Sunday, December 28, 2014

The GlenDronach Revival 15 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $60
- 92 Proof
- 15 Years
- Region: Highlands

This bottle was given to me as a birthday present from my in-laws.  I gotta say, they have fine taste in selecting such a gift!  I had never had anything from the GlenDronach distillery, so I was very eager to give this a try.  I found myself frequently going back to this bottle, even when I had other options available to me.

This Highland single malt was matured in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, and the nose as well as the flavor profile show it.  The sherry scent overwhelms, muting the typical alcohol and barley aromas.  The whisky is darker, indicative of its age (and the darker color was apparently the primary factor for my father-in-law in selecting this particular bottle). 

It is definitely a fruity whisky, but it's well-balanced by the other flavors.  It is heavy on the sherry, but also has notes of dark fruits like blackberry and plum mixed well with a mild citrus quality.

Those fruity tones, however, give way quickly to toffee and chocolate flavors that seem to blend perfectly with the sherry finish. 

The sherry and dark chocolate linger in the back of the throat long after each sip, reminiscent of dark chocolate covered strawberries or cherries (though not quite).

Sherry whisky is not everybody's cup of tea, and understandably so.  But, as far as they go, this is one of the better ones I've tried, and when I'm in the mood for such a dram, I wouldn't hesitate to reach for this one.

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

- $60
- 80 Proof

It occurred to me that there are a number of types or styles of whiskey that have yet to make their way into this still-young blog, such as Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskeys.  Accordingly, I and my belly felt it necessary to work to remedy the situation.

My familiarity with Irish Whiskey did not extend much beyond Jameson's, but I had heard very good things about Green Spot Irish Whiskey, a whiskey that only relatively recently became available in the States.

I don't typically spend much time addressing the nose of the whiskeys I try.  Obviously, the taste is the most important factor.  This one, though, is noteworthy.  When I was in junior high and high school, my friends and I, just like every other suburban teenager, would hang out at the mall.  There was one shop in the mall called The Tinder Box that sold tobacco products, including cigars and pipe tobacco.  Though I rarely went in there, the store had an unmistakable and very enjoyable smell as we would walk past, likely dominated by the pipe tobacco.  Just walking past the shop we'd be hit with strong aromas of vanilla, cloves and other spices.

Long story short, Green Spot smells exactly like walking past the Tinder Box in the mall.  I could not stop raising the glass to my nose every time I poured a drink.  It was absolutely amazing to me, and took me back.

AS to the more important part, the taste, this is a very smooth and mild whiskey.  It was not strong, but had noticeable notes of vanilla and toasted nuts.  It has a nice woody flavor that I found I liked the most.  There were also slight undertones of citrus fruit, somewhat lemony.  However, the vanilla dominated and was the single flavor that remained on the tongue long after.

This is a sweet whiskey that is very easy to drink.  It has almost no burn at all.  It's not bold in any flavor, and perhaps it's only a matter of preference, but nothing about it really jumped out at me (except the nose).  Nonetheless, it's a good whiskey, and I would love a chance to try out Yellow Spot if it ever makes its way onto my local store's shelves.

Grade: B

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Distillery Tour - Portland's Distillery Row and More

Last week my wife and I made a trip to Portland to visit my family.  Portland has a nice up-and-coming craft distillery scene, and I was going to make certain that at least some of my time was spent getting to know that scene a bit more.

My brother-in-law shares in my enjoyment of whiskey, so I had my partner in crime.  Distillery Row is comprised of seven craft distilleries near downtown Portland, all, for the most part, within walking distance of each other.  To do a tour, all you have to do is stop by any one and purchase a Passport for $20, which gets you tastings at each distillery.  I couldn't really go wrong!

Our first stop was at House Spirits Distillery, makers of the Westward Oregon Single Malt Whiskey that I've reviewed previously.  Obviously I was already a fan of their whiskey, but I was eager to try their other products as well, including their best-seller, Aviator Gin.

After there we went to Eastside Distilling, New Deal Distillery and Stone Barn Brandy Works, hitting more than of Distillery Row on the first day.  We also went across town to check out Clear Creek distillery, a distillery known for growing pears and apples inside the bottles they use for their brandy.  It's really nothing more than a gimmick, as they merely pour the brandy over the fruit when bottling, but pretty neat nonetheless to see a full pear inside a bottle of brandy.

