Monday, November 28, 2016

Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $35
- 80 Proof

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

- $90
- 90.4 Proof

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

- $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

- $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

- $43
- 112.8 Proof

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

- $22
- 86 Proof

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