Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Four Kings 2015 Craft Rye Whiskey Collaboration

- $50
- 80 Proof
- Bottle #352/800
- Blend of 30 gallons each from Corsair Distillery, FEW Spirits, Journeyman Distillery and Mississippi River Distilling Company

Two years ago there was a lot of excitement surrounding the inaugural collaboration released by these four craft distilleries in conjunction with Whisky Week Chicago 2014. The 2014 Collaboration flew off the shelves at Binny's (the exclusive retailer for the release), and it got pretty good reviews overall.

Although the 2015 Collaboration had some hype, it appeared the novelty wore off. Here it is almost April, the 2016 Collaboration is on its way, and you can still find bottles of the 2015 release sitting on shelves. Perhaps its due in part to the fact that its a rye whiskey, not as in demand as bourbon, but whatever the reason, these bottles simply did not fly off the shelves as with their first release (and the 2016 is a blended single malt--I'll be curious how that one does).

I, however, was excited by the fact that they released a rye, having enjoyed the ryes offered by each of these distilleries, and I grabbed a bottle as soon as they hit the shelf. It sat in my bunker for quite a while, though, before I eventually got around to opening it. Other bottles just kept calling to me, but eventually this one made its way into my open bottle rotation.

The nose is the traditional cinnamon and brown sugar you'd expect from a rye. It certainly smelled sweet, and that was no facade.

On first sip, the sweetness was really all I could notice. The brown sugar was heavy up front. With each subsequent sip, however, it appeared to settle a bit, allowing the other flavors to come through, including black pepper and vanilla with a substantial sweet cinnamon flavor on the back end. It was, indeed, very sweet, but it offered a decent amount of spice to go with.

As I made my way through my bottle, however, I kept hitting on a flavor that I couldn't place, but once I did place it, I had a hard time noticing anything but that flavor: Oatmeal cookie. Honestly, before I placed it I wasn't sure if I liked it or not, and as I type this I'm still not sure. It was . . . interesting? Occasionally it seemed to be complemented by a crisp green apple flavor. Eventually that sweet oatmeal cookie flavor gave way to a noticeable coffee flavor that brought in a bit of bitterness.

I think I liked this bottle more at the beginning than I did at the end. Ultimately, I was left underwhelmed. That being said, I'm sure to pick up the 2016 Collaboration at some point, as well as future releases. It'd be fun to try a blend of cask strength bourbons!

Grade: C-

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Binny's Private Selection 10 Year Straight Bourbon

- $60.00
- 107.8 Proof
- Aged 10 Years
- Barrel #1689

I've only had a Smooth Ambler product once before, and while I enjoyed their seven-year bourbon, it wasn't as though I was blown away or anything. However, when I got the opportunity to grab a private selection of their 10-year bourbon and to enjoy it at barrel strength, it was a must-buy moment. I've heard incredible stuff about their 10-year, particularly the private selection, barrel-strength bourbons, and I just had to see for myself.

I couldn't be more thrilled with a bourbon purchase I've made! This bourbon is full of the traditional bourbon flavors you'd expect, coming across as a powerful vanilla bomb, sweetened by caramel and toffee, and balanced out by a slight woody, oak flavor that is only prevalent enough to make you know it's there, but not to get in the way of the other flavors.

Each of the flavors are robust and easily distinguishable, causing you to notice them over and over with each sip. And to be clear, this is absolutely a sippin' whiskey. At 107.8 proof, it's got a heavy burn, but it does not detract from the enjoyment or in any way detract from its flavor. Rather, I believe the higher proof allows the vanilla and caramel to come forward and keep the tannic wood from overwhelming.

This bourbon is very dark in color and it is very thick in texture and very heavy on the tongue. While it isn't always this case, in this instance, that is certainly reflective of the richness of this bourbon.

I absolutely loved this bourbon from the get go. It embodies nearly everything I love in a bourbon. It is rich and sweet, and full of vanilla. On the back end it has a mild clove spice, indicating a higher rye content in the mashbill, followed by a lingering oakiness, but without the tannins, showing its age without drying out the whiskey.

I enjoyed every sip of this bourbon, without question, one of the best I've ever had!

