Friday, December 30, 2016

High West Double Rye! Binny's Barrel Select Blended Malt Scotch Finished

- $50
- 104.2 Proof
- Min. 2 years (then finished for 1.4 years)
- Barrel #3634

At the same time that I picked up a bottle of the Black Muscat finished Double Rye! from High West, I also grabbed a bottle of their Blended Malt Scotch finished Double Rye! For one reason or another, though, I took my time in getting around to this bottle. The idea behind it is interesting, though, as the traditional Scotches seem to have such contrasting and almost opposite flavors to that of American rye whiskeys, and to me this was a finish that was either going to work or it wasn't.

The first few pours of this didn't really give me a feeling one way or another though. The nose was almost all rye spice. It carried a lot of cinnamon overlying a healthy dose of vanilla. A few more whiffs and I was able to catch that Scotch influence, but I really had to work at it.

However, on the first sip, the Scotch influence was strong. The blended Scotch that was used had a decent amount of peat to it, which substantially carried over from the barrel and into this rye. The rye itself, though, has a big, bold flavor, resulting in a complex pour with a lot going on. It was like a sweet, heavily vanilla-influenced peated Scotch with significant cinnamon spice on the back end. Sometimes when you have so many different flavors going on, it just doesn't work. Here, they seemed to blend fairly well, though, admittedly, I wished the Rye had more predominance, as it seemed to be overwhelmed by the earthy, nutty and peaty flavor of the Scotch.

Unlike the Black Muscat finished rye, though, this bottle only got better and better over time and with each pour. From each glass to the next, the rye influence that I thought was missing came forward more and more. The result was a significantly sweeter pour, with the sweet vanilla flavor really taking center stage, but yet still balanced out by the campfire smokiness provided by the peat.

As I got to the end of the bottle, the last few pours were a completely different whiskey from the first few. The caramel and vanilla were dominant, and the walnut flavor from the Scotch really seemed to take a back seat. The rye sweetened up immensely, making this a very tasty after dinner drink. Yet the Scotch influence, particularly that smokiness, kept it from being too sweet. The cinnamon spice at the end remained as well, giving it the all the hallmarks of a delicious rye.

At first this struck me as an interesting experiment but something that would leave me desiring more. However, about half way through this bottle it became that something more that I was desiring, and I absolutely loved every sip! It's difficult to give this bottle a grade considering the wide gap in my impressions, but I'm going to lean towards the higher grade due to the strong finish that this one had. Now that it's gone, it's those last few pours that have me yearning for another bottle.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Whiskey Bars: The Cobra Lounge, Chicago, IL

Though I've been to many different whiskey bars, I've never bothered to review them here, having always focused primarily on the whiskey reviews. However, a recent trip to the Cobra Lounge in Chicago inspired me to change that.
The Cobra Lounge, located west of downtown Chicago on Ashland Avenue near the United Center, is a well-known rock n' roll bar, known for its live acts and loud music. When my friend suggested we go there prior to a game at the United Center, I was skeptical but willing to give it a try.
We opened up the place at about 4:00 on a Saturday. It was clear that the staff was getting ready for a busy night, with a band called H20 set to perform that evening. Nonetheless, we were given the full attention of the wait staff and the bartender as we slid into our booth and prepared to enjoy some food and drink before taking in a couple college basketball games.
First things first -- the whiskey selection. The Cobra Lounge is not a "whiskey bar." It's clear that it is first and foremost a rock n' roll bar. It's not the kind of place where you're going to enjoy a beer and watch a game. In fact, there's not a TV to be found in the place, which is completely appropriate for a bar such as this. That being said, what this bar lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Though it's not a large selection of whiskey, the bar wasn't stocked with the typical base-line bourbons of all the big companies. Rather, they had the full line of the Orphan Barrels, a couple Parker's Heritage offerings, and even Jim Beam's Distiller's Masterpiece.
What caught my eye, however, and what made this place worthy of being considered a whiskey bar, at least to some extent, was the tall, skinny bottle with the white labels sitting on the very top shelf. I immediately asked the bartender to pull that bottle down and let me know exactly what it was. Much to my delight, it was a Willett Family Estate 7 Year Rye, and my drink selection for the evening was made. I enjoyed that while my friend enjoyed a Rhetoric 21-Year Bourbon. As a parting gift, because I finished the bottle, the bartender gave me the empty Willett bottle as a keepsake.
Not only did they have a good whiskey selection, but the Cobra Lounge has its own brewery attached, All Rise Brewing Co., and they had a great variety of craft beers available. I helped myself to a Belgian Double that they make, and it was so tasty I decided to have another rather than try something different off the menu. I'll have to make it a point to get back there again to try their other offerings.
Finally, the food . . . fantastic!! Admittedly, in a place such as this I didn't come in expecting great cuisine. However, where it's located, I should have known that great food is necessary in order to compete, and the Cobra Lounge has fantastic food!! Our server, Joey, informed us that they smoke their own meats on-site, so I went with smoked wings as an appetizer (some of the best wings I've ever had) and a smoked pork belly entrée, which was seriously smoked meat candy that melted in my mouth like butter. It was amazing!
Overall, the Cobra Lounge has a great, energetic atmosphere, great food, and the staff was fantastic. If you happen to go there, look for Joey . . . she was awesome! All that combined makes this a great place to grab a drink and a bite to eat, but throw in a quality whiskey selection, and I've got myself a new favorite stop.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Belle Meade Binny's Private Selection 10-Year Single Barrel Straight Bourbon

