Monday, December 28, 2015

Willett Family Estate 2-Year Straight Rye Whiskey


On a somewhat fortuitous lunch-time hunt, in addition to a couple other nice scores, my local store had also just received a shipment of the Willett Family Estate 2-year ryes. I've previously had the 8-year rye, which was sourced from MGP. As a commenter in that post correctly pointed out, Willett only recently began distilling their own rye, and their own product is accordingly only two years old, and more recently three years.

As incredible as that 8-year was, I couldn't wait to try out the 2-year and taste the fruits of Willett's labors.

Immediately upon opening I was smacked in the face with the aroma of this rye. It has a very bold, sweet nose that smells amazing. It was tough to put my finger on but could best be described as caramel and coffee, like a macchiato. It was a strong, yet wonderful scent that had my mouth watering in anticipation of that first sip.

Although the palate didn't necessarily match the nose, it was nonetheless just as yummy. I did find this rye to be somewhat unique in its flavor, though. It tasted like a warm apple Danish or a bear claw. Though not overwhelming, I couldn't help but notice a persistent apple cider flavor, along with cinnamon and brown sugar. This really was dessert whiskey, or perhaps even a breakfast whiskey for those who like their sweets in the morning!

Despite being a high-proof rye, clocking in at 110 proof, it seemed to have almost no burn. It had just enough spice at the end to help warm me up, but make no mistake, this is predominantly a sweet rye.

It also came across as a very complex rye, aided, I'm sure, by the fact that it's barrel proof. As I worked through this bottle, other flavors developed. I detected a bit of anise and maple, and the coffee notes that I noticed initially in the nose began to permeate. Surprisingly, it seemed to get even sweeter, but never too sweet, as it was always more of a brown sugar sweetness that was at all times balanced just enough by the rye spice, like good, spicy hard candy.

Word on the streets is the 3-year rye will be making its way across the country this January. Should I come across one, I won't hesitate a second to buy it, because the 2-year was incredible.

Grade: A

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Barton 1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon


The large print numbers "1792" have seemingly stared at me from the shelves for years. The bottle provides little information on the front label--no backstory, no age-statement, not even the name of the distiller. Although that is, in some respects, a bit refreshing (marketing only what's inside the bottle for the most part), I nonetheless put off trying this one until now.

After having finally found my way to the bottom of this bottle, I wish I had picked it up sooner. Upon first opening the bottle, I knew I had a good bourbon here. I was hit with caramel and vanilla, along with the distinct scent of orange peel, a blend that made my mouth water. There was also a slight pipe-tobacco scent that was subtle, yet very inviting.

The flavor was a bit softer than its nose. It's a relatively simple, somewhat watery bourbon. The most prominent flavors were burnt sugar and vanilla, set against a cereal backdrop. Surprisingly I was hit with a hint of black pepper spice towards the end.

Although I considered this a simple bourbon, it increased in complexity after being open for a bit, the flavor eventually catching up to the nose.

That pepper spice developed into a richer, more familiar rye spice that presented throughout, from the beginning of each sip to the finish. Also, the flavors seemed to hang around a bit longer than they did initially.  Most noticeably, a butterscotch flavor seemed to hang at the back of my throat, making this very enjoyable.

This was an interesting bottle. The nose promised more than I initially got from the bourbon. However, after leaving it open for a bit, the flavor profile changed considerably for the better. It was a lot like Old Grand-Dad 114 in this respect.

I'm not going to tell you that this is a great bourbon and you need to run out and get a bottle. However, my verdict is that 1792 is certainly near the top of my rankings for bourbons in the $25 and under price range, and one I would buy again.

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Its name sounds awesome, like something out of Game of Thrones. It's got a cool-shaped bottle, and it comes with a key around the neck. And it's because of these things that to this point I've refrained from buying a bottle of Diageo's Blade and Bow Bourbon. It was almost a matter of principle, that I didn't want to pay more for marketing gimmicks and fancy packaging only to drink an inferior product.

But, here I am writing about it, so obviously my curiosity got the best of me, despite my principles, fickle as they are.

The aroma was your standard vanilla and caramel, with a little bit of almond in the mix. Nothing overwhelming or particularly unique, and the flavor followed suit.

My first impressions were that it's somewhat watery in texture, and not very strong (it clocks in at 91 proof). Though the traditional bourbons flavors come through, it does have a mild bite to it at the end. It reminded me somewhat of Jim Beam White Label in that it's fairly one-dimensional.

After having it open a bit, it gained a little bit of complexity. The wheat in the mashbill began to come through, providing a mild, earthy undertone to the vanilla and caramel flavors. The finish disappointed, though. None of the flavor remained, perhaps due to the watery texture.

It also sweetened up a bit after being open for a week or so. Perhaps this was due to the wheat, but in any event, I found it much more enjoyable than when I first poured a glass. It became more caramel forward, as well as a mild note of cloves. It also took on a slight pear flavor to boost the sweetness. Although the finish changed a bit, I wasn't certain if it was for the better or the worse, as a distinct flavor of orange peel lingered.

Ultimately, my concerns over the use of gimmicky packaging to make up for inferior booze were founded. This bourbon really came across as only a small step above your standard, every day, grocery store bourbons. But at least I have a really cool key . . .

Grade: B-

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky


Count this among the dozens of other new reviews of Crown Royal's Northern Harvest Rye following Jim Murray's naming it the 2016 Whiskey of the Year. But, the flux of reviews makes sense. After all, for once he selected a whisky that is not only available, but also affordable. I never expected that he'd pick a whisky that has a screw top.

Considering this rye is readily available at nearly every grocery store and liquor store, and for only about $27, it was an easy decision to grab a bottle the next time I was at the store. Who knows if I ever would have gotten around to trying this one if it weren't for Murray telling that I should.

The nose is very good, giving off the traditional rye spices, but in a somewhat muted fashion. It's not nearly as in-your-face as some of the high proof American ryes, even despite being 90% rye.

At 90 proof, there is no burn whatsoever with this (which is common among the Crown Royal line). Though it's definitely a rye, it is also definitely a Canadian whiskey. Perhaps I'm demonstrating a bit of a prejudice, here, but Canadian whiskeys, ryes in particular, always come across as a bit folksy. They're inoffensive and non-threatening. They're not bold and as far as their flavor goes, they play it safe. This one is really no different.

Up front it provided familiar notes of cinnamon and cloves, underscored by a toasty, light wood flavor that carried throughout. It's sweetened just a bit by a very light maple syrup flavor.

On the back end it has a cooling, menthol flavor, contrasting well with the cinnamon notes in a sort of icy hot flavor that I really enjoyed (but it didn't taste like the product Icy Hot, which I'd imagine is not all that enjoyable). Unfortunately, the whiskey comes across a bit watery, though, so the flavors do not linger very long.

All in all, this is not my "Whiskey of the Year." I've had plenty of better whiskies this past year. However, as far as value goes, this one is tough to beat. It's a very good whisky that is affordable and readily available, and there's a lot to be said for that.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Koval Single Barrel Bourbon and Koval Single Barrel Rye Whiskey


For my birthday I received a sampler pack from Koval Distillery in Chicago. The pack consists of three, 200 ml bottles of their three main whiskies, their Bourbon, their Rye and their Four Grain Whiskey. A great birthday present, indeed, and I couldn't wait to crack into these. Although this blog is typically devoted to full bottles that I've finished, allowing me to give each whiskey a full and fair opportunity, these bottles are at least slightly larger than your typical samples. Plus, I'm drinking them anyway, so I figured I might as well take notes and post my thoughts.

I've reviewed the Four Grain Whiskey previously on this blog, so I'm only reviewing the Koval Bourbon and Koval rye here. However, I will take a brief moment to note that I enjoyed the Four Grain Whiskey more the second time around than the first, perhaps because I knew what to expect out of its unique flavor profile. Still a bit of an odd and acquired taste, but a bit more enjoyable this time.

As for the Bourbon and the Rye . . .

