari America. As with Bond & Lillard, Old Ripy was also distilled at Wild Turkey, though without an involvement of the Russells. This bourbon honors the Old Ripy brand, which was created by James Ripy in 1868 and was produced through 1950.

As with Bond & Lillard, this bourbon comes in a .375 ml bottle. Though I'd like to see it come in a full-sized bottle, there is something I enjoy about holding this bottle in my hand, where it fits perfectly like a grenade or, as I alluded to previously, a bottle of Red Stripe. It just feels right. The label is incredibly eye appealing as well, and I think that will go a long way towards moving this product off the shelf.

But, what matters most is what's inside, and, quite frankly, what's inside of this bottle is very good bourbon! Its nose is full vanilla with a light sweetness and is very aromatic. You also notice the corn grain as well, like sweet corn flakes.

Upon the first taste this bourbon was delicious! It's definitely on the sweet end of the sweetness spectrum, but it's not sugary or offensively sweet. I actually enjoyed it, much like a dessert bourbon! It was predominantly brown sugar and vanilla, but it had a candy-bar character to it, as if it had hints of Butterfinger as well.

Again, describing it as a candy bar character makes it seem overly sweet, but that's not the case here. It's more like a donut or coffee cake type sweetness, the kind you can enjoy for breakfast (not that I enjoyed Old Ripy for breakfast at any point). There was also a crisp apple note that seemed to subtly underscore all the other flavors, contributing to an overall delicious profile.

The finish was the only thing that disappointed. It was short and somewhat unremarkable. There were some enjoyable spiced hot cider notes that lingered, but only for a second before they dissipated. I really wish they would have stuck around, coating the back of the throat a bit more.

As with Bond & Lillard, the price tag of $50 for a .375 ml bottle is prohibitive. However, I found this bourbon to be superior to the Bond & Lillard (which I really enjoyed). I worked my way through this small bottle very quickly, and, if it were packaged as a normal 750 ml bottle, I'd be all over it. All in all, after trying the first two, I'm looking forward to more releases in this line.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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

- $60
- 119.8 Proof
- 9 Years, 10 Months

I'm inching ever so close to trying each of the ten Four Roses recipes. When I picked this one up, that put me up to 8 that I've found, two of which are still sitting in reserve waiting to be opened. I'm still looking for the OBSO and OESQ recipes.

For those of you who may not know what I'm talking about with respect to the different Four Roses recipes and these odd character combinations, rather than go into it here, I'll direct you to Four Roses' website, where they have a nice infographic explaining everything - http://fourrosesbourbon.com/four-roses-bourbon-infographic/

What's interesting is when I read the different flavor profiles of the five different yeast strains, I feel like the V, K and O strains would be right up my alley. Their descriptions seem to be along the more traditional path as far as the flavors go, with K being pretty much what I look for in a bourbon - "Light spiciness, light caramel and full-bodied."

And yet (albeit with four recipes left to try), I've found myself enjoying this OESF the most! Who knew that I'd be most taken by the yeast strain described as "Essences of herbal aromas." Honestly, this is the one that, before trying any of them, I would pick as likely to be my least favorite.

I also tend to favor higher-rye mashbills. And yet, this is the E mashbill, with only 20% rye (as opposed to the B mashbill at 35% rye). So out of the ten recipes, if I went on descriptors alone, this would be the recipe I'd be the least excited to try.

But I've already spoiled it, and, as I said above, so far it's my favorite! Despite the lower rye mashbill, I still notice the rye/cinnamon spice on the nose. This nose was very complex and rich, however, and I also picked up notes of cherry, coffee and brown sugar. It was so good I just wanted to snort it right up!

But I thought better of it, and enjoyed the bourbon in the traditional manner, and man am I glad I did! It was sweeter up front than I had expected. I got a lot of toffee, balanced by that coffee flavor that I got on the nose, which likely helped keep it from being overly sweet. Some subtle wine notes crept through as well, rich and soft fruit flavors like a velvety pinot noir.

It also had a decent burn, up front. However, that gave way pretty quickly to a syrupy, lip-smacking, sweet finish that was paralleled by a cinnamon spice finish.

The end result was I found myself licking my lips after each drink and fiending for the next hit! After each swallow the back of my throat was coated in a sweet butterscotch flavor while the cinnamon spice still lingered on the tip of my tongue.

I have to admit, I did not notice the "Essences of herbal aromas," and luckily I didn't read that until after I finished the bottle and went to write this post. Not knowing that, I wasn't actively looking for it or otherwise tainted by that description. What I did notice was that this bourbon was rich, complex, sweet and spicy and absolutely one of my favorite bourbons I've ever had!

Grade: A+

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bond & Lillard The Whiskey Barons Collection Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $50 (.375 ml)
- 100 Proof
- NAS (Minimum of 7 years)
- Batch No. 1

This bourbon and Old Ripy, which I will be reviewing in the near future, are a couple new offerings from the Whisky Barons Collection, a series of bourbons released by Campari America and distilled at Wild Turkey (though without involvement of either of the Russells) to honor the pioneers of the bourbon industry and brands that did not survive prohibition.