- $65
- 117.4 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #1589

This was my first foray into Belle Meade bourbon. Quite frankly, it was the price tag that put me off for so long, but finally I convinced myself to give it a try. It's my understanding that Belle Meade sources their bourbon from MGP Distilling in Indiana, a common theme among NDPs. Though sourced, I've frequently found myself a fan of the product coming out of NDP, so I finally caved and decided to give this a try.

The nose is soft, delicate (though not light) and fruity. Though it's a high proof bourbon, you'd never tell from the nose.

On my first sip, my immediate thought was that this is good but not great. It's a nice, robust bourbon, with traditional flavors of vanilla overlaying caramel and cinnamon. It has a nice, chewy mouthfeel to it, really coating the mouth. The finish broke away from the caramel and cinnamon and instead consisted of a bunch of wood flavor layered over vanilla and coffee, to provide a bit of bitterness at the end.

After the first pour or two, this bottle to set to the side in favor of others, and I forgot about it for a few weeks. Then, on a whim, I went back to it to give it another try, and it was as though I were trying a whole new bourbon. Where the edges of the bourbon, those contrasting flavors of wood and coffee with sweet caramel, were sharp and distinct, were now smooth and sweet. While the coffee flavor remained, it was a sweeter flavor, akin to coffee-flavored ice cream, but still with that nice, sweet cinnamon spice at the end, certainly thanks to a higher rye content much to my desire.

The vanilla up front seemed to have taken more of a hold as well, providing a nice fluid flow of flavor (for any alliteration fans out there) going from vanilla to a creamy coffee then to a sweet cinnamon at the end.

While not necessarily the greatest bourbon I've ever tasted, despite all the foregoing superlatives, this bourbon really had a nice bounce-back for me, initially putting me off but later becoming something that I just couldn't put down. I think the last such drastic transformation I saw in a bourbon after opening the bottle was Old Grand-Dad 114, which impressed in similar fashion, though I think I enjoyed this transformation even more.

Though it might have started out unimpressive, this one really came on strong, and despite the high price, I was really glad I gave it a try!

Grade: B+

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10 Year Single Barrel Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $50
- 114 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #3060

The other night I wanted nothing more than a sure-fire, good, solid bourbon, something I hadn't had before but knew was not going to disappoint me. And so, I reached for this 10 year Old Scout Single Barrel. I've had store pick single barrels in the past that have been incredible, so I knew that I was at least getting a very good bourbon, if not something great.

Perhaps I had some bias going into this one, but it certainly did not disappoint. In fact, I found myself working my way through this bottle relatively quickly. Whenever I found myself with a choice of pours for the evening, this was the clear cut winner.

