Friday, December 30, 2016

High West Double Rye! Binny's Barrel Select Blended Malt Scotch Finished

VITALS:
- $50
- 104.2 Proof
- Min. 2 years (then finished for 1.4 years)
- Barrel #3634

At the same time that I picked up a bottle of the Black Muscat finished Double Rye! from High West, I also grabbed a bottle of their Blended Malt Scotch finished Double Rye! For one reason or another, though, I took my time in getting around to this bottle. The idea behind it is interesting, though, as the traditional Scotches seem to have such contrasting and almost opposite flavors to that of American rye whiskeys, and to me this was a finish that was either going to work or it wasn't.

The first few pours of this didn't really give me a feeling one way or another though. The nose was almost all rye spice. It carried a lot of cinnamon overlying a healthy dose of vanilla. A few more whiffs and I was able to catch that Scotch influence, but I really had to work at it.

However, on the first sip, the Scotch influence was strong. The blended Scotch that was used had a decent amount of peat to it, which substantially carried over from the barrel and into this rye. The rye itself, though, has a big, bold flavor, resulting in a complex pour with a lot going on. It was like a sweet, heavily vanilla-influenced peated Scotch with significant cinnamon spice on the back end. Sometimes when you have so many different flavors going on, it just doesn't work. Here, they seemed to blend fairly well, though, admittedly, I wished the Rye had more predominance, as it seemed to be overwhelmed by the earthy, nutty and peaty flavor of the Scotch.

Unlike the Black Muscat finished rye, though, this bottle only got better and better over time and with each pour. From each glass to the next, the rye influence that I thought was missing came forward more and more. The result was a significantly sweeter pour, with the sweet vanilla flavor really taking center stage, but yet still balanced out by the campfire smokiness provided by the peat.

As I got to the end of the bottle, the last few pours were a completely different whiskey from the first few. The caramel and vanilla were dominant, and the walnut flavor from the Scotch really seemed to take a back seat. The rye sweetened up immensely, making this a very tasty after dinner drink. Yet the Scotch influence, particularly that smokiness, kept it from being too sweet. The cinnamon spice at the end remained as well, giving it the all the hallmarks of a delicious rye.

At first this struck me as an interesting experiment but something that would leave me desiring more. However, about half way through this bottle it became that something more that I was desiring, and I absolutely loved every sip! It's difficult to give this bottle a grade considering the wide gap in my impressions, but I'm going to lean towards the higher grade due to the strong finish that this one had. Now that it's gone, it's those last few pours that have me yearning for another bottle.

Grade: A-



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Whiskey Bars: The Cobra Lounge, Chicago, IL



Though I've been to many different whiskey bars, I've never bothered to review them here, having always focused primarily on the whiskey reviews. However, a recent trip to the Cobra Lounge in Chicago inspired me to change that.
The Cobra Lounge, located west of downtown Chicago on Ashland Avenue near the United Center, is a well-known rock n' roll bar, known for its live acts and loud music. When my friend suggested we go there prior to a game at the United Center, I was skeptical but willing to give it a try.
We opened up the place at about 4:00 on a Saturday. It was clear that the staff was getting ready for a busy night, with a band called H20 set to perform that evening. Nonetheless, we were given the full attention of the wait staff and the bartender as we slid into our booth and prepared to enjoy some food and drink before taking in a couple college basketball games.
First things first -- the whiskey selection. The Cobra Lounge is not a "whiskey bar." It's clear that it is first and foremost a rock n' roll bar. It's not the kind of place where you're going to enjoy a beer and watch a game. In fact, there's not a TV to be found in the place, which is completely appropriate for a bar such as this. That being said, what this bar lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Though it's not a large selection of whiskey, the bar wasn't stocked with the typical base-line bourbons of all the big companies. Rather, they had the full line of the Orphan Barrels, a couple Parker's Heritage offerings, and even Jim Beam's Distiller's Masterpiece.
What caught my eye, however, and what made this place worthy of being considered a whiskey bar, at least to some extent, was the tall, skinny bottle with the white labels sitting on the very top shelf. I immediately asked the bartender to pull that bottle down and let me know exactly what it was. Much to my delight, it was a Willett Family Estate 7 Year Rye, and my drink selection for the evening was made. I enjoyed that while my friend enjoyed a Rhetoric 21-Year Bourbon. As a parting gift, because I finished the bottle, the bartender gave me the empty Willett bottle as a keepsake.
Not only did they have a good whiskey selection, but the Cobra Lounge has its own brewery attached, All Rise Brewing Co., and they had a great variety of craft beers available. I helped myself to a Belgian Double that they make, and it was so tasty I decided to have another rather than try something different off the menu. I'll have to make it a point to get back there again to try their other offerings.
Finally, the food . . . fantastic!! Admittedly, in a place such as this I didn't come in expecting great cuisine. However, where it's located, I should have known that great food is necessary in order to compete, and the Cobra Lounge has fantastic food!! Our server, Joey, informed us that they smoke their own meats on-site, so I went with smoked wings as an appetizer (some of the best wings I've ever had) and a smoked pork belly entrée, which was seriously smoked meat candy that melted in my mouth like butter. It was amazing!
Overall, the Cobra Lounge has a great, energetic atmosphere, great food, and the staff was fantastic. If you happen to go there, look for Joey . . . she was awesome! All that combined makes this a great place to grab a drink and a bite to eat, but throw in a quality whiskey selection, and I've got myself a new favorite stop.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Belle Meade Binny's Private Selection 10-Year Single Barrel Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $65
- 117.4 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #1589

This was my first foray into Belle Meade bourbon. Quite frankly, it was the price tag that put me off for so long, but finally I convinced myself to give it a try. It's my understanding that Belle Meade sources their bourbon from MGP Distilling in Indiana, a common theme among NDPs. Though sourced, I've frequently found myself a fan of the product coming out of NDP, so I finally caved and decided to give this a try.

The nose is soft, delicate (though not light) and fruity. Though it's a high proof bourbon, you'd never tell from the nose.

On my first sip, my immediate thought was that this is good but not great. It's a nice, robust bourbon, with traditional flavors of vanilla overlaying caramel and cinnamon. It has a nice, chewy mouthfeel to it, really coating the mouth. The finish broke away from the caramel and cinnamon and instead consisted of a bunch of wood flavor layered over vanilla and coffee, to provide a bit of bitterness at the end.

After the first pour or two, this bottle to set to the side in favor of others, and I forgot about it for a few weeks. Then, on a whim, I went back to it to give it another try, and it was as though I were trying a whole new bourbon. Where the edges of the bourbon, those contrasting flavors of wood and coffee with sweet caramel, were sharp and distinct, were now smooth and sweet. While the coffee flavor remained, it was a sweeter flavor, akin to coffee-flavored ice cream, but still with that nice, sweet cinnamon spice at the end, certainly thanks to a higher rye content much to my desire.

The vanilla up front seemed to have taken more of a hold as well, providing a nice fluid flow of flavor (for any alliteration fans out there) going from vanilla to a creamy coffee then to a sweet cinnamon at the end.

While not necessarily the greatest bourbon I've ever tasted, despite all the foregoing superlatives, this bourbon really had a nice bounce-back for me, initially putting me off but later becoming something that I just couldn't put down. I think the last such drastic transformation I saw in a bourbon after opening the bottle was Old Grand-Dad 114, which impressed in similar fashion, though I think I enjoyed this transformation even more.

Though it might have started out unimpressive, this one really came on strong, and despite the high price, I was really glad I gave it a try!

Grade: B+

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $50
- 114 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #3060

The other night I wanted nothing more than a sure-fire, good, solid bourbon, something I hadn't had before but knew was not going to disappoint me. And so, I reached for this 10 year Old Scout Single Barrel. I've had store pick single barrels in the past that have been incredible, so I knew that I was at least getting a very good bourbon, if not something great.

Perhaps I had some bias going into this one, but it certainly did not disappoint. In fact, I found myself working my way through this bottle relatively quickly. Whenever I found myself with a choice of pours for the evening, this was the clear cut winner.

