Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rittenhouse Bottled-In-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey

Rittenhouse Bonded Rye has many fans, at least that's my observation on the various social media sites I visit from time to time. So, at $22 a bottle, it only made sense that I try it out. Social media aside, though, a bonded-in-bond rye for that price is a worthwhile endeavor in any event. As with any other bonded whiskey, you know you're getting a certain level of quality, not to mention the higher 100 proof.

The first thing I noticed is that it has a burgundy hue to it (and I confirmed this when I poured it into the glass, thinking the label might have been playing a trick on me). When I opened the bottle, I was hit with a nose of cinnamon and red licorice, a nice combination of scents, making me salivate for that first taste.

Rittenhouse Rye drinks very easily. That was perhaps what I noticed most about this rye. Despite it being 100 proof, it has minimal burn and is a very inoffensive, easy-to-drink whiskey. That is due also in part to the very friendly palate. Most prominent was a cinnamon spice that I couldn't help but liken to Big Red chewing gum. It wasn't a strong spice, but nonetheless very noticeable.

It's also a sweeter rye, with a heavy molasses flavor, which is countered by a contrasting and tangy ginger flavor on the back end. It presented a more unique blend of flavors than what I've become accustomed to with ryes, but yet it remained relatively simple, lacking any real depth or complexity. This may be due in part to the watery texture of the rye, not leaving much flavor behind, but instead dissipating almost immediately after each swallow.

This was also one of those few instances where I actually liked it less after it was open for a bit. An artificial cherry flavor took hold, as if that red licorice flavor that I noticed on the nose when I first opened the bottle finally decided it was time to make its appearance. While I enjoyed it on the nose, it did not fit well with the other flavors, and it was one of those situations where once I noticed it there, I couldn't avoid noticing it every sip thereafter. It also didn't help that the sweetness that initially existed took a back seat, leaving only that artificial cherry flavor without the sweetness to go with.

I wouldn't categorize this as a great rye by any means. However, at this price, it's a very good value rye and well-worth what you'll pay.

Grade: B

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Knob Creek Single Barrel Liquor City "Uncorked" Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I would imagine that many a bourbon drinker has come across the problem that I have, at least in my case with respect to store select Knob Creek Single Barrel bottlings. The first such bottling I ever had, coined "Gallenstein Selection #3" from Liquor City Uncorked in Covington, KY was one of the best bourbons that I ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Since then, my buddy who makes those frequent trips to Covington has brought back other store selections, hoping to find another such honey barrel.

Such is the case with this store selection. My buddy stated that this bottle was brought out from the back, and that it was supposedly from the same bottling. I questioned it, due in large part to the different labeling, but, in the effort to catch that unicorn (and because it is bourbon, after all), I was willing to give it a go.

This particular store selection of the Knob Creek Single Barrel was heavy with caramel on the nose, along with some fresh apple. Its aroma gave of a very autumn, apple-picking and hay-rides kind of vibe.

What's better is that it had a flavor to match. It reminded me very much of a caramel fudge sundae, with the caramel and cocoa flavors seemingly poured over the top of the underlying vanilla. However, this caramel fudge sundae came with a bunch of burn and a light peppery spice on the back end that seemed just a touch out of place.

As is frequently the case, after the bottle was open for a while the burn receded significantly. The bourbon not only turned into a much smoother pour, but it sweetened up quite a bit. Gone were the cocoa notes and forward came the caramel flavor. It was still very much like a sundae, but without the burn behind it, it was very much a dessert-type bourbon! The last couple pours were incredibly tasty!

While it wasn't my unicorn, this was still a fantastic bourbon. Those people at Liquor City Uncorked really have good taste in their selections!

Grade: A-

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2015)

- $125
- 90 Proof

The 18 year old version of Elijah Craig seemed to be more readily available this year than it (as well as other aged Elijah Craig expressions) has in the past. This could be due in large part, though, to the heftier price tag than it has seen in the past, clocking in at around $125. But, now that it's a few months after its release, I no longer see it on the shelves or inside the locked cabinets at all my favorite liquor stores. Perhaps this is an indication that the bourbon boom is not seeing an end any time, and well-aged bourbons still command such prices.

That being said, this bottle was nonetheless well worth the experience. The nose is absolutely incredible--a wonderful blend of caramel and vanilla, pipe tobacco and apple. It was almost an earthier apple pie scent that I could bottle up and wear as a cologne (if I wore cologne).

While I couldn't stop sniffing this one, eventually I got around to putting the bourbon to my lips, and in the words of Frank the Tank, "It's so good once it hits your lips! It's so good . . ." In older bourbons such as this, the typical bourbon flavor profile is often overwhelmed by the oak and tanins, making for a drier bourbon with a sort of bite to it (and not the spicy kind of bite). Here, although the wood tones were there, they were far from overwhelming, but rather complementary to the traditional vanilla and caramel flavors. The tanins that I expected to run into were simply nonexistent.

The sweet flavors typical of bourbons were there, but the balance of the oak made it a somewhat more savory bourbon, with the sweet caramel and brown sugar notes being a bit more subtle. This also comes across as a lighter bourbon, both in flavor and texture. The flavor was lightened up by somewhat unique pear and floral flavors, flavors which I frequently find in single malts but rarely in bourbons.

The texture was light as well, coming across as almost delicate, light on the tongue, but yet I wouldn't describe it as watery. It still coated the mouth and throat in a deliciousness that never seemed to go away, but without the oily residue texture that you frequently get from bourbons that linger on forever like this one.