On the second day we finished the tour, hitting Rolling River Spirits, Vinn Distillery (offering gluten free products made from rice, including a spirit called Mijiu, which I've never had before), and Wild Roots Vodka, specializing in infused vodka.

I've dedicated this blog to whiskey reviews, so I'll keep the focus on whiskey.  However, below I've also identified what I think were the best of the best in other categories.  As to the whiskey, I knew I was already a fan of House Spirit's Westward Oregon.  Only one other distillery, however, had bourbon. 

Eastside Distilling offered Burnside Bourbon, a young bourbon aged 4 years, and Burnside Oregon Oaked Bourbon, a double barreled bourbon.  I found the 4 year bourbon much to my liking, offering many of the notes and flavors expected in a bourbon.  However, it's age showed, as it was missing the depth and boldness of a more well-aged bourbon.  The Oregon Oaked bourbon was a lighter bourbon, reminding me more of a single malt.  It was not a very complex bourbon, and lacked any sweetness or spiciness found in traditional bourbons.  They also had cherry and marionberry infused whiskies, both of which I found far too dominated by the fruit flavor, and would expect these to primarily be used as mixers.

New Deal Distillery did not have any whiskey offerings.  However, they had a special event the following day, and in conjunction with that event, they were releasing a small batch bourbon.  Because I enjoyed all the other products New Deal had to offer, I went ahead and purchased a bottle, which will surely be the subject of a review once I find the bottom.  Again, however, because of the bourbon's young age (aged only 1 year), other flavors came to the front, notably orange peel.

Stone Barn Brandy Works offered one of the more unique whiskeys, a white Oat Whiskey.  I found it interesting, but lacking in flavor for the most part.  Their Hoppin' Eights Whiskey reminded me of a Canadian Whiskey, but with a little more bite. 

Finally, Clear Creek Distillery, which specializes more in Eaux de Vie and Brandy, had a single malt whiskey, much in the Scotch tradition.  For a 3-year old whiskey, this was a smooth pour, carrying a slight peatiness and a mild oak flavor.  It had a clean finish, and I expect that at some point I'll be tracking down a bottle of this to give it a full try.

As to the other spirits I was able to sample, here are the best of the rest:

Best Gin:  There was a progression here.  I started with Aviator Gin, an excellent Gin from House Spirits.  I then tried the Portland Dry Gin 33 and Gin No. 1 from New Deal, and I was torn as to which I liked best.  However, on day two I finally made my way to Rolling River Spirits.  They only had two spirits available, a vodka and a gin, and their extra attention and focus to the craft of these spirits definitely showed in the final product.  The Rolling River Gin is possibly the best gin I've ever tasted.  It's light, mildly fruity, with notes of lavender.  This was one of my favorite spirits I tasted the whole trip!

Best Vodka:  I am not a vodka drinker, and I was not jumping at the opportunity to try every vodka put in front of me.  However, the Rolling River Vodka was very impressive.  It was a very smooth vodka, with minimal burn that went down very well.  I don't drink much vodka, but I could enjoy this stuff!

Best Flavored Vodka:  I couldn't pick just one here, so I've got three.  The first is the raspberry infused vodka from Wild Roots.  This stuff tasted like raspberry jelly.  I could just pour it over ice and drink it.  New Deal Distillery had two incredible flavored vodkas.  Mud Puddle is a cacao infused vodka which tasted like baking chocolate and was phenomenal.  Their other flavored vodka was a product called Hot Monkey.  This hot pepper flavored vodka not only has a great name, but it's flavor and kick were great, really profiling the flavor of the peppers, and not just the heat.

Best Coffee Liqueur:  Being in Portland, nearly every distillery had a coffee liqueur, each getting their coffee from a local brewer.  While each and every one was very good, the Coffee Liqueur from New Deal Distillery (made from Water Avenue Coffee) was at the top of the list for me.  This may be a personal preference more than anything, however, as this was the sweetest of the coffee liqueurs that I tried. 