The nose on this was delicious! It had the typical brown sugar and vanilla aromas, but what set it apart was a distinct cocoa butter smell to it that I just couldn't stop sniffing! My wife usually looks at me cockeyed when I just sit there smelling my drink over and over, but with some whiskeys they smell so good you can't help but take it in. Such was the case here.

The first sip was sweet vanilla up front, very ice cream-esque. However, it had a nice peppery bit on the back end, just seconds after it hit the tongue. On the finish, that peppery spice became more of a cinnamon spice, which hung around for a while, tickling the back of my throat.

Showing its age, it had some wood tones to it. However, it was just enough to notice it, and not enough to provide that bite that comes with higher-aged bourbons. This one is well within that sweet spot where the oak adds enough flavor without adding too much.

After having this open just for a few days, it sweetened up immensely. What was previously a nice ice cream intro parlaying into an inoffensive cinnamon spice was now simply a caramel bomb. The caramel was so prevalent it almost smacked me in the face. I was quite surprised at how the flavor profile seemed to change so much in so little time. The cinnamon remained on the back end, but mixed with the lingering caramel flavor gave it almost a spicy butteriness, if that even makes sense.

I liked this bottle to start, and just a few pours in I loved it! I hope against hope that with the recent purchase by Pernod Ricard things will nonetheless remain the same at West Virginia based Smooth Ambler, because they have always done an amazing job of sourcing excellent bourbon and bottling incredible tasting single barrels.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Masterson's 10-Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $60
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch 001

I feel like it's been a while since I've gone away from American whiskies, so when I saw this bottle on sale, a bottle I've eyed for some time, I finally pulled the trigger. While it's a Canadian rye (distilled in Canada but bottled in the United States), it's nonetheless a 10 year, age-stated rye, with a 100% rye mashbill--worth a shot in my book.

Even sitting on the shelf I noticed that it was lighter in color than most whiskies. I feel like you get that greater variance among single malts, but not so much other whiskies. This one is very blonde, however.

On first sip, while the traditional rye spice comes through, what's noticeable is that this rye has a certain maltiness or earthiness to it. It's difficult to place, but it was a flavor that reminded me very much of Speyside Scotches. Eventually that earthiness gave way to the spice, though, in a combination of cinnamon and black pepper, layered over vanilla and almost an evergreen flavor. The cinnamon flavor hit me more as a fake-cinnamon flavor, however, like red hots, and it just didn't seem to really complement everything else going on in this pour.

Although this isn't necessarily high proof, I added a little water to my glass to see what would come of it, and I was pleasantly surprised at a very distinct crisp green apple flavor that came through. Suddenly this was a very fruit-forward whiskey, but yet still with that cinnamon/pepper spice at the back end. Mixing with that apple and spice was a hint of black licorice as well, which seemed to take the place of the vanilla I had noticed previously.

Ultimately, though, I found this whiskey to be somewhat flat and unrewarding. While the various flavors were there, they didn't seem to mingle well, going from one flavor to the next, with no blending of flavors to bridge the contrast. Instead I was left with a whiskey that was fruity, and then it was spicy, and it wasn't really great in either category.

To add to that disappointment, this whiskey seemed to only get worse from pour to pour. With each successive pour, all I could taste was the alcohol, which just shouldn't be the case with a 90 proof whiskey. About four pours into the bottle the acetone increased, and what flavor it had seemed to disappear behind the suddenly present alcohol burn. By the end, it was simply unenjoyable in any manner.

I came into this rye with no expectations, and yet I find myself nonetheless disappointed. What good qualities this rye had at first were gone within the bottle being open just a couple weeks, leaving me with half a bottle of whiskey that I just had no interest in drinking. Even it's oddities as a rye couldn't save it.

Grade: D+

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Finally Something To Do With Those Empty Bottles


I think many a whiskey fan has thought to themselves,"This is such a nice looking bottle, I wish there was something I could do with it rather than throw it in the recycling." I know I've had this thought many times, particularly when it comes to eye-catching bottle designs (Willett Pot Still) or those rare and amazing bottles of whiskey that I wanted to somehow commemorate.

Certainly I've seen this particular craft dozens of times. I had a neighbor a few years back that threw some Christmas lights inside a wine bottle. I've seen those glass bricks decorated and stuffed with Christmas lights. This is really no different than these other projects, and quite frankly the idea of them never appealed to me a whole lot.

However, two factors came into play that motivated me to try it myself. First, I like the look with the frosted glass. It's not as though it's that creative or unique. I had just never seen "bottle lamps" with the frosted glass.  Second, I happened to have a decent cache of empty bottles at the moment, having been saving them for a crafty (in the literal sense) woman in my neighborhood.

The supplies seemed simple enough and cheap enough: (1) an empty bottle (I say cheap because I'm drinking the bourbon anyway, so this doesn't really factor into cost); (2) a strand of 20 Christmas lights; (3) a 1/2" glass drill bit; and (4) some glass frost spray paint. I honestly didn't realize this frost spray paint even existed, but it was easy to find at home depot.

And the instructions are simple enough as well. Drill a hole in the back of the bottle big enough to feed the strand of lights through, feed said strand of lights through the hole, spray paint the bottle with the frost stuff, let it dry and then plug in the magic!

I did not realize how slowly a glass drill bit does its work, though. The instructions I had seen (an informal post on Facebook) indicated it could take 5 minutes to drill the hole, but I found it was 10-15 minutes of drilling to get the job done.  I also learned the hard way that I needed to widen the hole once I finally made it through the thick glass of the bourbon bottles. With the first bottle I did, I forced the strand of lights through too small a hole, breaking a few bulbs and having to cut the cord to pull the broken strand through the top of the bottle. Lesson learned.

All in all, my first few attempts were a success. My wife hates these things, but I gave one away to my neighbor, and his wife loved it. So, these lamps are getting mixed results thus far. In any event, those nicer bottles that I don't want to just simply toss in the recycling bin will now have a purpose, and my friends will all start receiving cheap, Etsy-esque gifts that they can use to set the mood with their wives (assuming, of course, that their wives are not nearly as turned off by these as mine is).

Sunday, December 11, 2016

High West Double Rye! Binny's Barrel Select Quady Black Muscat Finished

VITALS:
- $50
- 104.8 Proof
- Min. 2 years (then finished for 2 years)
- Barrel #3052

I have to admit, I may not have noticed this bottle if it weren't for the new iridescent bottles that were stiting on the shelf. They immediately caught my eye, and, upon closer inspection, I realized that these weren't normal bottles of the Double Rye!, but rather special, finished versions bottled for Binny's. I'm not familiar with the Quadry winery, nor am I really that familiar with muscat wines, but I knew that they are more "dessert" wines, like port, and I knew I wanted to give this a try.

I usually don't comment on the color of whiskeys in my posts, but in this instance, it is noteworthy. Upon pouring it into my glass I couldn't help but notice the very deep amber/burnt-orange color of this rye. The finish really influenced the color, and it really stood out from the start.

The nose is soft and fruity, like dried apricots, mixed with vanilla. Quite frankly, it smelled like it was going to be great, sweet and soft. I've said this before in past posts, but this is another whiskey that I wish I could have as a candle and just fill my house with the smell of yummy whiskey!

The flavor from the muscat finish is very noticeable on this one, but in the first few pours was not overwhelming. It was soft, even somewhat subtle in the way it hits your tongue, and really lends to a velvety smoothness.

The rye spice comes through almost immediately, letting you know that it's a rye right away. However, that spice quickly gives way to the sweet wine finish. Flavors of plum, cinnamon and orange pervade, seemingly hitting your tongue individually and all at once in a very tasty blend. This is the quintessential "dessert" whiskey, the kind you look forward to when you want something a little sweeter after a meal or as a nightcap.

As I made my way through the bottle, however, it got a little too sweet for my tastes. At first I enjoyed the softness of the muscat influence. However, after time, in particular the last couple pours, the sweet fruitiness seemed to slap me in the mouth with each sip, to the point that I couldn't even notice the other flavors. This was a bit disappointing considering how much I enjoyed it at first and what I was expecting from those last couple pours.