The nose on this was delicious! It had the typical brown sugar and vanilla aromas, but what set it apart was a distinct cocoa butter smell to it that I just couldn't stop sniffing! My wife usually looks at me cockeyed when I just sit there smelling my drink over and over, but with some whiskeys they smell so good you can't help but take it in. Such was the case here.

The first sip was sweet vanilla up front, very ice cream-esque. However, it had a nice peppery bit on the back end, just seconds after it hit the tongue. On the finish, that peppery spice became more of a cinnamon spice, which hung around for a while, tickling the back of my throat.

Showing its age, it had some wood tones to it. However, it was just enough to notice it, and not enough to provide that bite that comes with higher-aged bourbons. This one is well within that sweet spot where the oak adds enough flavor without adding too much.

After having this open just for a few days, it sweetened up immensely. What was previously a nice ice cream intro parlaying into an inoffensive cinnamon spice was now simply a caramel bomb. The caramel was so prevalent it almost smacked me in the face. I was quite surprised at how the flavor profile seemed to change so much in so little time. The cinnamon remained on the back end, but mixed with the lingering caramel flavor gave it almost a spicy butteriness, if that even makes sense.

I liked this bottle to start, and just a few pours in I loved it! I hope against hope that with the recent purchase by Pernod Ricard things will nonetheless remain the same at West Virginia based Smooth Ambler, because they have always done an amazing job of sourcing excellent bourbon and bottling incredible tasting single barrels.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Masterson's 10-Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey

- $60
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch 001

I feel like it's been a while since I've gone away from American whiskies, so when I saw this bottle on sale, a bottle I've eyed for some time, I finally pulled the trigger. While it's a Canadian rye (distilled in Canada but bottled in the United States), it's nonetheless a 10 year, age-stated rye, with a 100% rye mashbill--worth a shot in my book.

Even sitting on the shelf I noticed that it was lighter in color than most whiskies. I feel like you get that greater variance among single malts, but not so much other whiskies. This one is very blonde, however.

On first sip, while the traditional rye spice comes through, what's noticeable is that this rye has a certain maltiness or earthiness to it. It's difficult to place, but it was a flavor that reminded me very much of Speyside Scotches. Eventually that earthiness gave way to the spice, though, in a combination of cinnamon and black pepper, layered over vanilla and almost an evergreen flavor. The cinnamon flavor hit me more as a fake-cinnamon flavor, however, like red hots, and it just didn't seem to really complement everything else going on in this pour.

Although this isn't necessarily high proof, I added a little water to my glass to see what would come of it, and I was pleasantly surprised at a very distinct crisp green apple flavor that came through. Suddenly this was a very fruit-forward whiskey, but yet still with that cinnamon/pepper spice at the back end. Mixing with that apple and spice was a hint of black licorice as well, which seemed to take the place of the vanilla I had noticed previously.

Ultimately, though, I found this whiskey to be somewhat flat and unrewarding. While the various flavors were there, they didn't seem to mingle well, going from one flavor to the next, with no blending of flavors to bridge the contrast. Instead I was left with a whiskey that was fruity, and then it was spicy, and it wasn't really great in either category.

To add to that disappointment, this whiskey seemed to only get worse from pour to pour. With each successive pour, all I could taste was the alcohol, which just shouldn't be the case with a 90 proof whiskey. About four pours into the bottle the acetone increased, and what flavor it had seemed to disappear behind the suddenly present alcohol burn. By the end, it was simply unenjoyable in any manner.

I came into this rye with no expectations, and yet I find myself nonetheless disappointed. What good qualities this rye had at first were gone within the bottle being open just a couple weeks, leaving me with half a bottle of whiskey that I just had no interest in drinking. Even it's oddities as a rye couldn't save it.

Grade: D+

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Finally Something To Do With Those Empty Bottles

I think many a whiskey fan has thought to themselves,"This is such a nice looking bottle, I wish there was something I could do with it rather than throw it in the recycling." I know I've had this thought many times, particularly when it comes to eye-catching bottle designs (Willett Pot Still) or those rare and amazing bottles of whiskey that I wanted to somehow commemorate.