The bottle itself is very attractive and cool-looking, and rather than put a lengthy story on the bottle, it simply identifies the two individuals being commemorated (W.F. Bond and C.C. Lillard), and provides a quick-hit nugget that "Before Prohibition, Bond & Lillard was highly referred and awarded the grand prize at the 1904 S. Louis World's Fair." Initially I was put off by everything as being too gimmicky, along the lines of Orphan Barrel. And though this is a bit gimmicky and probably a money grab while the bourbon trend is hot, Campari does not make up a story about some lost barrels that were miraculously found, but rather that they are producing a bourbon as a nod to some historical bourbon families, distilleries and recipes. In the end, I'm alright with that.

As to the bottle itself, $50 is a lot to ask for a .375 ml, and that's a factor that needs to be considered in any review. Nonetheless, I was clearly willing to try out a new product sourced from Wild Turkey, even if it meant likely overpaying a bit. I will say, though, that I really like the shape of this bottle. It fits in the hand much like a Red Stripe, causing me to reminisce about eating jerk chicken on the beach and listening to Jimmy Cliff. I never did end up drinking straight from the bottle, but in the hand, it almost feels like it's meant to be enjoyed that way.

The nose on this bourbon is soft, giving off notes of light fruit, and when I say light fruit, I mean that they don't overwhelm the senses, like pears and apples. I also pick up more traditional notes of caramel and sweet, vanilla pipe tobacco.

The flavor is a nice mix of sweet and spicy. The sweetness tends to be a fruity type of sweetness, though not the "light fruit" that I noticed on the nose. Rather, it's a kind of cherry flavor, balanced by a light chocolate note hanging out in the background. The spice is very much a clove spice, which I've always felt was kind of a weird cherry-cinnamon type spice to begin with, so I guess that makes sense. The texture is soft, with really no rough edges and a nice viscous texture, buttery even, that really coats the mouth.

As I made my way (albeit very quickly) to the bottom of the bottle, the sweetness really stood out, as it was kind of a unique sweetness that I can't recall noticing in a bourbon before. In fact, it took me a bit to place it, but once I did it was almost all that I noticed - sweet tea. I noticed a distinct southern-style sweet tea flavor to it. Though different, I really enjoyed it. It probably helps that I love sweet tea.

This was a fun bourbon to try out, from the label to the bottle to the interesting flavor. Everything about it was fun and enjoyable. It wasn't "great" bourbon, but it was really good and a fun pour in nearly every respect.

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 4, 2017

1792 High Rye Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 94.3 Proof

I really enjoy the Barton 1792 Small Batch, and I can say that I have LOVED all of Barton's special releases, from the Sweet Wheat to the Single Barrel to the Port Finished, which is still one of my all time favorites. So, picking up a bottle of the High Rye when met with such an opportunity was a no-brainer. I tend to favor higher-rye bourbons, so I was really looking forward to this one.

The nose is delicious. It's almost entirely caramel, with vanilla and pipe tobacco seeming to linger in the background. It smells like a sweeter bourbon, which is interesting considering I was expecting it to be spicier given the high rye content. That sweet tobacco and caramel combination was a bit different than most bourbons, but in a good way.

The flavor is soft and mildly sweet. On the first pour I didn't really notice the rye spice. Rather, traditional notes of caramel and vanilla were prominent. It came across as a smooth, easy drinking bourbon with a classic profile, the kind I would look for if I were to give a novice an example of what a traditional bourbon should taste like. It also had a nice middle-of-the-road texture to it, not watery but not really oily. Just kind of somewhere in between.

While it is a delicious bourbon, I was looking forward to a more spice-forward profile, and it just didn't deliver in that respect. Additionally, in the first two pours there was a bit of a funky flavor that seemed to come through on the back end, almost a rotted apple type flavor--fruity yet . . . musty? It was an odd flavor, something that I've only recalled noticing in young bourbons from craft distilleries, and certainly something I didn't expect from this bottle. It wasn't a strong flavor, but just a subtle, slight oddity on the back end.

As the bottle opened up, however, I no longer noticed that funky flavor, and, in fact, the spice tended to come through more, particularly on the finish. However, it wasn't the usual cinnamon spice that you get from ryes, but rather a peppery spice with more bite than flavor.

As much as I wanted to love this, I found myself disappointed. This was my least favorite of their releases, including their standard small batch. That initial funky apple flavor really turned me off, and while those notes disappeared after those first two pours, it still did not live up to expectations. It was a good bourbon, but there was nothing about it that really stood out to me.

Grade: B

Friday, March 3, 2017

High West 14-Year Light Whiskey

- $100
- 92 Proof
- 14 Years
- Batch No. 1

I had heard well in advance of the release that High West was going to be releasing a "light whiskey." I had never heard of the term "light whiskey" before, and it certainly piqued my curiosity. I did some very high level research on the subject (in other words, I Googled it once), and I learned that light whiskey has been around for years. While it is not a diet whiskey, as its name might suggest, it is distilled at a higher proof and, unlike bourbon, is aged in used rather than new barrels. This gives it a lighter color. I also learned that it is commonly used as a blending agent, and not typically bottled on its own. Honestly, nothing about what I learned of it made me really interested in searching out a bottle.