I tend to have a bias towards wine finishes, so take this review for what it is. That being said, of the wine barrel finished whiskeys I've had to date, this was, at least at first, probably right at the top, next to another High West product, A Midwinter Nights Dram. Unfortunately, as I got to the end of the bottle it really fizzled out. Nonetheless, whatever High West is doing with their finished ryes, they just need to keep doing it, because what they're producing has been delicious!

Grade: B


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Noah's Mill Small Batch Kentucky Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 114.3 Proof
- NAS

This is one of those bottles I've been meaning to get around to purchasing (Lord knows I love Willett juice), and probably would have done so in the near future if it weren't for the fact that I received a bottle as a birthday present from my bourbon-loving neighbor. He certainly did right by me!

Noah's Mill is the higher end bourbon, so to speak, out of Willett Distillery's regular offerings, or at least the older brother to Rowan's Creek. It's usually pretty available, though for a couple months this past Summer it couldn't be found anywhere by me for some reason.

The nose is primarily cinnamon, telling me right away that this is a high-rye bourbon, that it's going to be good and spicy. There's also a lot of wood on the nose as well, which tells me it has some decent age to it, despite that the label doesn't tell you.

On the palate, that cinnamon carried over. In fact, it carried over a lot. I've written in the past about vanilla bombs in bourbon, but this is the first I've tried that I would describe as a cinnamon bomb. It's heavy, like Big Red in a bottle.

Don't get me wrong, other flavors are their, but they are all so intertwined in the cinnamon that it becomes a part of the flavor. There's a long-lasting cinnamon-vanilla throughout, and the flavor really sticks to the back of the throat long after the pour. That vanilla lends to a nice, creamy texture to the bourbon and really makes the cinnamon-heavy nature enjoyable.

On the back end, there's a cooling cinnamon-fresh mint flavor as well. This I found interesting, as it seemed to be trying to transform the flavor, but after I had swallowed. While it ultimately couldn't quite overpower the cinnamon, it, again, gave enough to make the heavy cinnamon flavor enjoyable and keep me coming back for more pours.

As the bourbon breathed a little, at times I found myself noticing a distinct gingerbread flavor. It wasn't readily present, but I caught the flavor time and time again as I enjoyed each glass. Perhaps it was just the vanilla and cinnamon coming together to create that familiar flavor, or perhaps it was something else altogether lurking in the background, but it really was good.

All in all, this bourbon is what I would expect from a $50 bottle--high proof, robust and complex flavors, its own, distinct character, and so tasty that it leaves me wanting more and more.

Grade: B+ / A-

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Eagle Rare Binny's Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $17.00 (375 ml)
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #15

Eagle Rare has and will always hold a special place in my heart (stomach?). It was really my introduction to bourbon, well, good bourbon anyway, and I've remained particularly fond of it. I have yet, however, to try a private selection of Eagle Rare . . . until now that is. While I don't find myself repeating bottles too often, this smaller, and cheaper, bottle of a private selection Eagle Rare was impossible to pass up.

I've always been partial to Eagle Rare because it is a consistent bourbon, always providing the traditional vanilla, caramel and cinnamon flavors typical of rye based bourbons. I can always count on it to deliver what I like most in a bourbon, and this private selection was no different.

The nose is heavy on the vanilla, layered over sweet tobacco leaf and toffee. It came across immediately as a sweeter and very vanilla-forward bourbon.

On the first sip, while that expected sweet vanilla flavor was there, it carried much more oak bite than I had anticipated. Even more unexpected, however, was the light minty-ness on the back end. My first impression was that this was a very "refreshing" and drinkable bourbon. That mint flavor gave way eventually to the cinnamon-toned rye spice, and the mixture of the two reminded me of that smell around Christmas of those cinnamon scented pine cones.

Granted, because it's a small bottle, it didn't stay open and unfinished for very long. However, as I made my way through the bottle, other flavors seemed to come forward. It seemed to get sweeter as I went, the vanilla giving way to brown sugar and orange flavors. It also developed a sweet black licorice flavor on the back end that I enjoyed more than I should considering I don't like black licorice.

In the end, this private selection was slightly better than the regular offering, and I was glad to have had a chance to try it. I'll certainly be keeping my eye out for more of these 375 ml private selections, as the cost makes it very easy to "try" it out.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 28, 2016

Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $35
- 80 Proof
- NAS

As someone who loves Alltech's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, it was about time that I finally got around to trying their bourbon. While good brewing may not necessarily translate to good distilling, I at least know the company puts out some good product.

The nose is very nice, sweet tobacco blending well with vanilla bean, reminding me of walking by the tobacco shop in the mall when I was a teenager.

The taste, however, is not as sweet. Actually, I found it to be a bit bitter. Not to run too far with a theme, but it had that bitter (as opposed to sweet) tobacco flavor to it. That, along with the watery texture, put me off at first.

However, as I made my way through the bottle, I came to enjoy some of the other flavors lurking in the background. Despite being a young bourbon, it nonetheless had some mild wood tones to it, which mixed nicely with a flowery/herbal flavor that I just couldn't quite put my finger on. Herbal vanilla is the best way I can describe it, like dried basil hanging in a bakery. The bitter bite at the end seemed to give way to a more wood-focused type of bite, a bit more tannic.

What makes this bourbon different from most other bourbons, however, is its mashbill.  At least based on the admittedly limited research I've done, it appears that Town Branch employs a significant amount barley in its mashbill (although the exact amount seems to be disputed across the interwebs). As a result, in addition to that herbal flavor (a quality more frequently found in single malts), I noticed a significant malty, earthy flavor to this bourbon. In fact, this is one of the more Scotch-ier bourbons I've ever had. It is readily apparent that the relatively high amount of barley used plays a crucial role in developing this bourbon's flavor profile.

This bourbon comes across as young, which it is. However, it is clearly headed in the right direction. It does not have a lot of complexity to it, but yet you can tell that with some additional aging, that complexity, that layering of different, complementary flavors is on the horizon.

I also think that this bourbon would benefit from being offered at a higher proof. Throughout the bottle it came across as watery. While that made it easy to drink, it didn't necessarily make it enjoyable to drink. I like to have something I can chew on, and I've always been in the camp that believes that higher proof lends to a more robust bourbon.

While it's not a great bourbon, it does seem to me to be on its way there.

Grade: B-

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $90
- 90.4 Proof
- NAS

Each year Woodford Reserve releases its Master's Collection limited edition bourbon, something different from their usual offerings, and typically carrying a much higher price tag. This year Woodford released a brandy cask finished bourbon. Last year it was a white corn bourbon, and in 2014, they released this bourbon, finished in Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir barrels.

Because this particular release happened two years ago, I did not even have it on my radar. I figured by now, the supply had likely dried up, and I have no interest in searching for anything on the secondary market. However, on a stop into a random liquor store I just happened to be passing while on an errand, I saw two bottles sitting on the top shelf. In fact, I had to do a double take, because, quite frankly, the selection at this particular store left much to be desired. But yet, they had two bottles of the Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, and they were on sale, discounted to $90.00 from the usual $100.00 price. As a fan of wine barrel finished bourbons, this was an opportunity I was not going to pass up.

On the nose I expected to be hit with strong dark fruit notes, but it simply wasn't there, at least not to the extent that I've noticed it in other wine barrel finished bourbons. Rather, it was the more traditional bourbon scents--vanilla and caramel--that stood out.

On the initial sip, the vanilla and caramel were there, but were not a bit buried by the wine flavor. Interestingly, though, rather than compliment the traditional bourbon notes, the wine influence seemed to fall flat. It was just another flavor in the background, rather than something to set this bourbon apart. My first impressions were underwhelming.

It is a very viscous bourbon, with a thick, oily mouthfeel. Flavors of cherry and raspberry were prominent, but yet there was no sweetness to accompany them. It was just the fruit flavor without any fruity sweetness. I realize that this wasn't finished in port or muscat barrels, but rather finished in barrels that were previously used for less-sweet wine. So perhaps my expectations were unfair, but it just didn't do a whole lot to impress.