Koval Bourbon

The nose on this bourbon was very sweet, sugary sweet. It was not the traditional caramel, vanilla or toffee aromas that bourbon usually gives off. It also had an odd, ethanol smell to it that was a bit reminiscent of nail polish. This was very much a foreshadowing of what was to come once I poured a glass.

I had a hunch going in, and my fears were confirmed. Though called a bourbon, this did not taste like a bourbon. I've been here before with another small, craft distillery's "bourbon," though this experience was not AS bad as that one.

Though this is definitely a whiskey, and it was drinkable, to call itself a bourbon is misleading, at least to the extent that I've come to expect a certain type of flavor profile to exist within every bourbon (even though those flavors can vary greatly from bourbon to bourbon). This was something else. It lacked any notes of vanilla, caramel or even oak that I've come to expect from my bourbons.

Rather, I primarily noticed an artificial sweetener type of sweetness, mixed with mild flavors of apple and honey-wheat bread. Needless to say, it was an odd flavor.

My second and third pours yielded better results, however. Though it still wasn't bourbon-ish, the more traditional grain flavors began to come through, including a stronger wheat bread flavor, along with some mild baking spices coming through.

Although this "bourbon" did not entirely redeem itself, it did show some improvement. I'm not certain, though, that it got to a point where a full bottle might warrant consideration. Needless to say, this sample bottle certainly does not have me running to the store to stock a full bottle.

Grade: D+


Koval Rye

This is a very high-rye rye whiskey, pretty much as high as it can get at 100% rye. Interestingly, though, and completely unexpectedly, the nose comes across almost fruity. It is undeniably a rye whiskey, but I also distinctly noticed apple and pear on the nose. Unfortunately, it also gave off a distinct nail polish aroma that was a bit of a turn-off.

On the first sip, all I could say was "Wow!" In fact, sitting on my couch, watching Netflix, I actually exclaimed "Wow!" out loud. My wife wasn't sure what it meant, whether that was a good or a bad reaction. As I type this, I'm still not sure which it was. The "Wow!" was in reaction to how incredibly sweet this rye is. The sugary up front flavor was like dark corn syrup. Although the syrupy thickness wasn't there, the heavy, syrupy sweetness certainly was.

Also immediately noteworthy was that despite this being a 100% rye whiskey, the spice was not anywhere near as strong as I had expected or even hoped for. In fact, it was a pretty mild rye in that sense.

As off-putting as the initial syrup bomb was, once I got past that initial blast of sweetness, the whiskey had pretty good taste, smoothing out to a nice blend of apple, clove and brown sugar flavors that I found very enjoyable once they were uncovered. However, that was all somewhat offset by a mild but noticeable cherry cough syrup undertone.

In the end, this whiskey required more work than I generally care to put in to get to the enjoyable part, and even then, what was enjoyable could not make up for what was not.

Grade: C

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Redemption Rye Whiskey

Although I try my best to ignore it, sometimes I can't help but notice that oddly shaped or different bottle sitting on the shelves. Perhaps that's why I've always been aware of Redemption Rye but have never actually tried it. It's tall, slender bottle makes it both literally and figuratively stand out from all the other whiskeys. Up until now, though, it hadn't quite been enough to cause me to pluck a bottle off the shelf.

I went to my local liquor store looking for a relatively inexpensive bottle for the night, and I had rye on my mind. So, it was finally time to give Redemption Rye a chance. Bottled by Bardstown Barrel Selections, but distilled by MGP in Indiana, Redemption is a high-rye rye, with a mashbill consisting of 95% rye.

The nose was a gave off the traditional rye spice aromas, with a bit of a cloves scent as well. It's a 92 proof rye, so the alcohol was not strong on the nose.

The most noticeable thing upon first sipping this whiskey is its sweetness. It has a strong brown sugar flavor up front, which was unexpected and shocked the palate a bit. That overly-sweet flavor, though, gave way pretty quickly to the rye spice. That first sip was very tasty and really warmed the chest. My immediate impression was that for an inexpensive, young rye (only aged "Less Than 4 Years"), this was a pretty decent whiskey.

As I worked my way through this bottle, I remained impressed with the flavor of such a young whiskey. It had no alcohol heat, but plenty of spice. The more I drank, the more the cinnamon tones came through. At one point the cinnamon seemed to come on so strong I likened it to chewing on a cinnamon stick. It was that same kind of woody, cinnamon flavor that permeated the whiskey, forcing the brown sugar aside. 

I enjoyed this bottle from beginning to end, even as it evolved the way it did. It started off very sweet, and it ended very spicy, but it remained a very tasty and flavorful rye throughout. Although it was not complex, and although it came across a bit watery in texture, this was nonetheless a very enjoyable rye and a good value.

Not to editorialize, but it's been my experience that many distilleries, including young, upstart craft distilleries, are able to make good rye whiskeys. It's making a "great" rye, however, that appears to be elusive. Redemption falls into the former category of good ryes produced by smaller companies (or, at least, sourced by smaller companies). I can't say for certain I'd go to the store again with the intention of grabbing a bottle, but if I found myself at a bar where Redemption is an option, there's a good chance it could end up in my glass.

Grade: B

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Orphan Barrel Forged Oak 15 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Forged Oak is the latest of the Orphan Barrel bourbons to grace my glass, and perhaps the last of what's been released to date (unless I stumble into some Rhetoric). Interestingly, it's the youngest that I've tried to date, and it is my favorite.

Possibly due in large part to the younger age, this bourbon, despite its name, does not have the same wood and tannic flavors that the other Orphan Barrel releases all shared. Yet, it didn't come across as an overly sweet bourbon either. Rather, Forged Oak found a very nice place in between, and I found myself really enjoying it (perhaps too much at times).

At first it came across just as a typical, drinkable bourbon, reminding me of a "chewier" Bonded Beam. Mild vanilla and walnut flavors were noticeable, with a light brown sugar sweetness. Accordingly, the first poor left me unimpressed, particularly given the price.

However, after that first pour, it was a few weeks before I went back to the bottle, and when I did, I found a much different bourbon. This time around very strong vanilla and almond flavors were prominent. The bourbon had sweetened up significantly, and it reminded me of Amaretto liqueur. It didn't taste like the liqueur, though. It just reminded me of it, and I happen to like the flavor.

It comes in at 90.5 proof, so it's a relatively inoffensive bourbon, and after shelving it for a couple weeks following the first pour, I then went through the bottle relatively quickly. After each glass I just wanted another.

It's not that rare of a whiskey, despite the marketing efforts of Diageo to make you think otherwise. After all, this bottle was #23,951, and I'm not sure just how high those numbers go. Whether the price is justified by the juice, I'm not entirely certain.  

However, measuring the bourbon itself, I thought it was very good and held up well. If it weren't for the price, I could easily make this a regular pour.

Grade: A-

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Liquor City Uncorked Private Selection "The Ladies Pick" Kentucky Straight Bourbon



I previously reviewed a private selection Knob Creek Single Barrel that my buddy had picked up for me while he was at Liquor City Uncorked in Covington, Kentucky. That was hands down one of the best bourbons I've ever had, and I'm still blown away at the fact that it was a mere $35 a bottle.

So, when he was going again, I asked him to pick up any new store selections that they may have, figuring I like their taste. This time he came back with what the store had labeled as "The Ladies Pick." Going in I knew that the bar was already set very high, but I was nonetheless excited to crack open yet another of their private selection Knob Creek Single Barrels.

I also liked the name they had labeled on the bottle. Apparently, of the staff who were doing the tasting, this was the favorite among all the women. I attempted to use this feminization of my booze (at least in the label) to encourage my wife to give it a go. Even this couldn't convince her to join me in my enjoyment of whiskey. Oh well, perhaps that's for the better.

As for the booze, though, although it did not quite reach that bar that I had set, to cut to the chase, this was a very good bourbon from start to finish, and, again, a great value considering the price.

The high proof provided for a strong burn at first, one that hit on both the nose and the palate. I found, though, that just a bit of ice cooled it down pretty easily, and the flavors then really came forward.