Honorable Mentions:  The Oregon Brandy from Clear Creek Distillery was excellent, a very complex spirit that I actually enjoyed even more later the next evening, as my brother-in-law had picked up a bottle.  The rhubarb liqueur from Stone Barn Brandy Works was like drinking dessert.  Finally, the Below Deck Spiced Rum from East Side Distillery was excellent, one of the better spiced rums I've had (topping an admittedly short list). 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon 9 Year

- $70
- 123.2 Proof
- 9 years

While browsing the shelves the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, looking for the bottle I'd be enjoying during the long weekend, the purple wrapped Willett Family Private Single Barrels hand selected by Binny's were just screaming for me to give them a try. I had never had one of their private bottlings before, and this was just the kind of harder-to-find bottle I was hoping to get for the holiday. This particular barrel was aged for 9 years and bottled at 123.2 proof.

I cracked into the bottle the night before Thanksgiving, and the nose hit me with the alcohol burn of a higher proof bourbon, but also vanilla and leather.

The first thing I noted upon tasting it was the watery texture. I have found that more premium bourbons tend to be heavier, but that was not the case here. It did not detract from my enjoyment in any way, just something I wasn't expecting.

While enjoying my first glass, aside from the alcohol burn, I noticed the toffee and vanilla flavors, with an almost overly vanilla extract flavor that stuck in the back of my throat. It was good, but not as good as I expected.

The next day, though, after filling my belly with turkey and pie, I went back to the bottle, and it was a completely different whiskey. Even having been open for only one day, the sweetness exploded, serving as the perfect drink following a huge meal.

Not only was the corn sweetness now at the front, but the vanilla was less offensive, and now seemed to blend with a cereal flavored undertone, reminding me of frosted Cheerios (don't know how many of you have had this particular cereal, but it's one of my favorites!).

Oddly enough, that flavor then gave way to a bold Mexican chocolate flavor, with a mild cherry aftertaste. This dichotomy of flavors happened to go great with chocolate, particularly the fudge that my parents had sent me from Oregon a week prior for my birthday.

This was an excellent bourbon, and I look forward to the chance to try some of their other private bottlings.

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Kentucky Rye Whiskey Bottled in Bond

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve perused through the rye section of my local liquor store and seen the tall, yellow tin just begging me to give it a try. The price, however, at around $70, had always dissuaded me, as there were always others I wanted to try.

However, for my birthday, my wife had me pick out whatever I wanted (within a budget, of course), so I seized the opportunity to finally give this a go. Long story short, I was very pleased I did, and found myself wishing I had grabbed a bottle sooner.

The most noticeable difference between this and other ryes, is the smoothness of the rye spice. I’ve had others where the spice really has a bite to it, and it really requires a balancing act. With this rye, the spice is there and still dominates the whiskey, as it should. However, it does so in an inoffensive manner, making it very enjoyable.

Behind the spice, this rye has distinct caramel and cola flavors to match its dark color. As I made my way through the bottle, I determined that the most prominent flavor, though, is what could only be described as chocolate-plum.

This is a very rich rye, matching its thickness. Frequently people will say that a whiskey has “legs.” This one has some very sturdy, gymnast-strength legs to it.

Overall, this is one of the best ryes that I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. I expect I will be turning my eyes toward the E.H. Taylor bourbon in the very near future.

Grade: B+

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Small Batch 9 Year

Once again, this is a standard bourbon that I had not yet tried, and I felt that it was one that I needed to at least be familiar with.  It's an inexpensive, readily available bourbon. I would otherwise hate myself if something great at a nice price were sitting there all this time and I never even knew it.

So, I gave the Knob Creek 9 year a shot.  The first thing I noticed was the consistency.  Frequently the darker whiskies are also on the thicker side.  This one had a more watery consistency however.

There were two distinct flavors that stood out, both of which were somewhat unique.  The first was a distinct, lingering mint flavor.  I didn't notice it up front, but it was definitely there at the back of my throat after each swallow.  It wasn't necessarily good or bad; it was just there.