Don't get me wrong, it was still a very good bourbon, one I enjoyed drink after drink, and I didn't hesitate to go back to whenever I reached into my cabinet for my next drink. It's a properly aged bourbon with the added flavor from the pinot noir barrels to interact with the vanilla, caramel and wood tones of the bourbon. But, it just didn't stand out as something special, despite being a limited, annual, special release from Woodford. That being said, I was still very pleased to have gotten the chance to grab a bottle I figured I likely would not come across again.

Grade: B

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Selection Barrel #3676 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120+ Proof
- 12 years, 3 months

Binny's selected eight different private barrels from Knob Creek a short time ago. When they first arrived, I stopped by one of their stores and just stared at the eight different bottles, so overwhelmed by the options, not knowing how I could possibly pick one, that I ended up just grabbing an Old Scout private selection.

About a week later, though, they provided a card with tasting notes on each different barrel and, while tasting notes are certainly subjective, it at least gave me some kind of comparison between the barrels and a basis to make a decision. I settled on a bottle that was not only well aged but was described as a "big" and "bold" bourbon with heavy notes of vanilla. Those were the magical words I needed to read to decide upon this barrel.

Immediately upon opening the bottle I knew I had some firewater. The label doesn't change with these private barrel selections, so it still indicates that it's 9 years old and 120 proof. I guess these are floors, as this one seemed to be significantly higher proof than 120, and closer to the 130 proof range like Stagg, Jr. or Elijah Craig Barrel Strength.

The flavor is heavy caramel, which overwhelmed the soft vanilla and oak flavors. That caramel seemed to transition to a nice mocha flavor. It was like a dark chocolate and caramel candy bar that burned as you ate it!

I added a little ice to try to cool it down and see if it would open up. The little bit of water did seem to sweeten it up on the front end, but even more surprising, a nice rye spice then really came through on the back end. In this respect it reminded me a lot of Stagg, Jr. and ECBP. It required some work and some patience, but behind the high proof is a very good bourbon.

All in all, I was very pleased with my selection. For what it's worth, for anyone reading this blog, if you ever get a chance to purchase a Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve private selection, do it. The price is always very reasonable ($35-40), and I have yet to get anything other than a quality bourbon. In fact, one of the best bourbons I ever had was one of these private selections.

Grade: B+

Bonus Mini Review: My neighbor purchased another one of these eight private selections - Barrel #3674. He studied the tasting notes and was sold on the description that it had a sweet, nougat flavor. Sounded delicious to me as well.  The biggest difference between the two was the heat. His bottle was significantly cooler. The flavor profile was significantly different as well, though. While my bottle tended to be the more traditional flavors (though in very bold fashion), his bottle had a more unique, sweet and nutty flavor. It tasted like honey roasted pecans, and was smooth as butter. I begrudgingly had to admit that I liked his more than mine. Luckily for me, though, he was more than generous in sharing his selection.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Rebel Yell 10-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 100 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #4744173

This is one product that I probably never would have purchased if it weren't for the overwhelming positive reviews that I was seeing on Facebook, Twitter, various blogs and nearly everywhere else even the most basic reviews might reside. I have yet to see anything other than love for this bourbon. So, I made it a point to go out and get my own bottle.

Rebel Yell is known more for their readily available, bottom shelf offering. This is a new release, 10 year old bourbon, however, much older than their usual product. Considering Luxco sources their bourbon from Heaven Hill, you know you're getting a quality, well-aged product here.

While I tend to favor rye over wheat, on my first sip, I knew I had something really good here. In fact, I typically start making notes in my phone when I'm first trying a new bourbon so that I can refer back to it as I write these blog posts. In this instance, however, I decided to forego with the note-taking on that initial pour and just enjoy this bourbon.

The nose itself is delicious! It is caramel heavy, but also had strong coffee notes as well as a nice orange citrus scent as well. Though it's not a combination I would have thought of, it really worked well!

My initial impression upon tasting this is that it is sweet with a light oakiness, but no bite of a dry bourbon. Caramel dominates from beginning to end, and the soft wood tones linger throughout as well. Perhaps it's the wood that comes through at the end to create a very tasty sweet cereal flavor. I feel like I frequently am reminded of different cereal brands when I try bourbons, and in this instance, the one that came to mind was Golden Grahams. Very good!

With this bottle, I started out fast, because it was just so good. Then, when I got about half way through the bottle, I realized that I wanted to savor it a bit more and slowed down. But, every few days I found myself just hungry for some more and had to go back to the well. This bottle was well worth the price, and I am going to have to grab a second bottle to keep in reserve.

Grade: A-

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $43
- 112.8 Proof
- NAS

I have, for the most part, been pretty partial to Wild Turkey products, enjoying their spicier flavor profile compared to the other big boys. Why I haven't picked up a bottle of Rare Breed sooner is beyond me, as a barrel proof offering from Wild Turkey just seems to make so much sense.

As I've found with most Wild Turkey products, Rare Breed is very spice forward.  It's spicy on the nose, spicy on the palate and spice on the back end. It's a rye influenced, cinnamon spice, though, as opposed to a peppery spice. On my first pour, that spice paired with the high proof just made this a serious heater that buried any other flavors that may have been lurking within. My initial impression was very ho-hum.

However, after being open for just a couple days, this bourbon took on a whole new life. While it maintained its spicy character, the heat seemed to die down a bit and a very caramel heavy sweetness came forward, balancing very well with the cinnamon spice.

The one thing that stuck out the most to me, though, and what will likely make me buy more Rare Breed in the future, is that it had a light but present apple cider flavor. You know, that apple flavor that is sweet but with just a touch of bite. It wasn't overpowering in any way, but rather a subtle flavor. However, it was there just enough to notice and enjoy.

While I've enjoyed many a pour sitting around a campfire or backyard fire, I think it's that hint of apple cider mixed with the cinnamon and caramel that just made this pour go so well with a fall campfire and roasted marshmallows. It's for that reason that I could see myself grabbing another bottle in the future in anticipation of my next night by the fire, drinking whiskey, ducking smoke and cinders and trying really hard not to fall out of my chair.

This wasn't one of those bottles that slowly developed over time. Rather, it just changed within a couple days after opening the bottle, and then remained consistent from there, and luckily for me it remained consistently good.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Jim Beam Double Oak Twice Barrelled Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $22
- 86 Proof
- NAS

I was looking for something to try out in the lower price range that I haven't had before, and I couldn't help but be drawn to the nice looking, dark blue label of the Jim Beam Double Oaked. According to the label, this bourbon was "expertly aged" in charred American white oak barrels, then poured into a new charred barrel, where it then matured for an undisclosed amount of time. It sounded to me like it might offer a healthy dose of char flavor, so I was willing to give it a try.

I poured my first glass, and the first thing I noticed was how this bourbon just sticks to the side of the glass. This bourbon has some legs, particularly compared to other bourbons in the Jim Beam line I've tried (as well as compared to most other bourbons in this price range).

On the nose I really noticed a wood tone, and it came across as a dry whiskey, at least by it's smell, anyway. It also had the traditional notes of vanilla and caramel, though they weren't strong.

However, on my first sip it certainly did not come across as very dry.  Rather, it offered heavy doses of brown sugar and a peppery spice, which complemented each other nicely. There are wood tones, but they are much more subtle than I expected from the nose. A distinct almond flavor seemed to permeate as well. Despite the brown sugar flavor, it did not come across as a very sweet bourbon.

After being opened up a bit, however, this bourbon seemed to really take on a different flavor. It sweetened up significantly, and the original flavors seemed to transform. In place of the brown sugar flavor was a much sweeter and smoother caramel flavor, and in place of the wood tones was more of a coffee flavor. It took on a flavor that reminded me of a caramel macchiato, not the Starbucks-latte kind but rather the traditional, espresso kind.

I had no expectations coming into this bourbon, but I was pleasantly surprised nonetheless. I really enjoyed it, and it's probably my favorite in the "Jim Beam" brand. I think the additional time with the new char really added some depth that I did not expect. At this price, this is absolutely worth a go-round, and it gets a bump in grade for that reason.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Michter's Small Batch US*1 Bourbon

VITALS:
- $45
- 91.4 Proof
- NAS

How I've gone this long without trying Michter's Small Batch US*1 Bourbon is beyond me. I certainly have never purchased a bottle, and I can't remember ever having it at a bar (though that is certainly not conclusive of anything). I love their barrel strength rye, and I've never heard anything bad about their bourbon, so it was high time I tried it out for myself.