It's funny that, as I write these reviews, I feel like with many bourbons I say the same thing. But, I guess it would be concerning if I wasn't getting vanilla, caramel, toffee and brown sugar notes, or some combination thereof. The traditional distillers seem to know how to produce those traditional flavors, and this was no different, providing heavy doses of vanilla and toffee, with the vanilla lingering long after each swallow.

The only thing I found slightly different in this bottle from the other private selection that I had was that this had more of a coffee flavor to it, albeit fancy coffee, loaded with sugar, steamed milk and french vanilla flavoring. Being one who will frequently partake in the enjoyment of such fancy coffees, I found this a very appealing characteristic of this bottle.

While I still do not consider myself a big fan of Knob Creek, this is the second straight bottle of a private selection single barrel that I've really enjoyed! I may have to try one (or a few) of the Binny's private selections. Once again, for the price, you can't go wrong with this bottle.

Grade: A-

Friday, November 6, 2015

Orphan Barrel Old Blowhard 26 Year Kentucky Bourbon


It's rare to find a bourbon as old as this one. Many believe that the sweet spot for bourbons is in the 10-12 year range. I tend to agree with that assessment, as I find, unlike with Scotch, that when you get past that 12 year range, the bourbon tends to really take on the wood flavors and dries out significantly.

So, when I poured my first glass of old blowhard and put my nose to the glass, I wasn't surprised to notice the smell of oak immediately. Although the wood tones dominated, it also had a sweet, chocolate sent to it as well, which I really enjoyed.

On the first drink, while I did not notice the wood flavor as much as I thought I would, it unquestionably comes off as a dry bourbon. The most prominent flavor was a chocolate cherry type flavor, reminiscent of the kind that come in Russell Stover's boxes. Eventually the vanilla works its way to the foreground, and while the chocolate-cherry notes were somewhat fleeting, the vanilla flavor tended to linger in the back of my throat long after I swallowed.

The thickness of this bourbon is very noticeable. People typically describe such bourbons as having legs.  In this case, these are good, hearty stumps of legs. It's a very chewy bourbon, one that really coats your mouth and throat. I found the bourbon enjoyable enough that I didn't mind it sticking around for a bit afterwards. Plus, at 90.7 proof, there is no significant burn to take away from the mild sweetness that lingered.

Calling it a "mild" sweetness may be a bit of an overstatement, though. This bourbon is anything but sweet. It is earthy, woody and tannic. The char flavor dominated this whiskey, and a little more sweetness would have gone a long way to making this a great bourbon.

The price point was a bit steep (as is the case for all the Orphan Barrel releases), but given the age and now the scarcity, I can't really ding it much for that. However, I really wanted to find a reason to truly enjoy such an aged bourbon. I wanted it to sweeten up, perhaps have those bitter tannins fade away a bit, and it just didn't happen. It remained a bitter, woody bourbon that almost completely lacked the sweetness I so desire.

Grade: B

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Clyde May's Alabama Whiskey


It seems every time I go to the liquor store to pick up a new bottle, I always set my sights on a bottle of Clyde Mays, intrigued by what may be contained within, only to end up purchasing something else. Well, I've finally decided to cure my curiosity, and I picked up a bottle.

Clyde Mays advertises itself as an Alabama Whiskey. In doing so, its label notes that, in true Alabama tradition, this whiskey contains a cinnamon spice with hints of green apple. Cinnamon is not that uncommon in spicier bourbons or ryes, but the green apple notes were a bit intriguing.

Upon opening the bottle, though, it was clear that these were more than "hints" of green apple. The nose gave of a very strong sent of green apple, particularly reminding me of green apple Jolly Ranchers. It was certainly unique, as I've never noticed such a scent in any other whiskey I've tried.

Upon my first sip, I immediately noticed the green apple flavor to match the green apple nose. Again, it tasted to me like green apple Jolly Ranchers, as though a handful of them had been added to the barrel. When I mentioned this on Twitter, Clyde Mays responded to me, attributing this to Granny Smith apples added after the aging process.

According to their web site, the whiskey is aged for 5-6 years. Afterwards, juice is extracted from apples, and natural apple "essence" is "gently folded into aged bourbon." While I'm not sure what apple "essence" is or what it means to "gently fold" something it into the bourbon, there's no question that the apple flavoring stands out in this whiskey.

It came across as a very sweet whiskey for this reason, perhaps to make it a more Southern-style whiskey. I didn't dislike it; it just struck me as oddly sticky sweet and fruity.

The label also promised a cinnamon spice, which it delivered. It had a very distinct Red-Hots cinnamon flavor, and this I found very enjoyable. It didn't come forward until the end, and it did so in a well-tempered fashion--not so much that it overpowered, and not so little that it was barely noticeable. Clyde Mays (again through Twitter) attributed the spice to its mashbill consisting of 55% corn, 30% rye and 15% barley.  I also noticed about halfway through my first pour that a dark cherry flavor lingered at the back of my throat, a bit muted but definitely there.


Interestingly, I found myself enjoying this whiskey more after it was open for a while, primarily because the sticky sweetness subdued a bit, allowing the more traditional whiskey flavors to come forward and intermingle with the apple, cinnamon and cherry flavors that otherwise had dominated.

Overall, I'm glad I tried Clyde Mays, and I more than appreciated their interaction on Twitter. However, while I enjoy bourbons for their sweetness (particularly as compared to single malts), this was a bit much for my taste. It was a very drinkable whiskey, and it would be very enjoyable over ice on a Summer evening, but it's not something that I would drink every day.

Grade: B-

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fighting Cock 6 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

I've never been a fan of booze with aggressive names. I have a perhaps unnatural fear of what such drinks are going to do to me, particularly the morning after. It might all stem from a very difficult morning I experienced in college after spending the night with a vodka by the name of Thor's Hammer. The pounding in my head that morning told me the name was very apropos.

However, I was looking for a new desk whiskey to keep at an office that I frequently work from, and because it's not my normal office, I didn't want to spend too much. So, I averted my eyes downward to the bottom shelf bourbons, and I couldn't help but notice Fighting Cock Bourbon and a striking artistic rendering of a very angry-looking chicken on the front of the bottle.

Upon closer inspection, though, I noticed that it's distilled by the Fighting Cock Distilling Company in Bardstown, Kentucky. This was a sure indicator that, though I had never heard of Fighting Cock Bourbon before, it was likely produced by Heaven Hill, and I thus had a little more faith in the juice contained within. Furthermore, with the uptick in no-age statement (NAS) whiskies, this one prominently displayed that it was aged for 6 years. This was somewhat refreshing.

As to the whiskey itself, the best way I can describe it is that it was better than expected. While I've found that lower-shelf, younger bourbons tend to seem a bit watered down, such was not the case with this bourbon. Although it has a light body, it's a 103 proof bourbon, and it has the same robust characteristics as so many other high-proof bourbons.

It's a lightly spiced bourbon, somewhere in between cinnamon and rye spices. That spiciness is well-balanced with prominent brown sugar and vanilla flavors. What was somewhat unique about this as compared to other bourbons I've had, though, is that I also noticed a strong banana flavor. This blend of flavors reminded me a bit of bananas foster, only without the rum.

This is, however, a young bourbon, and that young age shows with a very noticeable alcohol flavor underlying all the other flavors. I really feel that this bourbon aged for another four years could be fantastic! And, who knows, perhaps Heaven Hill is already producing such a bourbon using this recipe under a different label and I just don't know about it. In the meantime, though, marketing gimmicks aside, I found Fighting Cock to be a pretty good bourbon for its price point.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Glenlivet Nadurra Cask Strength 16 Year Single Malt Scotch


I've finally made my first foray into the world of non-chill filtered, barrel strength Scotch, and I did so with the Glenlivet Nadurra. I figured, knowing the general range of the Glenlivet spectrum, this would be a great introduction to the higher-strength Scotches, and it certainly did not let me down!