I can't say enough good things about the Elijah Craig 18 Year. It's 90 proof, and when I run into lower proof bourbons where I really love their flavor, I tend to wish that it was bottled closer to cask strength to add flavor and complexity. This bourbon, however, comes across just perfect at 90 proof, and I think that if it were bottled at cask strength it might actually detract from my enjoyment.

Grade: A

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Metze's Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey 2015 Medley

Over the last few months I've been telling my non-whiskey drinking father-in-law about this company, MGP Ingredients, how this distiller has a vastly different business model than your usual distillery, and the amount of success that the company has seen recently. As a result, he began tracking the company's stock, reading up on its history, and following it in the news. MGP became the topic of numerous discussions between the two of us.

Although he hasn't become any more interested in whiskey, he was more than excited for me to open my Christmas present this year, a bottle of Metze's Select, a small batch bourbon blended by MGP's master distiller, Greg Metze. This limited release bourbon (labeled as the "2015 Medley") is a blend of 38% - 2008 Bourbon (21% rye); 3% - 2006 Bourbon (36% Rye); and 59% - 2008 Bourbon (21% Rye), and was bottled at 93 Proof. The result is certainly a high-rye bourbon, but that puts it in my wheelhouse.

The nose is amazing. It's strong in vanilla and pipe tobacco, sweet and earthy, and easily noticed from a couple feet away. If I were to give an sub-grade to the nose itself, it'd get an A+. I could make candles out of this stuff.

On the palate, the high-rye content lends to a cinnamon-type spice that stands out from beginning to end. You notice it right away on the tip of your tongue, and that spicy bite lingers well after each swallow. It's accompanied by a well-balanced brown sugar sweetness underscored throughout by a strong vanilla flavor. I wouldn't quite call it a "vanilla bomb," but it's approaching that territory.

The bourbon is a bit on the watery side, but yet the flavor lingers seemingly forever, in the way that a more viscous bourbon usually would.

Further into the bottle, the vanilla and cinnamon flavors, though remaining present, gave way a bit to a very noticeable butterscotch flavor that would hang around the back of my throat long after each swallow in such a way that I was quickly reaching for my next sip.

All in all, this is a fantastic whiskey, and I only have two small marks against it. The first is that it's a relatively low proof. Although it is very good at this proof, I couldn't help but wonder just how good this stuff would be at barrel strength, with that added robustness and flavor. Additionally, the price is a bit prohibitive. I realize this was a limited, special release, but considering this is MGP's first retail release, the terms "limited" or "special" are relative and carry little weight. At about $70 per bottle, it's a tough sell, as there are plenty of great bourbons available at a lower cost.

This one was a gift, though, and I enjoyed every sip. I definitely encourage people to at least give it a try and enjoy what Mr. Metze has selected as his signature blend.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

It seemed for years that Elmer T. Lee was somewhat of a ghost. Even though I'm surrounded by Binny's Beverage Depots and have countless other well-stocked liquor stores in my area, and despite that I'm frequently inside these establishments, I never seemed to run across a bottle of Elmer T. Lee.

It really made me quite sad. After all, everything I've ever heard on the interwebs is that not only is this very good stuff, but it's also very affordable. I'm sure that, plus the fact that Buffalo Trace has really limited the number of bottles of each batch being released, leads to its scarcity.

I made a new friend recently, though, the type of friend every whiskey lover should have--my local liquor store owner. His store is not the big box Binny's. In fact, it's the small, strip-mall liquor store with a generic name and somewhat higher prices, but within a bike ride from home. I've managed to befriend the owner, and on a recent trip to pick up some wine for my wife, he made it a point to let me know that he had a bottle of Elmer T. Lee sitting in the back and asked if I was interested. I fought hard to hold back the girlish squeal of delight, and resisted the urge to hug that beautiful man, and graciously said yes and thanked him profusely for letting me know he had it.

I paid a bit more--$42 when it can be had for $35--but I can rationalize that purchase a million ways, including the fact that he's my new best friend and I just want to help support the local small business.

Anyway, this is possibly the longest intro I've had on one of my blog posts, so on to the booze I go. Upon cracking this bottle open, with only one whiff I knew I would like it. The nose was vanilla-heavy, along with pleasant aromas of pipe tobacco and coffee. This is one of those bourbons that I could sit and sniff for an hour before taking a drink.

The first sip was really incredible. I was worried about this bourbon being over-hyped, and unable to live up to the standards set on various message boards and blogs. But that wasn't the case. This is a damn good bourbon, smooth and sweet, that's heavy on the vanilla to match its nose. It has a light spice to it, and cocoa and coffee flavors push their way through on the back end. At 90 proof, it lacked a bit of the robustness that this bourbon might otherwise have closer to cask strength, but it was nonetheless full of flavor and complexity.

My impression of the first few pours I had was that this is a very dessert-like bourbon, like tiramisu in a glass!

What threw me for a loop, though, is that while the first few pours were home runs, as I neared the end of the bottle, what I loved most about this bourbon seemed to disappear. Although it remained a very good bourbon, it lost its knock-your-socks off appeal. I can't explain it, except that it lost some of its sweetness and the vanilla bomb seemed to fizzle.

In the end, this is still an incredible bourbon, one that I will always keep an eye out for, and that I will not hesitate to grab off the shelf when I find it.

Grade: A-