The nose comes across as very traditional. It's nothing complex but provides that vanilla and toffee one would expect from a typical, good-quality bourbon.

The palate is a little bit different from the traditional Kentucky Straight bourbons, however. The most prominent flavor I noticed was a distinct almond flavor, which was backed up by some brown sugar sweetness, almost like candied almonds. It was very enjoyable, and that nutty sweetness was followed up with a light spice on the back end that seemed to hit at just the right time.

As I enjoyed subsequent pours, I noticed hints of other flavors--a light woodiness, mild vanilla tones. However, this bourbon didn't really develop or transform much after being open for a couple weeks. It stayed true to its character, but that's alright considering I enjoyed it from the start.

This is an easy drinker, certainly one that will satisfy the bourbon drinker in your life. It is not very complex, but it is clear that it was made with the purpose of creating a solid, good bourbon, one that can certainly be enjoyed neat.

I would probably give this bourbon a higher grade if the price was a bit lower. There are more robust and complex bourbons available in the same price range, ones which certainly stand out much more in their boldness. That being said, though it may not be complex and rich, it bears all the characteristics of a quality bourbon, certainly making me want to try the rest of their line of products out.

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rock Hill Farms Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 100 Proof
- NAS

Rock Hill Farms was one of those bourbons that I figured just was not distributed in Illinois for some reason. In fact, right or wrong, I think I had read on a forum somewhere that it was only available in Kentucky and Indiana. So, when I made my trip to Kentucky, I made it a point to hunt down a pour and finally try it, having heard nothing but good things.

On my last night there, at the very last bar we stumbled to, I finally ordered my pour of Rock Hill Farms. I was a bit disappointed, though. Not disappointed in the bourbon. In fact, from what I recall, I really enjoyed it. Rather, I was disappointed that I didn't get to try it until I was already a number of drinks in and didn't really get to "taste" it.

As luck would have it, one day I was putting gas in my car and I noticed a decent sized liquor store in a strip mall behind the gas station. On a whim I went in to check out their selection. Although the selection overall wasn't impressive, they had at least 10 bottles of Rock Hill Farms (as well as a bunch of bottles of Elmer T. Lee on hand, another one that has become elusive). So, naturally, I grabbed one immediately.

The nose was a traditional bourbon nose, heavy on the vanilla with toffee to balance it out. Nothing particularly stood out other than that it seemed like the typical nose of a good bourbon from Buffalo Trace, a distillery that seems to produce a number of my go-to bourbons.

However, on the first sip, I felt like I possibly found my ultimate go-to bourbon, if it weren't for the fact that it is hard to find. This bourbon embodies everything I love about bourbon and what got me into bourbon in the first place. It really brings the caramel and toffee to the forefront, like a dessert whiskey.

However, it strikes that nice balance of being sweet and delicate, while at the same time being bold and avoiding being too sweet. At 100 proof, it is rich and complex, yet it is incredibly smooth.

Additionally, you can tell it has spent a decent amount of time in the barrel (perhaps just the right amount of time), as it picked up some nice complementary oak notes, but not enough to dry it out or make it seem too woody.

The next time someone asks me what my favorite bourbon is, Rock Hill Farms may be the first answer I give them. While it's not ultra-rare or a limited release, and while, hopefully, I may have found a source for it that will keep it from being scarce, it is everything that makes traditional Kentucky Straight Bourbon so damn good. In fact, I will likely be stocking up on another bottle or two in the very near future.

Grade: A

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Yellowstone Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 93 Proof
- NAS

Yellowstone was one of those brands that I just did not see around my parts for quite a while, despite hearing good things about it. Then one day, I look at the bottom shelf of one of my regular liquor stores, and there was one lonely bottle sitting there. So, I made the decision to give it a good home. Since that time, Yellowstone has been making regular appearances on my liquor store shelves, but I wasn't taking the chance that that wouldn't be the case.

Upon popping the cork I couldn't help but notice just how damn good the nose is on this one. As far as the way a whiskey smells, this one ranks probably in my top three of all time, it's that good! The nose is smooth and full of caramel, reminding me of Werther's Originals, perfectly mixed with vanilla bean and sweet tobacco leaf. Seriously, if Yellowstone packaged this as a candle, I'd buy a case.

Unfortunately I found the taste to be relatively simple, though, which after enjoying the nose as much as I did, was a bit of a let down. It's very one dimensional, having the traditional vanilla and caramel bourbon notes, but in a watered-down format. It really lacked any boldness or complexity.

A few pours in I began to notice hints of other flavors, including cherry and cinnamon, mixing with the caramel tone on the back end. The most noteworthy flavor, though, and the only thing that really sets this bourbon apart from Jim Beam White Label, for example, is it also had a distinct malted barley flavor, almost as though it were finished in Scotch whiskey barrels. It had that light, earthy flavor I traditionally associate with Scotch, the flavor that really sets Scotch apart from bourbon. It was at least interesting in this respect.

In the end, though, regardless of the nose, I found this bourbon to be pretty one-dimensional. It compares to many base-line bourbons of the big brands, such as the aforementioned White Label, perhaps slightly better.  Yet, it commands a much higher price that, in the end, is likely going to make me stay away in the future.

Grade: C+

Sunday, October 16, 2016

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

VITALS:
- $60
- 116.8 Proof
- 9 Years, 2 Months

Each time I spot some private selections at the store, I make it a point to check my notes as to which ones I've tried so far. Binny's had three different selections on the shelf a few months back, and, even though I'd only had three up to that point, two of them were ones I've already tried. One was all I needed, though, so I grabbed the OBSQ without hesitation.

The one thing I've found I can count on with these private selections is that, while you do get differences in flavor and style, you consistently get a solid pour, and this was no exception.

The nose, while bearing the traditional caramel and brown sugar tones, really comes across as a vanilla bomb. It made my mouth water instantly, as I could tell that this was going to be rich and sweet.

True to its nose, this OBSQ was, indeed, rich and sweet. The vanilla carried through the nose and onto the palate, being the first and foremost flavor that I noticed. The rye spice in this recipe really comes into play as well (it's a 35% rye mashbill), providing a nice cinnamon spice at the back end of the smooth vanilla and brown sugar flavors.

The complexity of this bourbon really came through as I let the bottle sit a few weeks and then went back for more. It actually developed a light, crisp fruitiness to it.  It wasn't a citrus flavor, but rather almost pear-like, like pears baked in butter and brown sugar. This light fruitiness was balanced out by a cereal flavor akin to toasted Cheerios. All in all, these flavors all blended wonderfully together. Although I've never tried such a concoction, it's what I would imagine a baked pear pie would taste like.

As noted above, this was overall an incredibly solid pour, very drinkable despite its high proof and very complex, offering not only the delicious, traditional bourbon flavors but providing some unique touches of its own that really worked.

Grade: A-

Monday, October 10, 2016

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Collection Brown Rice Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $49.99 (purchased on sale for $19.99)
- 90 Proof
- 11 Years

As with the Soft Red Wheat bourbon that I posted about earlier, this was another bottle that I was more than happy to grab at the nice price of $19.99, significantly discounted from the usual $49.99 price tag that had kept me from buying a bottle up until this point. At $20, even though this is only a 375 ml bottle, I was willing to give it a shot.

The first thing I noticed is that the nose was not noteworthy. It quite frankly reminded me of a mid-shelf mixer, having those hints of vanilla and brown sugar, but you really had to work to notice them. So far nothing special here.

Upon tasting it, I remained unimpressed. The flavor up front was very mild and watered down. There was absolutely no burn, but that usually goes hand in hand with the watered down flavor. So far I was pretty disappointed.

But then, probably a full two seconds after it hit my tongue, flavors started to come through. I'm not sure what they were waiting for, perhaps setting the bar low to make their appearance. But they eventually did show up to the party, and suddenly this watered down, plain bourbon took on a life of its own and was very enjoyable.