Clocking in at 109.8 proof, the first thing I couldn't help but notice, even though it was entirely expected, was the alcohol burn on the nose. While I'm used to it with bourbons, and in fact have come to expect it, it was a bit of a change to get such burn while at the same time getting the malty Scotch notes as well. Once I got through the burn, the nose gave way to orange peel and lemon, mixed with some heavy vanilla flavor and baking spices.

The Nadurra has a very oily texture, definitely has legs, and it quickly coated my mouth upon the first sip. This was probably my favorite part about drinking this Scotch, as not only did it temper the burn, but with each drink my mouth and throat were coated in a sweet, honey-butter flavor that seemed to linger forever. 

Up front this whiskey is more than pleasant, offering sweet flavors of lemon, orange and honey, underscored by a strong vanilla flavor. On the back end I was hit more with oak and a distinct ginger flavor. 

Yet, as enjoyable as those flavors were, it was that lingering honey-butter that kept me going back for more and more. It really reminded me of what I enjoyed most about Scotches in the first place and why I started drinking them . . . only better!

Nadurra maintains the general Glenlivet profile, just a beefed up version. There's no denying which distillery this came from. However, it's definitely on the sweeter end of the spectrum and certainly more robust and complex.

This is a fantastic Scotch, one that left me a little sad when that last sip was gone. I can't wait to give other barrel strength Scotches a try. I may be onto something here!

Grade: A

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dewar's White Label Blended Scotch Whisky


Normally I wouldn't go out of my way to pick up a bottle of Dewar's White Label for purposes of getting a bottle that I want to eventually review and put on my site. However, since this bottle was given to me as a gift (or, more accurately, left at my house by a friend who certainly knew better than to think I wouldn't drink it), I thought I'd go ahead and convey my thoughts on the matter.

Dewar's White Label is and always will be in my mind my Airport Hotel Scotch. It seems that whenever I travel for work and stay at a hotel near an airport, I can always count on White Label being stocked behind the bar. I have yet to find an airport hotel with great whiskey selection. Perhaps I'm not researching well enough before I travel. In any event, I find myself frequently enjoying a glass of White Label while sitting by myself at an airport hotel bar.

That being said, though, I really do enjoy the stuff. As a blended Scotch, it certainly differs from the traditional Scotch profiles, though it remains unquestionably a Scotch.  Up front it hits you with a smokey vanilla flavor, underscored by a not-so-subtle oakiness to it.  Most noticeable, though, is the spice.

This particular blended Scotch has a serious bite to it that I don't frequently find in Scotches. It's akin to the bite that I enjoy in my ryes. It has a great blend of both sweet and peppery spice that seem to work really well together (even if that spice caught me a bit off guard the first time I tried a pour).

On the back end it gets a bit more earthy, tasting a bit more herbal and grassy. It goes down very smooth, though and is very warming and relaxing.  Perhaps this is why I make it my go to pour in limited-selection bars.

I'm not going to tell you that this is a "phenomenal" pour, nor that it's my go-to drink. However, it's one that I frequently go back to the well on when options are limited, and one that I will continue to go to. At a cheap price it provides a nice, tasty dram, particularly when you're in the mood for a little spice.

Grade: B-

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Wathen's Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon


During a trip to Cincinnati, a buddy of mine made a trip across the river into Kentucky to grab a few bottles. While there, the owner of the store he went to recommended this bottle of Wathen's Single Barrel, heaping some high praise on the particular barrel out of which this one was bottled. That's what I've come to love about single barrels, that different bottles will have different characteristics, and some may be better than others.

Having never had Wathen's before, I cannot compare this particular bottle to other bottles I've tried, but I certainly looked forward to enjoying this one. 

The nose is your typical bourbon nose, strong on the vanilla and caramel. It also had a light orange smell to it, what was a bit unexpected. Any alcohol burn that may exist in this whiskey is not betrayed on its nose. At 94 proof, it's certainly not a high-proof whiskey, though.

The first thing I noticed when I took my first sip was a distinct nuttiness. I immediately thought of walnuts, but the more I thought about it, the less sure I was that's what it was, perhaps more of a filbert. Either way, this has a very earthy, nuttiness to it. It also had a mild spiciness on the back end as well, though not enough to characterize this as a "spicy" bourbon.

Interestingly, after the bottle had been open for a bit, there was at the same time a fruitiness to it as well. I noticed dark fruit flavors, like cherry or plum, but I also noticed a mild orange flavor as well. This all complemented the traditional vanilla and toffee flavors that dominated.  

While at first it came across as nutty and a bit woody, after being open for a while additional flavors came through, making this whiskey more complex than my initial pours. It transformed into a very smooth, enjoyable pour. 

It was a bit watery for my tastes. I like flavor that sticks around a while, and that was not the case here. It also struck me as a somewhat young whiskey. There is no age statement on the bottle. If I had to guess, I'd say it's about a 6 year old bourbon. I like my bourbons to be a little older, or at least taste like they are.

Grade: B 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Blanton's Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Blanton's is one of those whiskies that has a reputation which precedes itself.  Before even opening this one (and even though I received it as a gift), had a moment of worry that I had set myself up for disappointment. I've had a pour here and there of Blanton's in the past and generally enjoyed it. I also know that it is often a favorite among bourbon enthusiasts.

Finally, though, I got a bottle all to my self and the opportunity to enjoy it from start to finish, and enjoy it I did!

This particular barrel was bottled at 93 proof. The relatively low alcohol content resulted in a very smooth and drinkable bourbon. At first this bourbon came across as dry and woody. However, unlike other bourbons that possess these same characteristics (frequently well-aged bourbons), this one was also very sweet at the same time.

It certainly has the traditional bourbon flavors of vanilla and toffee, though the flavors come across as somewhat mild. There is also a light spice and cinnamon flavor up front, something that was actually a bit unexpected.

On the back end there was a distinct licorice aftertaste, but yet it still remained very sweet. This is a relatively oily and syrupy bourbon, so the flavor lingered quite a bit at the back of my throat.

After this bottle was open for a while it turned into a great bourbon! It transformed quite a bit, turning into a great blend of vanilla and toffee sweetness, much bolder now, with strong anise and cinnamon spices on the back end.  Something about it reminded me of Christmas dinner. Take that for what you will, as I couldn't attribute any specific Christmas memory to it. Just a fleeting notion I had while drinking.

In addition, from beginning to end, I couldn't help but notice a distinct wild cherry flavor. I've had some bourbons where this flavor was a bit overwhelming, but not the case here. It was subtle enough to be noticeable and enjoyable without dominating the other flavors.

At first this was a good bourbon, certainly better than average. By the end, though, this was a great bourbon, one for anybody, whether new to bourbon or a cagey bourbon veteran, to enjoy.

Oh, and the bottle, as well as the cork with the little metal race-horse figure, are about as cool as they get!

Grade: A

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 90 Proof
- NAS (6 years)

Two posts in a row are dedicated to ryes, here. Perhaps I've just been in a mood for a little more spice lately. This time I grabbed the bottle of Sazerac Rye (or "Baby Saz" as it is frequently called) for one main reason -- despite the positive reviews that it consistently receives, I've never actually had it before. That needed to change.

While visiting Portland last week, I grabbed the bottle to share with my brother-in-law over the course of what would be a few very difficult days. Sazerac was there, though, to provide some momentary enjoyment during an otherwise somber visit.

The first thing I noticed with this rye was not the flavor, but just how smooth this rye is. Ryes typically come with a bit of a bite, which is why they are not for everyone. Sazerac is one of the most drinkable ryes I've ever tried, though.

The burn is minimal from the start, which allows Sazerac to be a more mellow rye compared to others. The fact that it is mellow, though, does not make it a lesser rye by any means. In fact, I believe quite the opposite is true.

This is a sweeter rye, strong in cherry and cinnamon flavors (reminding me somewhat of cherry pie). The sweetness is enhanced a bit by a strong brown sugar flavor that creeps in a few seconds later.