Grade: A+

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey

- $80.00
- 100 Proof
- Aged 10 Years
- 100% Rye

Though much has been written and said about the source of WhistlePig's whiskies and their transparency in their labeling, much has also been written and said about the quality of the product nonetheless. Though generally readily available, the price tag has tended to persuade me against purchasing a bottle. However, this year I used some of my year end bonus to splurge a little and buy a bottle.

The nose is primarily burnt sugar along with a soft, malt-like scent, almost like a sugary cereal. It's not a strong nose, but very pleasant and a promising sign of what's to follow.

The flavor right away is brown sugar, which quickly fades into a delicious maple pecan and butter flavor. This tasty dessert flavor is accompanied by light crisp apple and citrus undertones that make for an interesting and tasty mix of flavors. It's a very pleasant experience overall, and my first impression is that, although I was drinking this in February and March, it would make a great sipper during warm Summer days.

Although it's a 100 proofer, it remains soft and light, and almost refreshing in nature. As I made my way through the bottle, the pecan pie flavor really came forward, and I happen to love pecan pie.  It was also paired with a very prevalent anise which added a nice spice to the end.

All in all, this is a very tasty and very enjoyable rye, particularly for anyone who doesn't go for those heavy, bold and spicy ryes. This would be right up their alley. I tend to favor heavier, spicier ryes and, while I enjoyed the WhistlePig 10 year rye, I tend to favor the other end of the rye spectrum. Also, that hefty price tag that made me shy away from purchasing the bottle in the past will likely continue to do so.

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wild Turkey Forgiven Blended Bourbon and Rye Straight Whiskies

- $40.00
- 91 Proof
- Batch No. 303

I've always been intrigued by Wild Turkey's forgiven, a blend of their bourbon and rye, packaged in a nice tin more typically associated with Scotches as though it were hiding something special within, something different.

The premise is simple, and not necessarily unique. Take a rye that people like, blend it with a bourbon people like, and sell a product that people will, most likely, also like. I went into this expecting something not to different from High West's Son of Bourye which I had the opportunity to try about a year ago.

This particular batch gave me pretty much exactly what I was looking for in such a product. The nose is softly spice, slightly masking the sweetness behind it. There was nothing particularly strong in the nose, but brown sugar and baking spices were prevalent.

On first sip, I knew it was very much what I would expect from a blend of rye and bourbon by a distiller whose rye and bourbon I happen to enjoy. It has a somewhat watery texture, and, despite being only 91 proof, seemed to have more burn that its proof would indicate.

That higher burn could be attributable to the very noticeable spice. With so many ryes I get a strong cinnamon spice. Not so with this one. This spice was more of the cayenne pepper kind, that blended curiously with a heavy vanilla flavor. All that was underscored by a woody flavor that made for a rather unique taste which I found I enjoyed.

While I don't believe this to be a very aged whiskey, the wood tones were prevalent from the start and seemed to become more so as I made my way through the bottle, somewhat overtaking the other flavors towards the end. Ultimately I enjoyed this bottle and was glad I tried it, but, while unique, didn't strike me as particularly special, but rather a good, enjoyable blended bourbon and rye that offered something a bit different.

Grade: B

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $21.00
- 86 Proof

There are only a handful of entry-level bourbons on the shelves that I haven't yet had an opportunity to review, but Old Forester was one that, for whatever reason, I just never got around to. At just over $20 for the bottle, though, it was a no-brainer to at least give it a go.

The nose, aside from the traditional bourbon notes, had a distinct burnt sugar mixed with alcohol smell to it. It's an 86 Proof bourbon, so I was caught a bit off-guard by the strong presence of the alcohol.

My first impression upon taking my first sip was that this is a watery bourbon, and, despite that it came across as a young bourbon, also seemed woody, having that dryness that older bourbons tend to have.  It also came across as a brown sugar heavy bourbon, with undertones of cherry, a combination that reminded me a bit of Woodford Reserve.

A couple pours in I started to take note of additional flavors. Most noticeably, the burnt sugar flavor I noticed on the nose finally made an appearance, mixing well with the brown sugar to create a sweet but lightly charred flavor that was quite enjoyable. 

There was also a smokey, herbal quality to it that I couldn't quite place my tongue on. It had a kind of a cigar tobacco flavor, sharp and earthy. However, this flavor did not seem to stick around very long, being almost fleeting and difficult to place.