That sweetness reminded me of cornbread with honey butter. I know that's kind of specific and for some, perhaps, unrelatable. But, it's just one of those things where you taste a bourbon and you're reminded of something you've had before, and for me this was it. It wasn't a dessert-type of sweet, just a mild, flavorful sweetness that makes a good compliment to spicy Cajun food, for example. Those sweet tones were balanced by a mild wood and toasted grain flavor that really added to the complexity of the flavor, tardy as it may have been.

This one was weird. The nose is really weak, and even with my last pour, it really came across as bland and watered down for the first second or two, and then the flavor hits, like a delayed reaction. I'm glad it finally did show up, though, because I then found myself enjoying it when it was there.

While I think I liked the Soft Red Wheat better, it's not by much, and this one ultimately gets the same grade. For the sale price, it's worth the purchase, but I'm glad I stayed away from paying full price.

Grade: B

Friday, October 7, 2016

Maker's Mark Binny's Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 111.3 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 38, Batch No. 6

I had never had a Maker's Mark private selection prior to going to Louisville this past Summer. While there, we went to (read: "stumbled to") the Haymarket. It happened to be the last bar we went to on our last night in town. Of course, we were a number of drinks in at this point, but, nonetheless, having finally made it to one of the bars we had targeted from day one, we weren't going to let that stop us from trying out something new.

I took a look at the bar, and without hesitation I ordered a Rock Hill Farms (which I honestly couldn't tell you much about that pour other than I liked it, but, then again, I might have enjoyed some ashtray water at that point). My friend, however, ordered a Maker's Mark Haymarket Private Selection. Despite the state that we both were in, the one thing that we did notice and did not forget was that this Maker's Mark tasted unlike any other Maker's Mark I've had before.

About a week later I was at Untitled in Chicago for a quick happy hour drink, and I made it a point to try their Maker's Mark Private Selection. Again, it was unlike any other Maker's Mark I've had before. It was rich, chocolatey and spicey, and I left wanting more.

Luckily, it was not long after that I found one of these private selection at one of my local Binny's. Despite the price, I jumped at it without hesitation. I even texted my friend to let him know they were there, and he grabbed his own bottle.


Each barrel is finished with ten charred staves inserted into the barrel. With the private barrel selection program, you can actually select the type of staves used, which can produce different flavors than the standard Maker's Mark or Maker's 46. In this case, I must say I was really drawn in by the fact that half of the staves were made up of either the French Mocha or the French Spice.

As soon as I broke the seal and popped the cork, the first thing I noticed was the nose. Even from a few feet away, as I was grabbing my glass from the cupboard, I could smell the toffee notes emanating from the bottle. The sweetness of this bourbon was strong from the start.

On the first sip I was struck immediately by a blend of chocolate and red wine flavor. It was very rich, matching in many respects the dark color of the bourbon. The chocolate notes were dominant, but the pinot noir red wine flavor seemed to not only keep the bourbon from seeming too sweet but to also offer flavors of dark fruit that complemented the chocolate notes.

The toffee flavors that I found on the nose were also present, but not to the extent that the nose had me expecting. Rather, the toffee was there just as an additional little perk, like finding a five dollar bill in your jacket pocket. It won't buy much, but it nonetheless brings momentary pleasure.

This bottle certainly brings the heat, but the soft wine and chocolate flavors seemed to help that heat settle pretty quickly, keeping this from being a real burner, as well as keeping it from being too sweet. As the bottle was open for a while, that burn dissipated, and really, the only flaw I found in this product seemed to go away as I got to the final few pours.

This was an excellent bottle, and while each selection is going to be influenced by the different staves added to the barrel, I won't hesitate to grab any future private selections I may come across, whether at a bar, a liquor store, or otherwise.

Grade: A

Monday, October 3, 2016

Jim Beam Signature Craft Harvest Collection Soft Red Wheat Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $49.99 (purchased on sale for $19.99)
- 90 Proof
- 11 Years

I couldn't tell you how many times I've walked into the liquor store, seen these Harvest Collection Jim Beam bottles, wanted to try them, and ultimately decided the price was just to prohibitive. I simply couldn't justify spending $50 on a .375 ml bottle, particularly on something that is experimental.

However, at $20, I'm certainly more willing to try something different. So when Binny's put these on sale at $19.99, I grabbed this one and the Brown Rice. After all, a Jim Beam experiment with a different grain that has been aged for 11 years can only be so bad, and there's always the possibility that it's really good (though I'm guessing I would have heard about it by now if this were some amazing juice). In any event, at $20, I was happy to pick up a couple bottles to try them for myself.

Being a wheated bourbon, albeit an experimental grain of wheat, I fully expected a sweeter version of regular Beam. That wasn't exactly what I found, though. While it is certainly a sweeter bourbon, I was surprised to find that it took a second for the sweetness to come through. However, that sweetness, once it did hit, stuck around for a while, with a buttery caramel flavor lingering at the back of the throat long after I swallowed.

I actually enjoyed this bourbon more after I swallowed than I did upon the first sip. Up front it almost had a slight bitterness to it that I wasn't a very big fan of, but yet, after I was done, I found myself thinking, "That was pretty good!"  Go figure.

In addition to that buttery caramel note on the back end, there were also distinct hints of vanilla and oak, with a slight brown sugar tone up front. The oakiness of the bourbon is likely was contributed to that dry, bitterness up front.

Because this comes in the 375 ml bottle, I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time with it, so I didn't notice a whole lot of change from the first pour to the last. I did, however, notice on later pours a toasted almond flavor that I didn't recall noticing at first.

All in all, if this was an experiment by Beam, I think it was a good one. Certainly for a lower price this is a bourbon I would enjoy again. Unfortunately, though, it appears these small but pricey offerings are all we're going to get, so I'll just continue to look for similar sales on the others.

Grade: B

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Barton 1792 Sweet Wheat Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $44.00
- 91.2 Proof
- NAS

I had been on the hunt for a while now for the 1792 Sweet Wheat, but I just could not find it in the stores. Even when I was in Louisville, even though I was able to find it, it was either overpriced or there was something else that caught my eye at the time. So, when I wandered into one of my regular liquor store stops just to see what they had, I couldn't have been more pleased to find one bottle sitting by itself on the bottom shelf.

The nose itself is indeed soft and sweet, like vanilla cereal. One of my favorite cereals growing up was Frosted Cheerios, and I was reminded of how much I like that cereal when I took a big whiff of this.

This is unquestionably a wheated bourbon. However, it did not have that normal tang or twinge (I have no idea how to describe it) that other wheated bourbons have. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone reading this, but it does to me. Rather, this wheated bourbon is very smooth, and certainly sweeter than other wheated bourbons I've had.

It has a soft and sweet palate to match the flavors on the nose. That cereal flavor is still there, mixing grain with sugar and vanilla. There is, however, something light and crisp about this whiskey that I didn't expect. I've tried to put my finger on it since the first pour, and yet, even after the last drop, I can't quite identify it. It is almost citrusy, but not quite. Perhaps it's just a variation of the aforementioned tang/twinge that I'm used to noticing in wheated bourbons.

I actually had plans of getting to a good bourbon bar near my work where I know they carry the 1792 Sweet Wheat, but luckily for me I found a bottle of my own. Of course I may still go to that bar, but now I can spend my money trying something different. In the meantime, though, if I ever see Sweet Wheat on the shelves again, I won't hesitate to grab a bottle for the bunker.

Grade: A-

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $45
- 90 Proof
- NAS

My wife is wonderful in so many ways, but one of the biggest ways is when she buys me random bottles of whiskey out of the blue. This was one such bottle. Intrigued by the sticker on the bottle advertising Dad's Hat's Rye as having been named Craft Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate, and knowing it was one I've not tried before, she grabbed a bottle for me on a whim. (You should know she also grabbed yet another bottle of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof while she was at the store just because she knew I loved it!)

I feel like I've been lucky enough to get my hands on some of the harder to find or nicer bottles from the major producers lately, but, as a result, I haven't tried many of the hundreds of craft distillery products that are out there, so I eagerly popped the cork on this one right away.