It still retains its traditional rye spice, providing a decent enough kick after the up-front sweetness. It is not as strong of a kick as other ryes, but it is still there, and there is no questioning that this is a traditional rye whiskey.

It's just done a bit differently, and, in my opinion, it's done better. I should have grabbed a bottle or four of this a long time ago. Sazerac has immediately found a place among my favorites, and is probably only second to the Willett 8-Year that I reviewed a few months back.

Grade: A

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Templeton Small Batch Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $30
- 80 Proof
- NAS

We planned a backyard fire the other day, s'mores, hot dogs, the whole bit. And as with every other time, just the thought of cooking over the fire had me wanting a glass of rye. I don't know what it is, but for me the two frequently go hand-in-hand.

I picked up a bottle of Templeton rye knowing, just from word of mouth, that I was getting, at the very least, a solid rye whiskey. I also knew that it was coming from just across the Mississippi River in Iowa, and I'm always happy to give a local distillery a try (although this whiskey was distilled by MGP in Indiana). Templeton advertises this as a "prohibition era recipe." I'm not sure what makes it different from other rye recipes, and it may just be a marketing gimmick, but it sounds nice and adds an appealing, old-timey label.

As with any rye, Templeton provided heavy spice both in the nose and on the front end, hitting the tip of my tongue. It was a slightly different spice, however. It was like a spicy burnt orange flavor, followed by a light smokiness that I really liked.

It otherwise had the standard rye flavors and spices that I've come to expect, with notes of cloves and vanilla and a mild hint of cherry.

The body was on a bit of the watery side. I tend to like my ryes a bit more viscous, but that's merely a personal preference. Otherwise, this whiskey stands up very well against the other readily available ryes that are on the shelves.

Although nothing in particular stands out (though I really am a fan of that smokey orange flavor), this is nonetheless a rye that will not let you down. The next time I plan a backyard fire or a camping trip, I won't hesitate to grab another bottle of Templeton (then again, maybe I will, as discussed in the comments below).

Grade: B

Friday, September 11, 2015

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

VITALS:
- $60
- 108.4 Proof
- 11 years, 6 mos.

Once again I had the pleasure of enjoying another private selection of Four Roses Single Barrel, this time going with the OBSF recipe. I purchased this quite some time ago, but only recently got around to popping the bottle open. I'm not really sure why I waited this long. My only excuse is that I had other bottles waiting to be opened as well, and I knew it'd be opened eventually.

This recipe is a 35% rye mashbill, and it was very noticeable even on the nose. This bourbon has some wonderful, familiar scents of cinnamon, vanilla and a slight hint of orange. It was a very nice bouquet of smells, and it had me salivating for that first sip.

At 118 proof, it definitely had a strong burn to it, which was seemed to be made even stronger by the heavy cinnamon flavors that dominated on the front end. The rye spice dominates throughout, making this bourbon less sweet than the norm and a bit more on the peppery side. There was also a very distinct cherry flavor that permeated as well.

It wasn't until the back end of each drink that the more traditional vanilla and toffee flavors really came through, but they stuck around and lingered at the back of the throat after each swallow. They weren't strong, just strong enough to be noticed.

While the burn came through initially, it did die down a bit toward the end. As it did, the more earthy, herbal flavors came to the foreground, pushing the sweeter flavors even more into the background. What once had rough edges due to the burn cooled down significantly into a smooth, easy to drink bourbon, even if it wasn't as sweet as most.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 31, 2015

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2006 Vintage Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $30
- 86 Proof
- 11 years

Evan Williams Single Barrel is one of those bottles that I've seen on the shelves over and over again, but for one reason or another have grabbed something else.  Maybe the label just doesn't sell me well enough, or perhaps my mood just never moved me to grab it.  Whatever the reason, for some time it has been one of those bourbons that I knew was out there and I wanted to try, but kept putting off.

Well, it finally made it into my basket, home to my cabinet, and eventually into my glass.  Now don't get me wrong, I did not go into thinking that this is the next great bourbon or that it is something rare and special. As I noted, I've seen it everywhere.  What I was expecting, though, was a good, traditional bourbon, well-made and consistent through the last drop.  In that respect, I got exactly what I was expecting.

The nose is very soft, with no alcohol burn on the nostrils, but also with mild scents of caramel and vanilla.  There was nothing overpowering here, and I hoped that the bourbon itself would not come across as weak.

Luckily, there was nothing to be feared here. This is a very sweet bourbon, following the normal palate of flavors one would expect from a Kentucky Bourbon.  If anything, this one is heavier on the brown sugar notes than others, but still had those traditional vanilla and caramel flavors.  The vanilla, however, reminded me more of natural vanilla bean than usual, kind of like the difference between regular vanilla ice cream and vanilla bean ice cream.  Although subtle, the difference is noticeable and very enjoyable.

In my first few pours of this bourbon I noted on the back end a sour, acidic note that unfortunately followed the up-front sweetness and then lingered on the palate for a bit.  Because of how sweet this bourbon is on the front end, I was a bit surprised by the flavor on the back end.

However, about half-way through the bottle that sour, acidic note completely disappeared, allowing me to enjoy the bourbon flavors in full without the disappointment. The vanilla flavor seemed to grow stronger with each glass as well, but it never got to the point that it ruined the flavor. It just took on a different shade is all.

All in all, this is a good-but-not-great bourbon.  It is certainly well-above average, but doesn't do anything to stand out among the crowd, and my grade leaves it right there in that crowd of bourbons I've reviewed.

Grade: B

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $22
- 101 Proof
- NAS

It seems odd to me to review the "everyday" bourbons that are out there, the ones that are found on the shelves of every grocery store, carry the smaller price tags and which most people have tried. Yet, at the same time, it also feels odd to me to not have reviewed these bourbons (at least to the extent I want this blog to be as comprehensive as possible). So, I figured in trying to deal with this dilemma, I'd error on the side of drinking and writing about more whiskey rather than less.

And so, I picked up a bottle of Wild Turkey 101. The one thing that is consistent with these "standards" is their flavor profile, and this was no exception. As expected, 101 offered the traditional vanilla and toffee notes that one would expect from such a large-production bottling. This one leans a bit more toward the spicy side however, a spiciness that somewhat sneaks up on you.

At 101 proof (as the name implies), there was some burn, but to me it was almost the perfect amount. I tend to favor the higher proofs, and this bourbon provides that higher proof, but at the low end of the high-proof-spectrum, so the burn was not invasive or over-powering.

As I made my way through the bottle, pour-by-pour, I did not notice any real change to the flavor, which remained completely consistent throughout. While I love it when a whiskey opens up, there's something to be said for one that remains consistent in its flavor throughout.

The traditional flavors, with the mildly high proof and the subtle spiciness makes this my go-to choice of the bourbon standards. This is a cheaper, readily available whiskey that I would be happy to sip on any given day. The grade I'm giving it is somewhat subjective one, as it is based somewhat upon how it compares to other standard bottlings (after all, it wouldn't exactly be fair to compare WT101 to George T. Stagg, for example).

Grade: B+

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon


I've started to notice a trend among these well-aged Orphan Barrel offerings--they are consistently dry bourbons with prominent wood overtones. Lost Prophet is a prime example, and, unfortunately, that's about all that this bourbon initially offered by way of a flavor profile.

The nose left much to be desired (and I'm one who generally enjoys the smell of my whiskey, even when the taste may not do much for me). It was strong in alcohol and wood and not much else.

On my first pour, the flavor matched the nose. Although the burn was minimal, the alcohol in this bourbon was very noticeable, and the dry, woody flavor did little to soften this alcohol flavor. Unlike most other bourbons, there was almost no sweetness to this bourbon, and I was looking for it. I tried to find some hints of vanilla, toffee, caramel, etc. buried in there somewhere, but it just came out harsh and bitter.

I did notice an almond flavor that seemed to somewhat parallel the woodiness, but this just wasn't enough to balance it out or make it very enjoyable. So, I put the cork back in and placed it back on the shelf, hoping it might open up a bit and perhaps soften the bitterness.

