Friday, April 29, 2016

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $60
- 138.8 Proof
- 12 years
- Release #10

This is another one of those bottles that, for so long, seemed to elude me, and yet again, my local corner store comes through for me. My local guy's selection is relatively small, and the hits are few and far between, but the limited bottlings he does get don't move that quickly, relatively speaking. I'm there frequently enough that, when he does get something good in, I don't miss out!

So, on a recent trip to grab a bottle of wine for my wife, I saw it sitting on the top shelf as I approached the counter and I knew it had to come home with me.  This was, after all, the first time I've found it in the wild.

I was very eager to pop this bottle open, and I was very pleased to catch heavy caramel on the nose, with a little vanilla, and minimal burn despite the incredibly high proof. On the tongue, while the caramel was still there, it was the vanilla that took over. This pour offered the classic and traditional flavors one expects from a Kentucky bourbon, representing everything that made me fall in love with bourbon in the first place. The burn was strong, and it's definitely a sipper, but the whiskey was nonetheless incredibly enjoyable.

Interestingly, toward the middle I started noticing some of the wood tones coming through, but not enough to dry it out or take away from the vanilla or caramel. Rather, it offered the right amount of earthiness to keep the sweetness from overwhelming. It also provided some additional spicy kick at the end to have me reaching for that next sip.

I've heard so many good things about the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and yet I never could seem to find a bottle. Now that I finally did, I'm wishing I had more. This stuff was great from beginning to end. Again, it reminded me of why I fell in love with bourbon to begin with. This bourbon offers everything that is great about bourbon, and it will forever be at the top of my recommended bourbons for anyone who may bother to ask.

Grade: A+

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2015 Barrel Strength KentuckyStraight Bourbon

- $120.00
- 108.6 Proof
- Bottle #5986/12672

As I entered one of my favorite shops, I walked through the door, said my usual "hello" to the daytime manager and, as I turned my head just slightly toward the bourbon selection, my eyes locked in on the Four Roses Small Batch bottle sitting alone on a shelf in the store's glass cabinet. "That can't be what I think it is, can it?!?" I bee-lined it straight for that bottle, and my eyes must have lit up at the sight of the 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch, just sitting there, waiting for me to take it to its new home. Needless to say, I was happy to oblige!

Knowing I was one of the lucky few to locate a bottle in the wild, for the longest time I struggled over whether to open it or save it for a special occasion. Luckily for me, New Year's Eve was only a few weeks away, and it provided just the excuse. What better way to welcome in 2016?

The 2015 release is a blend of three recipes: OBSK aged 16 years; OESK aged 15 years; OESK aged 14 years; and OBSV aged 11 years. I guess that puts this release at an average age of 14 years, certainly well-above anything else Four Roses has on the shelves, including its private selection single barrels.

When I first opened the bottle, I couldn't help but notice the fruity nose, mixed with cinnamon and vanilla. The nose was soft and inviting, and I eagerly poured my first glass.

Though it's a higher proof bourbon, 108.6 proof, there was almost no burn. People frequently describe whiskey as "smooth." Well, this was smooth, but in a different way than I believe that term is so often use. This bourbon had a velvety smoothness to it, casually coating my mouth with sweet, rich and savory flavors all at once, and seemingly lingering forever.

Up front I noticed strong flavors of caramel and pecans, relatively traditional in that sense. A very slight bite of oak hit the tip of my tongue right away, but that quickly dissipated. The caramel pecan flavor was underscored by cereal notes reminiscent of Frosted Flakes.

After each swallow the back of my throat was coated in a butterscotch flavor that I found myself savoring before going on to the next sip. As I said, this bourbon really coated my mouth in a sweet, velvety smooth texture that just didn't want to go away.

Later through the bottle some of the rye spices I've come to expect from Four Roses came through, coupling well with the sweet cereal flavor to provide something akin to an amaretto flavor, though it took me a while to place it.

The last few dregs were very caramel heavy, making it very much a dessert whiskey! It was incredibly enjoyable, and became increasingly more so the more I had!

I counted myself lucky being able to grab one of these bottles at retail, particularly since it has been touted by many as the best release of 2015. While I never made a top bourbons of 2015 list, there's no question that this one is at least in my top three.

Grade: A

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Corsair Triple Smoke Barrel Strength Binny's Private Selection

- $80
- 138.8 Proof
- Barrel No. N30-14-0020

Corsair Distillery's Triple Smoke will forever remind me of New Orleans, where, for whatever reason, I found myself enjoying a healthy pour of the stuff at 21st Amendment to start off each night. I'm not sure why that was my drink of choice there, but it was, and it'll be with me forever.

Accordingly, when I got back to the Chicago area, knowing that there were bottles sitting on the shelf, I immediately went to Binny's and picked up one of their private selection, barrel strength offerings of Triple Smoke, eager to try the stuff as nature intended it!

When I initially saw bottles of this stuff, I had the impression that the barley malt was smoked three different times prior to distillation. That is not exactly the case, though. Rather, it is made from a blend of three barley malts subjected to smoke from three different fuels: cherry wood, peat and beechwood. It's certainly an interesting concept, and based on my experience with their standard offering, one that I knew I was on board with.

The nose, despite all the smoke, is nonetheless buttery and sweet. Sure, the smoke permeates as would be expected, but in the manner of a well-done, peated single-Scotch.

On the palate it has the perfect amount of smoke. The flavor comes through naturally, rather than as if someone added a bottle of liquid smoke to the barrel. The smoke flavor tastes as though it belonged there and not as if it were forced upon you.

The burn at this high proof is unavoidable, but it works well with the smokey flavor, offset by a very pleasant and complementary sweetness that I didn't really expect. It has the soft, earthy flavor you get from barley grain followed by the butterscotch flavor at the back of your throat. It comes across as a bolder, meatier peated Scotch.