Sometimes when I nose a bourbon it takes me a few tries before I can pin down the different scents I'm noticing. That was not the case with this one. This nose was a blend of tobacco leaf and dark cherry. Certainly these are not everyday scents, so I don't know why, for whatever reason, I was able to ascertain this one quickly, but I was certain of what I smelled. The tobacco reminded leave actually reminded me of some Irish whiskeys I've had in the past.

Upon the first sip, the first thing I noticed was that this Rye has an odd tanginess to it. At first I chalked it up to the fact that it is a young whiskey coming from a craft distillery. According to the label, it was aged for a minimum of 6 months in new oak quarter cask barrels. I've noticed that with young ryes, they have a certain young quality due to less time spent with the wood. This one was a bit different than that, though.

The tanginess was almost like the sweet tanginess you get from vermouth or even rum finished barrels—a sweetness that has a thin line between sweet and too sweet. I thought this rye came pretty close to that line, but did not cross it.

It had an interesting combination of flavors going on. Though it took me a few drinks to pinpoint it, it has a nutmeg flavor that seemed to mix with the plum (perhaps that's the tanginess I noticed, like biting into a not-quite-ripe plum). However, it had that sugar cane flavor to it as well. I can't recall ever having plum pudding, but I imagine that if I had, that would be my flavor comparison here. I could be way off base here, so for now I'll just leave it as is and make it a point to try plum pudding some time.

All in all, this is a good rye that I feel, with some additional aging, can become a really good rye. That being said, this one was already bottled, so I drank it and enjoyed it. While it may not be on the list of my priorities as far as future purchases, it certainly has me interested in some of the other products that Dad's Hat offers, including the port finished rye I've seen on the shelves recently, and I may give one of those a go.

Grade: B

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Willett Family Estate 3-Year Straight Rye

VITALS:
- $45
- 110.4 Proof
- 3 Years

Last year I had the opportunity to try the Willett Family Estate 2 Year Rye, their own product which they distilled and aged, and I absolutely loved it. So, when the 3-year was released, I did not hesitate to grab a bottle to try immediately (and I'm sure I'll be grabbing each future release as well).

It's nice when a product you already know you love gets released as a slightly older version. It really takes the risk out of the purchase, not that I've found a whole lot of risk with Willett products to begin with. This one certainly did not disappoint. On the nose I immediately noticed cinnamon bread. It was a nice blend of sweet spice and grain that made my mouth salivate immediately.

What followed was a taste of traditional rye, but also, and not necessarily unexpectedly, a mild cinnamon flavor paired with an earthy maltiness, giving this rye multiple enjoyable layers, and certainly showing where the cinnamon bread nose came from. At points I even likened it to Cinnamon Toast Crunch (for some reason, I frequently find myself comparing flavors in whiskey to different cereal brands). It just had that familiarity to it. 

This rye really seemed to linger for ever. It's a more viscous rye, one that really coated the mouth and back of the throat, making that cinnamon flavor stick around for quite a while. A light minty-ness seemed to come through at the end, really only noticeable after I swallowed. This presented a nice complement to the sweet heat that maintained throughout each sip, even long after I finished each sip.

This remained a very rich rye from the beginning of the bottle to the end. Towards the end, it seemed to be almost all cinnamon and caramel (a combination of flavors that I really seem to enjoy!), really finishing strong.

I took my time getting through this bottle, and now that it's done, I feel like it won't be too long before their next release. I can't wait, as I enjoyed this more than the 2-year (which, looking back at my old post, I clearly loved!), and this stuff appears to be on an upward trajectory right now.

Grade: A

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
Price: $50
Proof: 110 Proof
Age: 6 Years (NAS on bottle)
Distiller: Heaven Hill

I held onto this bottle for quite some time before opening it. I'm not really sure why, just seemed to have something else I wanted to open first, and so my Pikesville Rye just sat bunkered, waiting to be loved. But, finally, I decided to crack the seal and give it a try, and before I knew it I was to the bottom of the bottle. I don't know what I was waiting for, because once opened I couldn't stay away from this stuff.

On the nose there's a distinct citrus note to it, very orange-y. Traditional rye flavors are also present, with a strong cinnamon spice, but the orange scent immediately set this apart from other ryes.

On the first sip, the citrus note remained, but it had more bitterness to it, more like orange peel. That bitter orange peel flavor mixed quite well, however, with prominent brown sugar and vanilla notes, making this rye neither too bitter nor too sweet. It found a nice cushion in the middle, like a slot receiver finding a soft spot in a zone defense.

This is certainly a different tasting rye, unlike your traditional ryes, but it still had some of the familiar characteristics I enjoy in a good rye, particularly that cinnamon spice. While it wasn't strong and didn't tickle the back of my throat or make my mouth water like some do, it again was enough to balance very well with all the other flavors going on.

This rye clocks in at 110 proof. Although it's not labeled as barrel proof, there certainly hasn't been much watering down of the product, and that complexity and richness that comes with higher proofs certainly exists in this rye. It's an incredibly easy sipper despite the high proof, and I didn't really notice any burn either in the nose or on the palate. 

Ultimately, this is one of the most well-balanced ryes I've had, giving almost equal doses of citrus, sweet, spicy and bitter. Since its release, Pikesville has been pretty readily available, and, although somewhat in the higher range of ryes, is certainly worth the price, as this is an excellent, albeit kind of different, rye whiskey. It's no wonder that I found my way through this bottle as fast as I did.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $40
- 99 Proof
- 7 years
- Batch No. 52

The Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year Rye had eluded me for quite some time. While it was supposed to be generally available, I simply hadn't seen it in the wild anywhere. Having heard good things about it, I always kept an eye out.

I ended up finding it at a local higher-end grocery store called Mariano's. Among their whiskey selections were a number of craft options the likes you don't find in most grocery stores, and there, at a cool $40, were a number of bottles of the Old Scout Rye. It only took me half a second to grab one and head for the checkout line.

The nose is a traditional rye spice, with some vanilla and pepper and a bit of cherry to it. On the first sip I couldn't help but notice how smooth it is. It's 99 proof, but had very minimal burn.

The flavor was all dark fruits and spice. It was like a mix of cherry and plum with cinnamon. It also had a nutty, pecan flavor behind it. I found it to be incredibly tasty from the first pour.

Perhaps it was the bottle, perhaps it was me, or perhaps it's just a complex rye, but while the cherry flavor stuck around, as I made my way through this bottle, the cinnamon and nut flavors were muted and a distinct coffee flavor came to the forefront to mix with the cherry, along with a chocolate undertone.  This cherry and coffee mix was really interesting, and the differing flavors continued to hit my tongue in waves, even if they were different than on the first pour.

This is a very warming rye, certainly spicy, and would be very good on a cold winter night. I happened to enjoy this bottle over the summer, and, don't get me wrong, I absolutely enjoyed it on warm summer nights, sitting on my couch in the air conditioning.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mellow Corn Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey

VITALS:
- $13
- 100 Proof
- NAS

Let me just start off by saying this is by far the ugliest label on any bottle I've ever cracked open. The color scheme leaves much to be desired, and it's a good thing its cheap, because it otherwise does not necessarily scream attractiveness as far as whiskey labels are concerned.

But, of course, none of that matters. I only mention it because, considering how recognizable this label is, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't find a bottle near me. It wasn't until I made my trip to Louisville that I finally tracked down a bottle, and now it represents the last bottle standing from my Kentucky trip haul.

On the nose the ethanol is strong, as is expected from a corn whiskey, particularly a higher proof corn whiskey such as this. The nose is also very sweet, however, reminding me of the smell of a corn processing plant (if you've ever been near one, you know the smell I'm talking about).  

The first sip was sweet to match the nose. The corn provides almost all the flavor, but there's a bit of heat mixed with a cinnamon flavor at the end that was quite enjoyable, reminding me of those fireball jawbreakers I used to break my teeth on as a kid. That burn seemed to linger a bit as well, really warming my insides.