The second flavor that stood out to me was cherries.  And I'm not talking about that fake cherry flavor or the cough syrup flavor.  I'm talking about the kind you pick off a tree and eat.  It wasn't a strong or prominent flavor, but it was definitely noticeable, and something I really enjoyed about this bourbon.

After having the bottle open for a few days, what had otherwise hit me as somewhat of a ho-hum bourbon improved, seemingly getting spicier, a black pepper kind of spice.  I also tasted a distinct maple flavor that I had not noticed initially.

It's not a complex or bold bourbon, but I would certainly consider it to be better than average, one I would certainly go to where choices may otherwise be somewhat limited.

Grade: B-

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bulleit Small Batch Rye Whiskey

My wife and I got into watching Bar Rescue. For anyone that follows the show, you'll know that for each bar they rescue, they come up with signature cocktails for the bar to sell.  Inevitably, where a recipe calls for rye, it's Bulleit Rye they use.  So, I went into this one knowing it's frequently used as a mixer.

Rye often has so much flavor, however, that even the standard ryes such as Bulleit will have enough flavor and spice to stand alone.  Such is the case with Bulleit rye.

"Mixing" whiskies, I've found, tend to be thinner, less bold in flavors.  This is perhaps so as not to overpower the other flavors with which they are mixed.  Bulleit rye stays true to the typically boldness and spiciness of ryes.  It is tasty and sweet, with that kick of the spicy rye standing out.

It had a lingering mint flavor that I was not expecting and caught me a bit off guard.  As I progressed through this bottle, though, I kept getting stuck on something I was tasting but I couldn't quite place.  It wasn't until I was about 2/3rds through the bottle before I finally placed it.  I was distinctly tasting Southern Comfort.

At first I enjoyed the tang that the Southern Comfort flavor added to the rye.  Unfortunateley, though, by the end of the bottle, it just really turned me off, and I was yearning for a more traditional rye flavor, without the unidentifiable tanginess.

Overall, I would put this a touch below your average rye, somewhat disappointing, even when I wasn't expecting a whole lot going in.

Grade: C-

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bowmore Small Batch Reserve Single Malt Scotch

I've alluded in other posts to the fact that I am prejudiced in that I feel I prefer darker whiskies (fully recognizing that it's completely possible for a lighter whisky to have great flavor, and likewise, for a dark whisky to taste bad).  I've always been intrigued by Bowmore's Darkest Scotch, as the name just calls to me, though I've never pulled the trigger.

The other night I had a fellow Scotch drinker coming to my house, so I knew I had to buy a bottle of something.  I had just read a list of top Scotches for $40 and under as chosen by various people within the industry, and making the list was the Bowmore Small Batch.  While not the Darkest, it was nonetheless a chance for me to try what is one of Bowmore's flagship Scotches.  So I had my target as I headed to the liquor store.

As an Islay Scotch, I expected it to be a peaty Scotch.  Some people are put off by peat.  I like it, so long as it complements and does not distract from the other flavors in the Scotch.  This is such a Scotch.  You're hit with the peat in the nose and in the first sip.  You can almost smell the smokiness on your clothes after you gulp it down.

However, it provides a great, even if surprising, complement to the green apple flavor that almost immediately follows.  This is not an apple-wine type flavor, but rather reminded me of cool, fresh, crisp granny smith apples.

It then finished with the lingering smoke and a hints of vanilla and pine that also worked really well together.  I found I really enjoyed this with a single ice chip thrown in.  It really helped bring the other flavors out from behind the peat to make it a very enjoyable whisky.

Grade: B

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jefferson's Reserve Very Old Very Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $55
- 90.2 Proof

While perusing the shelves at the local Binny's, my eyes were drawn to a bottle that I've looked at and thought about before but just never pulled the trigger on.  This time, though, I had no excuse.

I didn't know much about Jefferson's Reserve, but as I understood, it is an Indiana company that barreled and blended bourbon sourced from Kentucky.  Even that may not be completely accurate, I still don't know.  (EDIT: Jefferson's was kind enough to thank me for my review and inform me that it is a Kentucky company sourcing American whiskey. I was clearly misinformed, but glad to have it cleared up as I wasn't certain in the first place). Nonetheless, I grabbed the bottle of Very Old Very Small Batch Bourbon.