After leaving it on the shelf for a few weeks, I finally went back to the bottle and was pleasantly surprised!  The bitterness was pretty much completely gone.  The wood tones had balanced out, blending with a chocolate flavor that was completely unexpected.  After sitting on this for weeks in between pours, I found myself looking forward to the next.  This is one of the more striking changes in a bottle after it's been open a while that I've ever noticed.

Initially I was not a fan.  I had higher expectations after trying Barterhouse, and this one left me disappointed. However, after it was open for a bit and the bourbon likewise opened up, I found this to be a very good, well-aged bourbon with a great blend of sweet and savory that made me wanting more. This bourbon almost deserves two grades.  I'd give it an initial grade of C-, but a later grade of A-, which was the bulk of my pours. Accordingly, it ultimately receives a B+.

Grade: B+

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Glenmorangie 18 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky


Once again a reason to celebrate recently arose for me, and, as I so often do, I settled on a higher end bottle of Scotch that I normally wouldn't purchase absent good cause. In this instance, I went with the Glenmorangie 18 Year. I've loved past Glenmorangie bottlings, and I figured I couldn't really go wrong here.

In fact, I went very right! And I knew it was going to be good as soon as I opened the bottle.  I was hit with a great nose that reminded me of pipe tobacco and cloves. This was one of those bottles where I had to force myself to stop enjoying the smell so that I could pour my first glass.

At 86 proof, there is little to no alcohol burn to this Highland Scotch. The flavor reminded me of one of my favorite sandwiches growing up -- peanut butter and honey. It was complemented by a distinct orange flavor that blended very well with the others, giving this whisky both an earthy and fruity profile, and yet neither was too much in the extreme.

This whisky is very smooth and soft, coating the mouth and lingering long after each swallow. It had a prominent butterscotch flavor on the back end that allowed me to enjoy each sip long after I swallowed.

As I sipped more and more, and as I let the bottle rest a bit (though not for long and I couldn't help but go right back to it), additional wonderful flavors of brown sugar and pear came through, with the orange notes ever increasing in strength.

This is a phenomenal whiskey, one which truly made me sad as I watched that last drop hang on for dear life before finally relenting and falling into my glass to met its fate. Truly a bittersweet ending to a great bottle of whiskey. Glenmorangie is doing a lot of things right these days, and their 18 year old is no exception!

Grade: A

Friday, July 24, 2015

Koval Single Barrel Four Grain Whiskey


As a Chicago-area native, it seems a shame that I had yet to review (or even try) anything from Koval distillery, a Chicago craft distillery that makes its way onto the shelves in nearly every liquor store and liquor isle, but not in my shopping cart.  Finally, I gave one of their offerings a try--their four-grain whiskey.

Most intriguing is the blend of grains Koval uses to make this whiskey.  It has a mashbill of oat, malted barley, rye and wheat.  No corn in the mashbill, but with the strong flavor that rye usually provides, the unique tang that wheat adds, and the wildcard of the oat, I couldn't even guess what this was going to taste like.

The nose is soft and subtle, and it very much reminded me of a Scotch.  The barley scents certainly came through.  Minimal burn on the nose, but, considering it's bottled at 94 proof, that's to be expected.  There's a certain sweetness on the nose as well, letting you know that though it may smell like a Scotch, it's not going to taste like one.

And it certainly doesn't.  My initial impression was that this is a very sweet whiskey, and I mean syrupy sweet.  While I enjoy the sweetness with bourbons, this was, quite frankly, a bit too much for me.

Interestingly, the grain that I expected to be the least noticeable seemed to be the strongest.  There was a predominant flavor that I couldn't quite place my finger (tongue?) on.  However, the flavor, in a certain weird way reminded me of oatmeal cookies.  To be more specific, a few years back Baskin Robbins had an oatmeal cookie flavored ice cream, which didn't taste exactly like oatmeal cookies but you got the idea.  That's more like the flavor that was coming through.

The whiskey was drinkable, but I couldn't tell if I liked it or not.  So, I let it sit on a shelf for a few weeks and re-visited the bottle, wondering whether it might improve after opening up a bit.  While remaining very sweet, after a couple weeks, it had mellowed enough to not be as mouth-puckering sweet as it was.  Interestingly, it seemed to take on a bit of a smokey flavor, reminding me just a bit of peated Scotches (but not quite as yummy).

Overall I was not impressed.  It just came across as a weird and unfriendly mix of flavors that was way to sweet and kind of odd tasting.  While drinkable, it's not one I'd prefer to drink again.  I will, however, be trying out their other offerings, as I've heard they're doing good things at Koval, and perhaps I just started with the wrong one.

Grade: C-

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Collingwood 21 Year Canadian Rye Whisky


My forays into Canadian whiskies has largely consisted of Canadian Mist and Crown Royal.  When Collingwood released a 21 year old rye whiskey, made from 100% rye, aged in oak casks and finished in a toasted maple casks, and at a very affordable price for its age, I had to give it a try.

I could not have been more pleased with a purchase than I was with this one.  I have always found Canadian whiskies to be softer whiskies, offering more subtle flavor as opposed to the bold, more punch-you-in-the-face flavor that many bourbons have.  The subtlety of this whisky's flavor is what makes it great, though.

With each sip I found myself noticing something different and each time completely enjoyable.  It is a sweet whisky.  Perhaps my mind was tricked by the marketing, but the maple flavor seemed to stand out the most.  I feel I must clarify, though.  When I say maple flavor, I don't mean maple syrup.  I mean it tastes like freshly cut maple wood smells, which to me is a wonderful smell.  The maple flavor was there just enough to be noticed but not enough to be offensive--a slight but sweet woodiness that did not overtake the whisky.

The sweetness of the whisky is casually followed by the rye spice, almost unexpectedly.  The combination of the rye bread notes with the maple notes provided a great mix.

In later pours, milk-chocolate flavors came through, reminding me of the smoothness of good chocolate after it melts in your mouth.  Again, the mix with the maple and rye flavors continued to work well, and with each pour I found myself eager for the next.

Ultimately, all the flavor balanced well with the expected woodiness of such an aged whiskey.  While it's a dry whiskey, again, it's not too dry, and the wood undertones were, again, prevalent enough to be enjoyed without taking over the flavor.

Usually I tend to ding a whisky for lacking in boldness.  However, in this case, it's the subtlety of the flavors that makes this whisky.  Even at only 80 proof, there's a lot going on here, and, while the flavors may not be strong, they are nonetheless excellent and I really enjoyed taking my time with each pour to discover each note.

My only criticism is the oddly shaped bottle that looks like an over-sized bottle of cologne.  But Collingwood loses no points for this, as it's what's in the bottle that counts.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey


When I first started branching out with my bourbons, looking for better quality than whatever I had been mixing with Coke up to that point, someone had recommended Breckenridge Bourbon to me. However, in wanting to taste the best of what that bourbon has to offer, I focused more on the well-established distilleries and the local craft distilleries. Finally, though, my wife brought a bottle home for me the other day and I got a chance to give this one a go, and I've been missing out.

Although I don't usually do so, I feel the bottle itself is worth commenting on. That's only because on the back it has a sweet printing of the ski slopes at Breckenridge, a place that I'm particularly fond of and can't wait to get back to, making this a winner in my book before I even took a sip.

As to the juice itself, this comes across as a very crisp and clean bourbon. It initially comes across as mildly sweet, tasting like brown sugar and vanilla bean, with very minimal burn at only 86 proof. It had a light oakiness that balanced well with the sweeter flavors.

Despite coming across initially as a crisp and watery bourbon, it had an oily finish that left a distinct cinnamon flavor on my tongue. It was enjoyable, but nothing to write home to mom about.

However, a couple pours into the bottle (though not necessarily in the same night), the flavor only improved, getting a bit sweeter, a little bit smoother and very enjoyable! The vanilla and caramel notes really came through and the wood tones faded out.

