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+