The name may seem a bit silly (almost as if it's trying too hard to tell the consumer this is something worth paying a few extra dollars for).  However, the name/description aside, I found this to be a seriously good bourbon.

This is a bourbon that I would primarily describe as buttery.  It's somewhere in the middle as far as its body. It's not watery, but it's not too thick either.

The flavor makes this bourbon, and it was honestly unlike any other bourbon I had.  The buttery flavor underscored a nice blend of vanilla and cocoa.  There's a slight hint of coffee, and the oaky wood-tone usually seen in more mature bourbons came through as well.  I couldn't help but be reminded of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.

This was a bottle that I absolutely devoured.  While I still have plenty of other bottles I want to try, I would not hesitate to grab another bottle of this.  Granted, because they're produced in "very" small batches, there may be some change in flavor from bottle to bottle, but I'd be comfortable in taking that chance.

Grade: A

Monday, November 10, 2014

Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

This is another staple in the bourbon industry that I felt I needed to give a go.  I grabbed this bottle for a recent family camping trip, with the plan of sipping on a glass or two each night by the dwindling fire after the kids were in bed.

The bourbon is a thicker, darker bourbon.  On the first pour, this made it seem very promising to me.  I took a sip and I got all the flavors I expect and hope for from a decent bourbon.  I got an inoffensive nose of vanilla and wood, with a little spice.  The flavor profile matched, starting with the same vanilla and wood flavors, with a hint of coffee flavor.

But then it hit me.  A flavor that at first I couldn't pinpoint, but one that stuck in the back of my throat.  I was about halfway through my first glass when I realized what it was.  Cherry cough syrup.  It was distinct and unavoidable.  I wouldn't notice it as the whiskey was in my mouth, but after each swallow, that was the taste that chose to stick around, and as with actual cough syrup, it stuck around for a while.

I trudged through the bottle, but this is one of those times where the bottle only got worse the more I drank.  I just could not shake that flavor, and, as I sit here writing this, I'm surprised I actually remembered anything else I may have noticed before having my senses offended.

This is one that I will definitely stay far away from, and, if Woodford's other products share a common profile, I'll be hesitant to experiment with those.

Grade: D

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Though it may seem odd to do a review of what is very much a staple in the bourbon industry, I nonetheless felt the need to familiarize myself and enjoy a bottle of Buffalo Trace's flagship bourbon.

Going in I knew not to expect something elaborate and complex.  I knew not to expect to be wowed and blown away.  That being said, for what it is, a day-to-day bourbon, probably what some consider a "mixer" bourbon, this is an excellent drink!

Don't get me wrong, it is simple.  It has all the expected flavors of a good bourbon - corn, vanilla, rye, with hints of toffee and wood.  Yet none of them really stood out.  All of these flavors (all good flavors in my book) kind of blended together so that no one flavor particularly stood out or defined the whiskey.  It also came across as relatively weak in flavor, far from the boldness that I prefer in my whiskey.

If someone unfamiliar with bourbons asked me what I would consider to be a typical bourbon, this would be it.  It's not necessarily what I would recommend (I would recommend Eagle Rare 10 Year to any bourbon novice as a great place to start), but certainly it is a baseline whiskey, against which all other comparisons would be made.

I guess it's appropriate that I gave it the grade I did, then.

Grade: C

Speyburn Bradan Oruch Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The other day my good friend and his in-laws were visiting. Knowing his father-in-law to be a Scotch drinker, I abided by normal customs and grabbed a new bottle to share that evening. Luckily for me, he had the same idea, and he brought with him a bottle of Speyburn.

Initially, we went back and forth between this bottle and the more peaty whisky that I had picked up. It's possible that this is the reason that I was not initially impressed. Perhaps the contract in flavor profiles made it difficult to appreciate what this whiskey has to offer.

Being the nice and forgiving guy I am (as well as being one not to let any whisky go to waste), I had a second go-round with it, and my persistence paid off.

This is a very smooth whisky, light on the nose and on the tongue. It's not too thick and is very drinkable.

The flavor profile is very much on the fruity side. Grapes are the most prominent flavor, providing a white wine taste, along with a strong, crisp apple flavor that hits the tongue from beginning to end. It comes across as citrusy as well, primarily a lemon undertone.

