Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cody Road Rye Whiskey Binny's Selection

- $35
- 80 Proof
- 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 3 years old or less), 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

- $30
- 90 Proof

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-