In the end, while I found the different flavors that seemed to come forward in this bourbon interesting, particularly with respect to the contrast between the sugary sweet flavors and the smokey, herbal flavors, I didn't find them particularly enjoyable. The flavors didn't complement each other very well. Among the entry-level bourbons, I found this one to be just average, hence the grade.

Grade: C

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

High West A Midwinter Nights Dram Blended Straight Rye Whiskey Act 3, Scene 2

- $75
- 98.6 Proof

This bottle was my Valentine's Day gift from my wife! After a long weekend of winter camping with the Cub Scouts, in which my son got incredibly sick and we had to pack up and leave in the middle of the night, seeing this bottle waiting for me in my cabinet when I got home late at night (or, rather, very early in the morning) was indeed the kind of cap to my weekend I needed!

I had not pulled the trigger on any of the previous releases of A Midwinter Nights Dram that High West put out, but luckily they've kept releasing them. I finally got my hands on one, and I'm so glad I did!

The nose is soft and subtle, revealing the dark fruit character of this rye. I noticed a blend of plum and dark cherry, along side vanilla and sweet tobacco leaf. While the traditional rye notes came through, this immediately came off as something different and unique . . . and tasty!

On first sip, it was clear that this is what many people describe as a "dessert whiskey," sweet and rich and, well, yummy! The port certainly lends a fruity profile to the rye, with notes of plum and blackberry. I'm not sure if it's the blend with the rye that provided the flavor or the port itself, but the dark fruit notes were complemented by a distinct dark chocolate flavor, so rich that it made me think of a dark chocolate and blackberry mousse (not that I've ever had such a dessert, but I'm sure it exists on some restaurant menu somewhere).

And that sweet, rich flavor was balanced out by the traditional rye flavors and spices, again offering a perfect complement to the other flavors. The rye provided a cinnamon and brown sugar flavor on the back end, offering just enough spice to add to the complexity of the whiskey and not to detract from the many other flavors.

The whiskey was smooth and coated the mouth well, but did not come across as too thick or oily. On the spectrum of viscosity, from watery to thick, I'd put this somewhere in the middle. It had plenty of "legs," though, to let me enjoy the flavors well after each swallow.

It's not a super-high proof whiskey, coming in at 98.6 proof, but even at that proof the alcohol burn is non-existent. Ultimately, this is an incredible rye, with the traditional rye flavors but the added bonus of the well-balanced port finish. High West did something incredibly right here.  I had to force myself to slow down on this bottle and savor it a bit, otherwise I would have gone through this bottle in no time, it was so good.

Grade: A+

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Kentucky Vintage Small Batch Straight Kentucky Bourbon

- $30.00
- 90 Proof

I know that Willett has somewhat of a cult following, at least with respect to their limited releases and private bottlings, and the more of their products I try, the more I get it. Kentucky Vintage is one of their regular bottlings, though, one that's easy to find and easy to afford. At right around $30, it stands in with the baseline offerings from other distillers, as opposed to the higher-up-the-line products such as Rowan's Creek or Noah's Mill.

Aside from knowing that it's a Willett product, though, I knew nothing about this bourbon going in. I was completely unfamiliar with others' thoughts on the product, whether from reviews or message boards or otherwise. That's probably a good thing, though, allowing me to go in without any preconceptions or subconscious bias.

The nose carried the traditional vanilla and toffee notes one would expect from a Kentucky Bourbon. However, an underlying layer of acetone also hit the nose, characteristic of a younger whiskey. At only 90 proof, I couldn't attribute it to the high proof of the bourbon.

On first sip, though, the first thing I noticed was that it had a higher burn than a 90 proof whiskey should, and it was tough to get past. In addition to the somewhat hidden vanilla and caramel flavors, the bourbon had a distinct white pepper spice that, if it weren't for the other flaws, could have provided a great complement to the sweetness of the bourbon.

After the bottle sat on the shelf for a few days after opening, all the rough edges seemed to disappear. While it still possessed the characters of a younger whiskey--watery texture, lack of complexity--it nonetheless became a much more enjoyable pour. It sweetened up considerably, with the vanilla coming to the forefront. What spice was there previously had almost transformed to a light, smokey and nutty flavor on the back end.

Kentucky Vintage reminded me to some extent of Old Grand Dad 114, primarily in the vast difference in flavor from the first pour to the last. It started rough, but really transformed into a very enjoyable, entry-level bourbon, one that was worth the price.

Grade: B