Although it did not have the vanilla/toffee/cinnamon undertones that I find myself most drawn to in whiskies, this is one Scotch where I appreciated and enjoyed the apple and citrus profile for what it is, and would definitely buy again, especially at its very moderate price.  It won't knock your socks off, but is certainly a value whisky, providing nice flavor at a good price.

Grade: C+

Friday, November 7, 2014

Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Proof

This is supposed to be the younger brother of its Senior, the regular George T. Stagg from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. While I have never had the regular Stagg, when I found Jr. on the shelves, I had to try it. Especially with it coming in at a whopping 134.4 proof (which, as I understand it, means this was from the first batch).

The first thing I noticed is the dark color. For whatever reason (and it all could very well be in my head), I gravitate towards darker whiskeys, whether it's Scotch, Bourbon or otherwise. So, I was eager to dive into this.

But my eagerness hit a wall upon getting a good strong whiff. As would be expected from such a high proof whiskey, I couldn't really get past the smell of the alcohol.

My first sip had a lot of burn, which masked much of the flavor of the whiskey. I had only sipped it neat, just to get the taste. I prefer my pours with a single ice cube (some say yay and some say nay to this practice, but it's just that balance that I've found I enjoy). So I plopped on into my healthy-sized glass, let the water tame the burn a bit, and sat down to enjoy.

While the burn was still there, as in a drink this strong it's never going to quite go away entirely, the whiskey had otherwise transformed into something incredibly yummy. I'm talking pecan pie with chocolate and vanilla ice cream yummy, or even Snickers with a caramel drizzle yummy. It very much became a dessert with a kick.

I completely devoured this bottle. One pour was never enough, and the thought of the next made me salivate. If the flavor profile of George T. Stagg is anything like Stagg, Jr., then I need to start doing the work of tracking down a bottle. I can't wait to try the follow-up batches of this stuff.

Grade: A

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Glenlivet Archive 21 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

This is one of the pricier bottles I’ve had the pleasure of finishing off. I got this as a gift from a friend of mine (good friend, I know!!), and I could not have been more excited to try this.

After cracking the seal on the box and briefly appreciating the nice wooden frame the bottle came in, I poured my first drink and sat down to enjoy.

All I could say was, “Wow!” I had been enjoying Scotch, but not Scotch like this! This scotch has a darker, amber color to it (perhaps a trait I may begin looking for). From the first sip to the last yummy drop, this whisky tasted amazing!

It was sweet, with bold vanilla and cinnamon flavors. Those gave way to the more savory barley grain along with an almost mocha flavor. There was no spice or smokey peatiness to it, but it had the smoothness I’ve come to expect from Speyside whisky. It also carried undertones of oak and pecan to keep it from coming across as too sweet.

This was a Scotch that I treasured and stored at the top of my pantry for months, not wanting to finish off the bottle and be without. However, this was one that I made a point to share with friends and visiting relatives, wanting everyone to enjoy what I considered an absolute treat. Eventually, though, I could stay away no longer, as that bottle at the top of my pantry kept beckoning me, like sirens to the rocky shore, and it was either drink it or go mad.

This is one of the best whiskies I have ever tasted, and is absolutely my gold standard.

Grade: A+

Monday, October 27, 2014

FEW Spirits Rye Whiskey

This distillery opened up not too long ago relatively close to my neck of the woods (that being the Chicago area generally—it's still over an hour away). However, when I happened to have an early afternoon meeting for work in Evanston only a couple blocks away, I had to visit the distillery.

At first I thought I might have had the address wrong. All I saw were store fronts, with no indication of a distillery nearby. However, after getting out of my car and wandering around in the rain for a bit, I finally found the place tucked back at the end of an alley. From the outside, it looked like nothing more than an old garage that is now only used for storage.

However, I stepped inside to a nice welcoming area of the distillery and the heavy scent of corn mash (a smell I grew familiar with when I was young and growing up near Pekin, Illinois). I perused the selection of spirits offered by FEW distillery, including a white whiskey, a standard whiskey and multiple gins.