Certainly I've seen this particular craft dozens of times. I had a neighbor a few years back that threw some Christmas lights inside a wine bottle. I've seen those glass bricks decorated and stuffed with Christmas lights. This is really no different than these other projects, and quite frankly the idea of them never appealed to me a whole lot.

However, two factors came into play that motivated me to try it myself. First, I like the look with the frosted glass. It's not as though it's that creative or unique. I had just never seen "bottle lamps" with the frosted glass.  Second, I happened to have a decent cache of empty bottles at the moment, having been saving them for a crafty (in the literal sense) woman in my neighborhood.

The supplies seemed simple enough and cheap enough: (1) an empty bottle (I say cheap because I'm drinking the bourbon anyway, so this doesn't really factor into cost); (2) a strand of 20 Christmas lights; (3) a 1/2" glass drill bit; and (4) some glass frost spray paint. I honestly didn't realize this frost spray paint even existed, but it was easy to find at home depot.

And the instructions are simple enough as well. Drill a hole in the back of the bottle big enough to feed the strand of lights through, feed said strand of lights through the hole, spray paint the bottle with the frost stuff, let it dry and then plug in the magic!

I did not realize how slowly a glass drill bit does its work, though. The instructions I had seen (an informal post on Facebook) indicated it could take 5 minutes to drill the hole, but I found it was 10-15 minutes of drilling to get the job done.  I also learned the hard way that I needed to widen the hole once I finally made it through the thick glass of the bourbon bottles. With the first bottle I did, I forced the strand of lights through too small a hole, breaking a few bulbs and having to cut the cord to pull the broken strand through the top of the bottle. Lesson learned.

All in all, my first few attempts were a success. My wife hates these things, but I gave one away to my neighbor, and his wife loved it. So, these lamps are getting mixed results thus far. In any event, those nicer bottles that I don't want to just simply toss in the recycling bin will now have a purpose, and my friends will all start receiving cheap, Etsy-esque gifts that they can use to set the mood with their wives (assuming, of course, that their wives are not nearly as turned off by these as mine is).

Sunday, December 11, 2016

High West Double Rye! Binny's Barrel Select Quady Black Muscat Finished

- $50
- 104.8 Proof
- Min. 2 years (then finished for 2 years)
- Barrel #3052

I have to admit, I may not have noticed this bottle if it weren't for the new iridescent bottles that were stiting on the shelf. They immediately caught my eye, and, upon closer inspection, I realized that these weren't normal bottles of the Double Rye!, but rather special, finished versions bottled for Binny's. I'm not familiar with the Quadry winery, nor am I really that familiar with muscat wines, but I knew that they are more "dessert" wines, like port, and I knew I wanted to give this a try.

I usually don't comment on the color of whiskeys in my posts, but in this instance, it is noteworthy. Upon pouring it into my glass I couldn't help but notice the very deep amber/burnt-orange color of this rye. The finish really influenced the color, and it really stood out from the start.

The nose is soft and fruity, like dried apricots, mixed with vanilla. Quite frankly, it smelled like it was going to be great, sweet and soft. I've said this before in past posts, but this is another whiskey that I wish I could have as a candle and just fill my house with the smell of yummy whiskey!

The flavor from the muscat finish is very noticeable on this one, but in the first few pours was not overwhelming. It was soft, even somewhat subtle in the way it hits your tongue, and really lends to a velvety smoothness.

The rye spice comes through almost immediately, letting you know that it's a rye right away. However, that spice quickly gives way to the sweet wine finish. Flavors of plum, cinnamon and orange pervade, seemingly hitting your tongue individually and all at once in a very tasty blend. This is the quintessential "dessert" whiskey, the kind you look forward to when you want something a little sweeter after a meal or as a nightcap.

As I made my way through the bottle, however, it got a little too sweet for my tastes. At first I enjoyed the softness of the muscat influence. However, after time, in particular the last couple pours, the sweet fruitiness seemed to slap me in the mouth with each sip, to the point that I couldn't even notice the other flavors. This was a bit disappointing considering how much I enjoyed it at first and what I was expecting from those last couple pours.

