Monday, December 28, 2015

Willett Family Estate 2-Year Straight Rye Whiskey

- $35
- 110 Proof
- 2 years
- Kentucky

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

- $45
- 91 Proof
- Kentucky

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

- $27
- 90 Proof
- Canada

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