I was there for the whiskey, though, and, quite frankly, I already knew that the bottle I'd be bringing home was the rye. That being said, I couldn't leave without first tasting a couple nips of the whiskey and the bourbon, both fine offerings, though both tasting their age (approximately 2 years).

The owner was nice enough to dismantle a gift set in order to sell me the last bottle of the rye they had in stock, and I went on my merry way. I hope to get back sometime soon for a tour when I might have more time.

On to the whiskey. FEW Rye offers everything you'd expect from a well-established rye. Despite being only 2 years old, it still offers that strong contract of spicy and sweet. The corn is very noticeable, but the rye is by no means overpowered, providing a strong taste of rye bread.

Additionally, notes of vanilla and honey hit the tongue, followed shortly by plum and berry flavors, with a hint of orange at the end. The flavors all converge for one tasty whiskey that I found myself going right back to over and over.

This rye absolutely does not betray its age, providing as robust and complex a flavor as its older counterparts—an excellent rye!

Grade: B+

Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel Bottled in Bond Straight Kentucky Bourbon

I found this whiskey to be a very drinkable, every day type of bourbon. To me it serves very much of what one should expect from your typical, relatively inexpensive bourbon.

The body is a bit heavier than most, however. It has a slightly syrupy feel to it. However, it also has a flavor profile to match, rather than just hitting you with sugary sweetness like some other syrupy whiskies.

The flavor is smoky, and has a mild peppery spice to go along with, almost like smoked meats without the meat flavor, if that makes sense. It also has a light woodiness, and it is all well-complemented by the sweet corn flavor.

The one noticeable feature of this whiskey was a lingering mint flavor, which I did not notice until after I swallowed. It was a spearmint flavor that lingered in the back of my throat. It wasn't overpowering such that I didn't enjoy it, nor did it make me fall in love. It was just something that I noticed, something which may turn people on or off this whiskey.

All in all, this is a bottle I would definitely buy again, and one that I would recommend to anyone who may not be all that familiar with bourbons.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Westward Small Batch Oregon Straight Whiskey

- $50
- 90 Proof

I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of this from my parents for Father's Day. They live just outside Portland and made a trip to House Spirits Distillery just to grab a bottle for me and bring it with when they visited.

The first thing that must be fronted about this whiskey is the cost. A 375 ml bottle of this whiskey will set you back a cool $50. A very steep price for such a young whiskey. I realize that craft distillers such as House Spirits need to earn back their investment as soon as possible and can't wait for their whiskey to age, but this price is nonetheless prohibitive.

That being said, I was still happy to get a chance to try this whiskey that is otherwise unavailable on the shelves by me, particularly when it was gifted to me.

On the first sip, the whiskey tasted its age. It wasn't complex, and nothing particularly stood out, other than the prominent taste of wood.

However, I let the bottle sit for a couple weeks and revisited it, and I could not have been more impressed. What was otherwise a boring whiskey transformed into something excellent. Suddenly the whiskey burst with flavors of toasted almonds and honey. The barley and bread flavors were much more prominent, muting the previously strong wood flavor. It also took on a grassy, almost hoppy flavor.  

This is a single malt whiskey that bears more resemblance to Scotch than to bourbon. While at first I was disappointed, I found that by the end of the bottle this was a very enjoyable whiskey, tasting much more complex than it should at its age. Even though the cost may be a bit prohibitive, it left me wanting more.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Old Pulteney 21 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Considering this whisky just recently was rated the best whisky in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, it’s no wonder that my wife, not knowing one bottle from the next, saw this honor and figured she couldn’t go wrong in buying a bottle for me. Not only did she not go wrong, she went very, very right!!

I’m not going to bury the lead in this instance. This is one of the best whiskies I’ve ever had, definitely in my top two, and perhaps my number one (I’d have a hard time choosing between this or the Glenlivet Archive 21 Year – a review for a later day).

With my first sip, I knew I had something special. This whisky presented with robust vanilla, brown sugar, apple (raw, not cooked) and caramel flavors. Sounds like a classic American dessert, I know. I could easily make this whisky my go-to dessert for any special occasion.

It is smooth from the start to the finish, coating the mouth only as much as is necessary to deliver the sweet flavors and not leave any stickiness or lingering sugar behind.