I tend to have a bias towards wine finishes, so take this review for what it is. That being said, of the wine barrel finished whiskeys I've had to date, this was, at least at first, probably right at the top, next to another High West product, A Midwinter Nights Dram. Unfortunately, as I got to the end of the bottle it really fizzled out. Nonetheless, whatever High West is doing with their finished ryes, they just need to keep doing it, because what they're producing has been delicious!

Grade: B

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Noah's Mill Small Batch Kentucky Bourbon

- $50
- 114.3 Proof

This is one of those bottles I've been meaning to get around to purchasing (Lord knows I love Willett juice), and probably would have done so in the near future if it weren't for the fact that I received a bottle as a birthday present from my bourbon-loving neighbor. He certainly did right by me!

Noah's Mill is the higher end bourbon, so to speak, out of Willett Distillery's regular offerings, or at least the older brother to Rowan's Creek. It's usually pretty available, though for a couple months this past Summer it couldn't be found anywhere by me for some reason.

The nose is primarily cinnamon, telling me right away that this is a high-rye bourbon, that it's going to be good and spicy. There's also a lot of wood on the nose as well, which tells me it has some decent age to it, despite that the label doesn't tell you.

On the palate, that cinnamon carried over. In fact, it carried over a lot. I've written in the past about vanilla bombs in bourbon, but this is the first I've tried that I would describe as a cinnamon bomb. It's heavy, like Big Red in a bottle.

Don't get me wrong, other flavors are their, but they are all so intertwined in the cinnamon that it becomes a part of the flavor. There's a long-lasting cinnamon-vanilla throughout, and the flavor really sticks to the back of the throat long after the pour. That vanilla lends to a nice, creamy texture to the bourbon and really makes the cinnamon-heavy nature enjoyable.

On the back end, there's a cooling cinnamon-fresh mint flavor as well. This I found interesting, as it seemed to be trying to transform the flavor, but after I had swallowed. While it ultimately couldn't quite overpower the cinnamon, it, again, gave enough to make the heavy cinnamon flavor enjoyable and keep me coming back for more pours.

As the bourbon breathed a little, at times I found myself noticing a distinct gingerbread flavor. It wasn't readily present, but I caught the flavor time and time again as I enjoyed each glass. Perhaps it was just the vanilla and cinnamon coming together to create that familiar flavor, or perhaps it was something else altogether lurking in the background, but it really was good.

All in all, this bourbon is what I would expect from a $50 bottle--high proof, robust and complex flavors, its own, distinct character, and so tasty that it leaves me wanting more and more.

Grade: B+ / A-

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Eagle Rare Binny's Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $17.00 (375 ml)
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #15

Eagle Rare has and will always hold a special place in my heart (stomach?). It was really my introduction to bourbon, well, good bourbon anyway, and I've remained particularly fond of it. I have yet, however, to try a private selection of Eagle Rare . . . until now that is. While I don't find myself repeating bottles too often, this smaller, and cheaper, bottle of a private selection Eagle Rare was impossible to pass up.

I've always been partial to Eagle Rare because it is a consistent bourbon, always providing the traditional vanilla, caramel and cinnamon flavors typical of rye based bourbons. I can always count on it to deliver what I like most in a bourbon, and this private selection was no different.

The nose is heavy on the vanilla, layered over sweet tobacco leaf and toffee. It came across immediately as a sweeter and very vanilla-forward bourbon.

On the first sip, while that expected sweet vanilla flavor was there, it carried much more oak bite than I had anticipated. Even more unexpected, however, was the light minty-ness on the back end. My first impression was that this was a very "refreshing" and drinkable bourbon. That mint flavor gave way eventually to the cinnamon-toned rye spice, and the mixture of the two reminded me of that smell around Christmas of those cinnamon scented pine cones.

Granted, because it's a small bottle, it didn't stay open and unfinished for very long. However, as I made my way through the bottle, other flavors seemed to come forward. It seemed to get sweeter as I went, the vanilla giving way to brown sugar and orange flavors. It also developed a sweet black licorice flavor on the back end that I enjoyed more than I should considering I don't like black licorice.

In the end, this private selection was slightly better than the regular offering, and I was glad to have had a chance to try it. I'll certainly be keeping my eye out for more of these 375 ml private selections, as the cost makes it very easy to "try" it out.

Grade: B+