In the end, this is one of the best non-Kentucky bourbons that I've had. I finished the bottle much faster than I really wanted to, which to me is the best sign of a good bourbon.  I would recommend this to anyone, whether to someone new to bourbon or someone who loves their bourbon but may hasn't had this one yet.

Grade: B+

Friday, June 26, 2015

Old Weller Antique Kentucky Straight Bourbon


There has been a lot of hype around Weller 12 year, frequently referred to and promoted as the "Poor Man's Pappy."  Accordingly, with all the hype, the availability of Weller 12 has gone down and the price has gone up (although its availability has seen a relative surge recently).

Yet, Old Weller Antique (OWA) remains readily available and at a good price (not to mention a good proof at 107!!).  I grabbed a bottle of OWA to keep at my second office (another office where I frequently camp out when I don't want to head downtown).  So, It has taken me a very long time to finally make my way through this bottle.  It also explains the decorative cork board backdrop in the photo.

This made for a great at-work bottle, however.  I only found myself cracking into it after particularly long days, and OWA delivered each time.

It has a strong alcohol burn due to the high proof, and it has a spicy kick to it as well.  But, it's a wheater, so it also has that soft, graininess to it as well that provides an interesting dichotomy.

OWA keeps to the traditional caramel and vanilla flavors, though, and it makes for a very good, every day sipper.  Aside from the traditional notes, though, I couldn't help but notice a distinct apple flavor, something that really sets this bourbon aside from others.

After the bottle was open for a while, I expected it to smooth out a bit, but it didn't.  If anything, it became drier and a bit harsher on the throat.  It also took on an up-front citrus note that I wasn't expecting.  The caramel notes tended to transform to a more molasses meets licorice flavor as well.  It was one of those flavors where I just couldn't decide if I liked it or not.

All in all, this is not an overly complex bourbon, but I would still consider it more of a sipper than anything.  I wouldn't hesitate to go back to OWA in situations where my choices are otherwise limited.

Grade: B

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jefferson's Ocean Aged at Sea Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Jefferson's Reserve has never shied away from trying new things with bourbon, and there was a ton of promotion for their ocean voyage releases. The general premise is that they took bourbon barrels and placed them on a bot to age as the boat traveled from port to port through some warmer climates. This would allow the bourbon to interact with the wood more and draw out some additional flavor.

I was very intrigued and eager to try one of these releases, and when I saw bottles of what Jefferson's called "Voyage No. 3" (or, in other words, batch #3), I felt it worth giving a shot.

On the first pour, I noticed primarily a caramel scent on the nose. There was something else to it, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it. That was until I took my first sip, and then it was unmistakable.

This bourbon is actually very briny. I didn't expect the salt from the ocean to make its way into the bourbon, but there is no question that's what happened here. The caramel flavors are also there, making it a salty/sweet bourbon. However, the saltiness is not exactly a good thing.

The brininess of this bourbon overwhelms, and it's very hard to get past that tangy, pickle-juice type flavor to really enjoy it. It's a shame, because, although it's faint, there were hints of some very yummy flavors, reminiscent of white chocolate covered pretzels. Those flavors were buried, though, and difficult to really enjoy.

After letting the bottle sit for a while before I went back to it (it wasn't exactly my first go-to when I wanted a drink), I did notice that the brininess had subdued a bit, but it still managed to overwhelm. Unfortunately, the sweet, salted caramel flavor of the bourbon likewise diminished some as well. It was more drinkable, but not necessarily more enjoyable.

Ultimately, I take this bourbon for what it is--an experiment. I've had great experience with Jefferson's traditional bourbons, and will continue to go back to that well, but this particular experiment, to me, is a bust.

Grade: C-

Friday, June 12, 2015

Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Four Roses Small Batch is one of those bourbons that I've had before, here and there, enjoying a glass at a bar or a pour from a friend's bottle. For one reason or another, though, I had never taken a bottle home from the store (although the Single Barrel has come home with me a number of times).

So I felt it was past time that I pick up a bottle and post my thoughts here. Going in I knew that I was getting a bourbon that wouldn't disappoint.  It has always been consistently good. Although it's a bit more watery than I prefer, it still holds up with strong vanilla and toffee notes.

Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic was that, even at only 90 proof, I found this bourbon to be particularly warming. It certainly had no alcohol burn, and went down very smoothly. Yet, it warmed my insides in a manner that I associate more with spiced rums or even some brandies.

That heat was balanced well by its sweetness, neither one being overly so. The sweet caramel tended to linger a while, which was very welcome considering the watery texture.

Ultimately, this is an inoffensive bourbon.  If I were looking to introduce someone to bourbon for the first time, this is a safe pour. It has all the characteristic traits of bourbon, is not very strong to one end of the flavor spectrum or the other, and is very drinkable.

Personally, I think the single barrel is a better bang for your buck as far as the Four Roses offerings go, and I can't wait to continue trying their different single barrel recipes. Nonetheless, this is still a quality bourbon at a relatively modest price.

Grade: B

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cody Road Rye Whiskey Binny's Selection

VITALS:
- $35
- 80 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Iowa

I headed to Binny's the other day with the intention of grabbing something in the $30-35 range, but with no real idea of what I wanted. After browsing through the bourbons and Scotches, I got to the rye section and came across Cody Road by Mississippi River Distilling Company out of Iowa. This is this craft distillery's rye offering, and one thing that I've learned is that, although they are usually young whiskeys, craft distilleries are capable of making some very good ryes. The fact that this was a Binny's Selected bottle only made my decision easier to give this a shot.

I wanted something to drink around the fire that night in our backyard, and this really ended up being the perfect drink to complement the night. I don't know why, but I tend to enjoy a good, sweet and spicy rye outside in the evening.

This rye is very good, surprisingly so since I had heard very little about it. It's made from 100% rye and is only 80 proof, yet it is still full of flavor. It's a sweet rye, and surprisingly had some fruity notes to it, including very noticeable orange, cherry and apple flavors, distinguishing this from nearly every other rye I've tried.

Of course, it still had the heavy and prominent rye spice to balance out the sweet, fruitiness, offering a mix of cinnamon and cloves. What I found unique and very enjoyable about this rye, though, was the light smokiness that followed on the back end. It's almost as though this whiskey hits you with different waves of flavor, each different but as enjoyable as the next.

Although this is a young rye (the label did not provide an age statement, my guess would be it's about 4 years old), it is very good, and it has a far more reasonable price point than other ryes produced by craft distillers. I wouldn't hesitate for a second to grab another of these off the shelf the next time I'm in the mood for a rye.

Grade: A- 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $30
- 90 Proof
- NAS

I've had the Bulleit rye before, and I see Bulleit bourbon frequently used in cocktails on Bar Rescue (a show sponsored by Diageo). Yet, I had never tried Bulleit on its own before. I guess it had to happen eventually.

I didn't really expect a whole lot going in, figuring it would be sort of a "baseline" bourbon, good enough to pass as bourbon, but nothing special (hence the common use in cocktails). Accordingly, even before I had a sip, I had it in my mind that it would be on the same level as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Knob Creek and so on.

I will say this, I went through this bottle about as quick if not quicker than any other bottle that I can remember recently. I'm not sure if it was merely a matter of circumstance or what. It was certainly a very drinkable bourbon, but I did not notice anything special about it.

This is a simple, sweet bourbon with a decent spicy kick to it.  It was very warming (perhaps why I went through it so quickly in the last of the cold Chicago Spring days). The standard toffee and vanilla flavors were there, with a bit of cinnamon or clove, and the distinct peppery spice.

Interestingly, what I liked most about this bourbon was the nose. Though not an overly complex bourbon, it had a nose that I couldn't stop sniffing. It smelled incredible, with the perfect vanilla, caramel and cinnamon blend that I just want to package up as potpourri.

Ultimately, though, it remains on the same tier as the other standards (regardless of how quickly I finished off the bottle).