As much as I wanted to save this bottle, finding its juice to be too good for just every day enjoyment, I couldn’t help but keep on pouring a drink here and there. It was just that good!! An absolutely outstanding whiskey.

Grade: A+

Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $32
- 100 Proof

As my first foray into the Four Roses brand, I went with the Four Roses Single Barrel. This is a higher proof bourbon, coming in at 100 proof. The nose certainly indicates as such, hitting the nostrils with a heavy burn.

However, on the tongue, while that burn is there, it’s not as overbearing as I expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a “sipping” bourbon through and through. But, it is full-bodied and full-flavored, making any lingering alcohol burn hardly noticeable.

The palate is sweet, with strong chocolate, vanilla and toffee and flavors coming through. I also noticed a bit of cinnamon, backed by a present but not strong wood flavor.

The finish is a nice blend of citrus and spice. The spice and wood tones, lingered long after, as did a hint of the chocolate flavor providing just enough sweetness to leave me desiring that next sip as soon as I could get it.

The body (and I don’t talk much about the body) was exactly what I look for in a whiskey. Somewhere right in the middle of watery and syrupy. It’s full-bodied without feeling sticky.

This whiskey taught me two things: (1) I need to try other Four Roses offerings, including some of the private select bottlings, and (2) absolutely great whiskey can be had without breaking the bank. Because I can find it nearly anywhere and at a nice price, this is now my go-to bottle.

Grade: B+

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Elijah Craig 12 Year Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $24
- 94 Proof

As noted previously, I’m relatively new to bourbon. So, I’ve been making it a point to try a number of the “staples,” or the readily available, inexpensive bottles. One thing I’ve found with bourbon is you don’t need to go too deep into your wallet to find quality whiskey.

The Elijah Craig 12 year was promising. It’s a well-aged whiskey from a reputable distillery. I figured I could not go wrong. However, this bottle left those promises unfulfilled (and perhaps my expectations were too high).

It did not provide any stand-out flavors, with everything kind of blending together in one, average bourbon. The only thing that really set it apart from any other bourbon was its spiciness, but even that wasn’t strong enough to really give it character.

The oak flavor does stand out, giving the whiskey a woody and earthy flavor. Unfortunately, it seemed to mask the sweetness of the bourbon. At 94 proof, although it’s not a high alcohol content, the burn still came through and lingered longer than I expected it to.

I deliberately held off on drinking this for about a week after opening, hoping that the oxygen might tame the burn and enhance some of the flavors that were just too subtle for me to notice in my first pour. Unfortunately, this was an instance where the bourbon remained consistent from the first pour to the last.

Grade: C+

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bernheim Original Small Batch Wheat Whiskey

I’ve never had a wheat whiskey before. I had tried the Four Kings collaborative whiskey, one-eighth of which was Corsair Distillery’s whiskey distilled from smoked wheat.

As someone who seems to find hints of vanilla and/or cinnamon in nearly every whiskey I drink, I noticed neither of these here. The flavor of the grain stands out in this whiskey. Usually, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like the spicy/sweet of rye, the sweetness of corn and the buttery notes that usually come with barley. Wheat, however, just reminds me of bread, and not the robust flavor of rye bread or yummy banana nut bread. Just plain wheat bread.

If a whiskey isn’t aiming for sweet, I’m okay with that. However, it needs to be bold in the flavors that it is aiming for. If a whiskey is intended to have a woody flavor, I can get on board with that. But I’m not sure what the Bernheim Wheat is going for, other than the flavor of the wheat (perhaps playing that “unique” angle), but the wheat grain just isn’t strong enough to carry the flavor all on its own.

I noticed some saltiness and roasted nuts flavors. As the whiskey lingered, wood flavor came through, particularly at the very end.

As someone who started from Scotch and then began learning about and trying bourbons, I hoped this might give me a nice option for something in between the two. Unfortunately, whether it’s Scotch, Bourbon or otherwise, I like my whiskey’s to be strong and bold in flavor, not subtle. The Bernheim Wheat just comes across as soft. It’ s tasty and inoffensive, but not overly impressive.

Grade: C+