A distinct honey flavor also worked its way to the front, along with very rich hints of oak and cherry. Weird as it may seem, it tasted to me like a smokey, buttery banana split! I guess that's to say that this whiskey offers a unique blend of flavors, from fruity to buttery to smokey. But, in the end, they all work, and I found myself really enjoying this bottle!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Barrel Proof Tennessee Whiskey

- $64
- 130.3 Proof
- Barrel No. 16-0429

I couldn't help but notice the high praise going around for Jack Daniel's single barrel barrel proof whiskey, and, while I tend not to gravitate toward Jack Daniel's products, I felt I owed it to myself to give this one a try and see for myself if it's worth of the praise that it has been receiving.

The nose is distinctly charcoal, a characteristic that is somewhat unique to Jack Daniel's. The aroma of pipe tobacco seemed to come through later, along with the scents of burnt sugar and plum. I don't know what exactly I expected, but it certainly wasn't a blend such as this, and it certainly had me eager to try that first pour.

That first pour was not what I was expecting given the nose, however. Rather, I notice a mix of vanilla and walnut, with some maple syrup to sweeten it up. On the finish were cloves to kick in a little spice and even more vanilla. I found myself really enjoying this at the start.  I also noticed that banana flavor that many people get from Jack Daniel's products, but this was relatively slight compared to the other bold flavors.

As I worked my way through the bottle, however, I found myself enjoying it less. The charcoal flavor that I was expecting finally showed up and seemed to take over the party, and by the end, it was almost impossible to get beyond it. It remained sweet throughout (and I actually enjoyed it paired with Peanut Butter M&Ms, for what it's worth), but the flavors that I found enjoyable to start seemed to dissipate as I worked my way to the bottom of the bottle.

In the end, I was a bit disappointed in this. It started out with so much flavor and promise but gradually became one-dimensional and disappointing.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Orphan Barrel the Gifted Horse American Whiskey

- $50.00
- 115 Proof
- Bottle No. 29073

Orphan Barrel released its newest "orphaned" whiskey, only this time it is not a well-aged bourbon that was somehow forgotten about, but rather it's, per their claim, a mistakenly blended whiskey, the result of accidentally emptying barrels of a younger whiskey into a batch of 17 year old Kentucky straight bourbon. Per the label, this results in a whiskey that is 39% 17-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon and 61% 4-year-old corn whiskey and Indian bourbon.

As with all Orphan Barrel releases, internet talk, speculation and dismay at this release abounds. One interesting theory that, considering my experience with earlier releases, may have some legs, is that this whiskey was made in response to initial reactions to the bitter, oakiness of those extra-aged releases Orphan Barrel previously put out. True or not, I personally agree that those releases were very oaky and could perhaps benefit from being blended with a much younger whiskey.

Considering this is by far the least expensive release from Orphan Barrel, not to mention the highest-proof of their releases, I was more than happy to give this one a try. The nose is soft and mellow, with light corn notes, tobacco leaf and caramel. It's very inviting, despite the high alcohol content.

On the first sip, however, the burn was unavoidable, though not necessarily overwhelming. The up-front flavors of caramel and vanilla, along with baked cinnamon apples provided for a very sweet, very enjoyable pour, with no bitter tanins or dryness to it. The cinnamon, along with a black pepper spice on the back end, also provided a nice complement to the dulcet, up-front flavors. The impact of the corn whiskey is very noticeable. The corn notes are readily present, and it certainly bears the sweetness of a corn whiskey.

My initial impressions were that this is in my top three of the Orphan Barrel releases to date, probably top two. I really enjoyed it, and as I worked my way through this bottle (and I say "work" with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek), other flavors seemed to come out of hiding. I eventually noticed a distinct cherry flavor, though not the offensive, cough syrup kind, but the more natural cherry flavor. Some of the oak and char also began to come through, but managed to fit right in with the cinnamon and caramel.

This bottle was really enjoyable from beginning to end, and for anyone that can look past marketing gimmicks and labels, I definitely suggest giving it a try.

Grade: A-

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Michter's Limited Release Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

- $70
- 109.2 proof
- Barrel No. 15C285

I'll forever remember this bottle, as it was the purchase of this bottle that ignited my relationship with my local liquor store manager. This purchase is what prompted him to ask me about my whiskey preferences, and prompted me to tell him about this blog. Since that conversation, I've become a regular in his store, and the beneficiary of advance notice of rarer bottles he's getting in and even having some held back for me before hitting the shelves.

Sentimental value aside, I'll also remember this bottle for how good it is. Despite its high proof, it had a relatively soft nose, betraying no alcohol burn whatsoever, but rather offering a pleasant blend of vanilla with hints of cinnamon and coffee.

On first sip there was no getting past the burn, however, no denying it's a heater. It also had a ton of flavor to it, more than enough to work through that burn. In that first sip I was hit hard by a sweet almond and butterscotch. I was surprised because the taste did not really match the nose. I was also a bit taken aback because the flavor was simply different from other ryes I've had. Though it was unquestionably a rye, it had some familiar flavors of a single malt mixed in.

Shortly into the bottle the burn mellowed out significantly, and a different, but still tasty mix of orange and cinnamon came through, pushing the almond flavor to the back. It still maintained the somewhat buttery flavor to it, though.

This bottle was excellent, and though I waited a while to open it, once I did I worked my way to the bottom relatively quickly. The unique mix of flavors for a rye intrigued me, and the fact that they all went so well with the traditional brown sugar and cinnamon notes beckoned me. Even with the somewhat hefty price tag, I felt this was worth the money.

Grade: A-