Saturday, October 29, 2016

Michter's Small Batch US*1 Bourbon

- $45
- 91.4 Proof

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

- $60
- 100 Proof

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

- $50
- 93 Proof

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

- $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

- $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

- $70
- 111.3 Proof
- 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

- $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