Grade: C

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rowan's Creek Straight Kentucky Bourbon


I've always known Rowan's Creek to sort of be the little brother to Noah's Mill bourbon, both produced (sourced) by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD), who also produces Willett. Yet, I had never tried either.  So when I saw a single, lonely bottle on the shelf for exactly the amount of money I was looking to spend that day, it seemed like it was fate that I adopt the poor guy.

After all, the bottle is cute, with the appearance of a scribbled out label as though it were done by hand (though it's clearly not). Plus, at 100.1 proof, the higher alcohol content drew me in as well.

As I had hoped, this bourbon is solid on the vanilla and caramel with an undertone of honey, both in the nose and immediately on the palate. Also immediately noticeable was a black pepper spice, but it was more subtle, and not necessarily in your face as some of the spicier bourbons tend to be.

It also had a strong wood flavor, making it a drier tasting bourbon, something you usually find in much older bourbons. This bottle does not have an age statement. I've noticed that earlier bottlings were aged for 12 years, but my guess is this NAS bottle is much younger.

As I made my way through this bottle, it sweetened significantly, making it hard to keep from going back to the bottle. The woodiness died away a bit and it smoothed out to a very drinkable bourbon.

Nonetheless, it still ultimately came across as a not-so-complex, younger bourbon, a trait that stuck out from beginning to end.

Grade: B

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch Whisky


Monkey Shoulder has been a blended Scotch mainstay for me for quite some time now, but I finally got around to picking up a bottle for purposes of conducting a review.

I was actually turned onto the stuff by my good friend's father-in-law who fancies himself a Scotch now and then and he absolutely raved about the stuff. But, at that time, it wasn't available in the states.

Now, however, Monkey shoulder can be found in every liquor store, grocery store and convenience store, and at a pretty reasonable price. As I purchased this particular bottle, my local liquor store owner commented at how popular this particular Scotch is.

Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three single malts from the Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie distilleries. This particular bottle was labeled as bottled from batch 27.

At 40% ABV, this is a very inoffensive and easy to drink Scotch. It has a light nuttiness to it, balanced by a slightly smoky up front flavor. On the finish it is very sweet and buttery, however, and it seemed to get sweeter with every pour.

Monkey Shoulder seems to offer just a little bit of everything I like about Scotch. I like smoky flavor from the peat used in many Scotches, and I definitely appreciate the more savory, earthy, nutty flavor of Scotches as a change-up from the sweet, vanilla flavored bourbons.

Also, much like well-aged Speyside Scotches offered by Glenfiddich, I love the butterscotch coating that I get at the back of my throat a few sips in.  That's the kind of thing that makes me go back for that second (and sometimes third) glass!

Overall, this is not a very complex Scotch, and it is not strong in any one particular flavor profile. That being said, it is incredibly enjoyable on its own, and is the perfect bottle to serve as an introduction to newcomers to Scotch whisky.

Grade: B

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New Holland Brewing Beer Barrel Bourbon


As the bourbon industry continues to grow and prosper, as more and more products come out and as more and more distilleries get into the bourbon game, we are seeing companies take different angles to sell their product. Sometimes those are marketing angles, offering a product with an old-timey label or some unique back-story. Sometimes those are different angles in flavor—whatever flavored bourbon you can think of is probably out there somewhere.

New Holland Brewery took a somewhat different angle. New Holland is first and foremost a brewer, and not primarily in the distilling game. One of their more flavorful products is their Dragon's Milk Stout, a very flavorful milk stout that I've had the pleasure of enjoying in the past.

Using these barrels in which the Dragon's Milk Stout was aged, New Holland created their Beer Barrel Bourbon, a bourbon that, after aging for a few years in American Oak barrels, was finished in beer barrels. It's a marketing angle that should appeal to beer drinkers and whiskey drinkers alike, and my curiosity was piqued.

So here's the quick rundown on this one, before I get into my more detailed thoughts.  I went in this not expecting to compare it to traditional bourbons. In fact, I fully expected it to be more akin to a flavored bourbon than to other finished bourbons I've had, such as Angel's Envy. I figured the stout would permeate the whiskey more than whiskeys finished in wine barrels.

On my first drink, my expectations were confirmed and more. Not only did it taste like a milk stout flavored whiskey, but the flavor of the stout dominated. It had a creamy, toasted flavor to it, with the strong flavor of the stout throughout the whiskey. In fact, I couldn't really comment on the whiskey itself, as it was very masked. It's a very sweet, and a more bitter beer might not work as well as the stout barrels do.

As the bottle sat for a while, the up front and in-your-face flavor of the stout did take somewhat of a back seat, and it took on more of a finished whiskey nature than that of a flavored whiskey.  The sweetness also mellowed out, so that it was still sweet but not overly so.  However, the milk stout was still not to be denied.

What it comes down to is, if you like milk stouts, or in particular, New Holland's Dragon's Milk Stout, and you're not looking to simply enjoy some bourbon, then this is absolutely worth trying. As I worked my way through the bottle, though, I also had to go pick up a bottle of traditional bourbon, because this Beer Barrel Bourbon just did not satisfy my cravings for regular bourbon.
It is a good pour, as long as you know what you're getting into and you're not expecting it to take the place of any traditional bourbons.

Grade: B-

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Maker's 46 Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey


Being a regular drinker of Maker's Mark whenever I'm out and the selection is limited, I figured I owed a post devoted to Maker's 46, the big brother to standard Maker's Mark.

As you may have noticed, Maker's has begun a large ad campaign for Maker's 46, with commercials showing the charred oak staves being placed into the barrel in rows before the barrel is re-sealed. Certainly it's something a little different, and given my enjoyment of Maker's Mark productions (especially their cask strength bottling), it would seem to follow that Maker's 46 would be somewhere in my wheelhouse.

As expected, Maker's 46 carries the same flavor profile as regular Maker's Mark, only different. And by "different" I mean that it has more body and more complexity to it.

I enjoyed the nose a lot. It is sweet with a strong caramel scent, but it also has a hint of spice that made me salivate a bit at the anticipation of taking my first sip.

As noted, the flavor carries the familiar profile of Maker's Mark products. It is strong in vanilla and toffee flavors, with that light spice/tang (I can't quite put my finger on it) typical of wheaters. What really stands out in this bourbon, though, is the smokiness on its finish, something I really enjoyed in this one! It would make sense, considering their commercials, that the extra char from the additional oak staves would supply this additional smokey flavor.

After having the bottle open a while, the bourbon really took on a smokey vanilla flavor, again a flavor that I found particularly enjoyable (and perhaps smoked vanilla extract is a real thing that actually exists -- I may need to do some searching on the internet).

Overall, I enjoyed this as a somewhat more complex version of Maker's Mark. It wasn't over-the-top exceptional, but for a bourbon that is readily available and not excessively priced, I wouldn't hesitate to grab a bottle off the shelf in the future if the mood so suited me. I found I went through this bottle pretty quickly, which is always a good indicator.

Grade: B

Monday, April 13, 2015

Jim Beam Bonded Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Seeing this on the shelf, just to kill my curiosity I felt I should grab a bottle of Jim Beam Bonded (or "bottled-in-bond").  Because it's bonded, it has to be bottled at 100 proof, at least 4 yrs old, and produced in a single distilling season in a single distillery. Despite all these restrictions, I realized I was probably just grabbing a Jim Beam at a higher proof, but I had to see for myself. 

Even at 100 proof, I found the Bonded Beam to be generally sweet up front.  It had the standard vanilla, caramel and toffee flavors, Nothing really out of the ordinary in that respect. In traditional Beam style, it had a peppery spiciness on the back end. 

The texture was on the watery end, typical of lower end bourbons generally used for mixers rather than taken straight.  That being said, the flavor profile was right enough that I enjoyed it on its own just fine.

That being said, I likely wouldn't be grabbing for another any time soon.  Even at this price point, around $20, there are better bourbons to be had.  The higher proof, however, would make this a better mixing bourbon than standard Jim Beam, and if that's the purpose, then this would be the right bottle to grab.

Overall, it's just Jim Beam with a somewhat higher proof. 

Grade: C