However, on my recent trip to Utah I visited the High West Distillery, and, after our tour, I tasted what they called their "Reserve" flight. The second whiskey in this flight was the Light Whiskey. Now that a small pour was sitting right in front of me at the bar, my curiosity was once again piqued, and I was excited to give it a try.

The nose was absolutely amazing! It was butter and marshmallow, layered over vanilla, with hints of the sweet corn grain. It was like a rice crispy treat that got blended into a vanilla milk shake. I couldn't stop sticking the glass under my nose.

So, imagine my disappointment when I put that sample to my lips and, quite honestly, wasn't a huge fan of what I tasted. It was good, but it was sweet and simple. I was looking forward to something special and, while it was tasty, it just wasn't anything to write home to mom about.

Nonetheless, wanting to have something to bring home with me that I can't get back home (and luckily having received a $100 gift card as a present), I splurged and purchased what I knew was an overpriced bottle of merely decent whiskey. If figured, however, that (1) it's something I can't get anywhere else; and (2) it's unique and makes for a nice story.

So I got my bottle home and didn't do much with it for a while, until my neighbor came over and I wanted to give him a taste. We each poured a glass and I couldn't have been more shocked at what I tasted. The nose was still wonderful as ever, but the taste was significantly better than what I remembered at the distillery. My buyer's remorse (as rationalized as the purchase was), slowly began to fade.

With each subsequent pour I found myself enjoying this whiskey more and more. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing like a bourbon. In fact, it's my understanding that this is mostly a corn whiskey. But, it doesn't have the sharp edges and heat that any other corn whiskey I've tried has. Rather, this is soft and smooth, and most of all, buttery! It seemed to coat the mouth with that rice crispy treat flavor that was so prevalent on the nose. Where was this the first time I tasted this stuff?!?!

The flavor profile was more complex than that, however, as a sweet vanilla bean flavor seemed to underscore the other flavors, as did a subtle cornbread flavor. The sweetness seemed less artificial as well, coming across as more of a honey sweetness. It was almost a blend of rice crispy treats, vanilla bean ice cream and cornbread with honey. Put that in a blender and drink it!

Even now that this bottle is long empty, I am perplexed by it. I wasn't much of a fan, bought it anyway, and found myself really liking it! Though the price is prohibitive, its scarcity and uniqueness justify that a bit, and the flavor made it a pretty easy pill to swallow after all.

Grade: B+/A-

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Elijah Craig 18-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2016

- $140
- 90 Proof
- 18 Years
- Barrel No. 4271

First of all, I must give some big props to my local guy. On a random wine run to my corner shop for my wife, he let me know as I was checking out that they got in a bottle of Elijah Craig 18. "You want it?" he asked? I was so excited I had to refrain from doing the Night at the Roxbury bit ("No . . . . . YESSSSSS!!!!).

I loved last year's release of the 18-year, and I couldn't wait to try this year's. I actually cracked it open as my New Year's Eve pour. Due to extenuating circumstances that night (there may or may not have been some drinking involved), I didn't end up taking any notes of those first few pours. And I didn't get back to this bottle until weeks later, so my first real impressions were after this bottle had been open and given a chance to sit for a bit.

What I loved about last year's release was that it had a very nice blend of that dry, woodiness from the extra aging, but it was balanced well by its sweetness. My first impression of this release was that it lacked the sweetness of last year's release. The nose on this one is beautiful, heavy on the caramel, but also giving off the expected wood notes as well as a nice walnut note. It actually smelled sweet, like a walnut pie, or at least how I imagine a walnut pie would taste.

The taste is mostly just an oak bomb. The dry wood notes overwhelm. Buried underneath all the oak other flavors are hidden, however. There's a distinct nutmeg flavor, as well as a hidden vanilla flavor, though certainly not a sweet vanilla.

Interestingly, as I made my way through the bottle, the oak notes seemed to take a step back. I don't know if that's a result of the bourbon having had more time to breathe, or if it was just me getting accustomed to the flavor, but I began noticing other flavors as well. It had a slight cocoa flavor to it, and at times seemed to take on some red wine notes, kind of like a spicy, woody shiraz. Those wine notes seemed to go perfectly with the velvety texture of the bourbon, and I really began enjoying each pour.

Additionally, it did seem to sweeten up each time I went back to the bottle, such that by the last glass I found myself really enjoying it and wishing there were more to pour. By the end, it was an incredibly sweet, complex bourbon, having the heavy oak, but well-complemented by the underlying vanilla and dark fruit notes.

All in all, this bottle comes with a hefty price tag and a lot of time in the barrel. While the nose was amazing throughout, I didn't find myself REALLY enjoying this bottle (at least not $130-worth of enjoyment) until the very end. Perhaps it would serve well to be decanted, but I was a little disappointed with this year's release. While still very good, I expected much more after last year.

Grade: B+