Mellow Corn holds up on its own as a sipper, but it is nonetheless pretty one-dimensional. It lacks in any real complexity, though it held up from the beginning of the bottle to the end. Also, considering the price, I fully expected a thin, watery whiskey. While it's not the most viscous I've ever had, it certainly doesn't come across as watery, and had decent texture.

As I worked my way through the bottle i noticed additional hints of almond and brown sugar to mix with the corn and cinnamon that initially dominated. These flavors were not strong and were ultimately overwhelmed by the cinnamon red hots flavor.

For the price I paid, Mellow Corn is a very good whiskey. As far as value whiskeys go, it's always nice to find one that is worthy of sipping neat or with an ice cube. It's nothing great, but it is certainly a better than average whiskey at a nice price.

Grade: C+

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Barton 1792 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Gift Shop Single Barrel Select

VITALS:
- $50
- 98.6 Proof
- NAS

On my recent trip to Louisville I brought home what I thought was a decent haul of bourbon. In fact, my wife believed that the six bottles could last me three months (hahaha, silly wife!). Here I am, though, just over a month removed from that trip, and I'm finding the bottom of the last couple bottles from that trip. While it has saved me a number of trips to the liquor store, it nonetheless makes me sad to realize that I'm to the last drops of my mementos from my pilgrimage.

This Barton 1792 Single Barrel, a private selection from their gift shop, however, was the one bottle that I tried to make last. I first cracked into this bottle on the bus back to Louisville after hitting Barton as our last distillery tour of the day. I opened the bottle and was hit immediately with a heavy vanilla nose. Even my tour guide noticed the nose from across the aisle of the bus.

That vanilla nose very much carried through to the palate. In fact, this is the closest thing to a vanilla bomb bourbon that I've had in a while. I thoroughly enjoyed it after a long day of distillery tours and bourbon tasting, and I continued to enjoy it each pour thereafter.

In addition to the heavy amounts of vanilla, it had a buttery walnut undertone, making it almost pastry-like in flavor. However, at the back end it was complemented by an unexpected smokiness.

To add to the complexity of this bourbon, as I made my way through this bottle I began to notice a very tasty amaretto flavor that would hang around the back of my throat long after each swallow. This bourbon really coated the mouth and, in general, seemed to stick around forever.

Whoever picked out this barrel has incredible taste.  Although this cost a bit more than the bottles you find on the liquor store shelves, it wasn't that much more, and was still worth every penny. I was sad to see this one go, not only for the sentimental reasons noted above, but also because I knew I wouldn't be able to find this one again.

Grade: A

Monday, August 15, 2016

Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $11
- 100 Proof
- NAS

This is another one of the bottom-shelf bourbons that I just can't find anywhere in Illinois (though I understand it is available), so I grabbed a bottle while I was in Louisville last month. I'm quickly running short on my stash that I had built up during that trip. Though I hadn't planned on grabbing a bottle of the Evan Williams BIB, at only $11 it was hardly a gamble.

That being said, I'm glad that $11 is all I spent. This bourbon really comes across as a sub-par example of bourbon, something that I would really only use as a mixer, and, quite frankly, that's predominantly what this bottle was used for.

The nose gives off the traditional vanilla and caramel flavors, and leans more toward the caramel end. After getting that first sniff, I was hoping that I had found myself a gem on the lower shelf.

However, upon tasting it, the bourbon just comes across as watery and simple. Sure, it has the typical vanilla, but it lacked in the sweetness that I drew me to bourbon in the first place. Beyond that, it came across as dry and woody. Rather than mix with the wood and develop complex flavors, it simply took on the wood flavor and not much else.

This bourbon is also very watery in texture, and I just didn't really enjoy it as a sipper. As noted above, it just came across as a below-average bourbon, not like the Heaven Hill BIB which is a steal at this price point.

I ultimately ended up using this bourbon for making Old Fashioned's whenever the mood hit me. Even for this purpose, though, I think a sweeter, more robust bourbon would have made for a better cocktail.

Again, at the price point, it was worth the gamble, and I'm not exactly disappointed. However, knowing that there are quality bourbons, even sipping bourbons to be had at this price point, the Evan Williams BIB just doesn't stack up.

Grade: C-

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $12.00
- 100 Proof
- 6 years old

This is another bottle I brought home from my recent trip to Louisville. In fact, this was one of the bottles that I was specifically searching out while I was there. For some reason I just can't find this stuff in Illinois, which is a shame considering how cheap it is and the fact that it gets positive reviews across the board.

Interestingly, the first liquor store I went into was all out, and the guy behind the counter told me it's become very hard to find, even in Louisville. But then I walked a block and a half to the next liquor store where they not only had a bunch of bottles on the shelf, but even a display up front by the register. I told this clerk what the guy at the other liquor store told me and he just laughed.

I brought a number of bottles home with me from that trip, so it took a bit to crack into this one, but when I did, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The nose on this bourbon is great! It was a nice  blend of caramel and vanilla, which I would certainly expect, but also tobacco leaf, reminiscent of good Irish single malts. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the nose!

On my first sip, I primarily noticed a nice, mellow rye spice, complemented by the expected vanilla and caramel notes. That sweetness counter-balanced by the rye spice stayed consistent throughout, making this a very solid, traditional rye-based bourbon. There was nothing overly complex about this bourbon. It's not trying to be anything more than just a good bourbon, and it does a good job of that.

On the back end I got some oak flavors which I didn't anticipate from a 6 year old bourbon. The cinnamon spice from the rye seemed to tickle the back of my throat, but the caramel seemed to coat it after a bit, sticking around a bit longer.

It's a thin, watery bourbon, yet it doesn't lack for flavor. While watery bourbons tend to be more of mixers than sippers, I really enjoyed drinking this one straight from the glass. At only $12 a bottle, this is an incredible value, certainly an above-average bourbon at an incredibly affordable price.

Grade: B

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Breckenridge Whiskey Port Cask Finish

VITALS:
- $70
- 90 Proof

A couple weeks ago my wife and I did the obligatory road trip with the kids, taking them across the flat lands of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska so they could see mountains and experience something other than the great plains. We stayed in Breckenridge, and I knew that at some point on this trip I'd be visiting the Breckenridge Distillery.

Within 10 minutes of being in town, though, I found myself in the Breckenridge Tasting Room, where I was immediately greeted and offered a shot of bourbon! Great start to a vacation, and on hell of a way to cap off a long drive! While at the tasting room, though, I learned of a new release, one which the lady behind the counter believed was already sold out. She informed me that only a week prior Breckenridge Distillery had just finished bottling their port finish. While she had no samples for me, she assured me it was incredible.  So, I spent the rest of the week searching out any bottles that remained.

On my last day of vacation I finally made it to the distillery and much to my pleasure they had box on top of box of the port finish, and I grabbed my bottle even before I took the tour (which was free and really fun, by the way!).

On the nose the fruit from the port is really noticeable. Just as noticeable, though, is the sweetness of this whiskey. A sweet, vanilla aroma really came through, not overly sweet, just sweet enough to intrigue me and make me think I'm in for something a little different and good. It smells like dessert!

It comes across as a very easy drinker, not too syrupy, no burn, and, unexpectedly, not nearly as sweet as the nose made me believe it would be. It's on the sweetness level of plums or dark cherries. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but it wasn't that sickening-sweet that you get in some finished bourbons.

Speaking of "bourbon," I found it interesting that despite that this is simply Breckenridge Bourbon finished in port casks, they chose to label it as "whiskey" and not "bourbon" for the fact that the finishing adds flavors not otherwise found in the bourbon. While some distillers continue to call their port finished products "bourbon" (i.e. Angel's Envy and Barton 1792), Breckenridge went the safe route calling it "whiskey."

Nonetheless, the traditional bourbon flavors eventually came through, sneaking out from under the dominant dark fruit flavors. Vanilla and cinnamon came to the forefront as well, along with a hint of coffee flavor.

In the end, though, the earlier sweetness stuck around after the other flavors seemed to disappear, and those sweet notes seemed to linger at the back of my throat forever, something I really enjoyed about this bourbon. Overall, I was very pleased with the only souvenir I brought back from Breckenridge, and I hope they keep cranking out such quality products!

Grade: A