Thursday, February 23, 2017

Elijah Craig 18-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2016

- $140
- 90 Proof
- 18 Years
- Barrel No. 4271

First of all, I must give some big props to my local guy. On a random wine run to my corner shop for my wife, he let me know as I was checking out that they got in a bottle of Elijah Craig 18. "You want it?" he asked? I was so excited I had to refrain from doing the Night at the Roxbury bit ("No . . . . . YESSSSSS!!!!).

I loved last year's release of the 18-year, and I couldn't wait to try this year's. I actually cracked it open as my New Year's Eve pour. Due to extenuating circumstances that night (there may or may not have been some drinking involved), I didn't end up taking any notes of those first few pours. And I didn't get back to this bottle until weeks later, so my first real impressions were after this bottle had been open and given a chance to sit for a bit.

What I loved about last year's release was that it had a very nice blend of that dry, woodiness from the extra aging, but it was balanced well by its sweetness. My first impression of this release was that it lacked the sweetness of last year's release. The nose on this one is beautiful, heavy on the caramel, but also giving off the expected wood notes as well as a nice walnut note. It actually smelled sweet, like a walnut pie, or at least how I imagine a walnut pie would taste.

The taste is mostly just an oak bomb. The dry wood notes overwhelm. Buried underneath all the oak other flavors are hidden, however. There's a distinct nutmeg flavor, as well as a hidden vanilla flavor, though certainly not a sweet vanilla.

Interestingly, as I made my way through the bottle, the oak notes seemed to take a step back. I don't know if that's a result of the bourbon having had more time to breathe, or if it was just me getting accustomed to the flavor, but I began noticing other flavors as well. It had a slight cocoa flavor to it, and at times seemed to take on some red wine notes, kind of like a spicy, woody shiraz. Those wine notes seemed to go perfectly with the velvety texture of the bourbon, and I really began enjoying each pour.

Additionally, it did seem to sweeten up each time I went back to the bottle, such that by the last glass I found myself really enjoying it and wishing there were more to pour. By the end, it was an incredibly sweet, complex bourbon, having the heavy oak, but well-complemented by the underlying vanilla and dark fruit notes.

All in all, this bottle comes with a hefty price tag and a lot of time in the barrel. While the nose was amazing throughout, I didn't find myself REALLY enjoying this bottle (at least not $130-worth of enjoyment) until the very end. Perhaps it would serve well to be decanted, but I was a little disappointed with this year's release. While still very good, I expected much more after last year.

Grade: B+

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Baltimore Pure Rye Bottled-In-Bond Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey - circa 1951

Every now and then an opportunity comes to me by virtue of this blog and my outward obsession with whiskey. A friend will let me know when he comes across something rare on a trip to Kentucky, or my local liquor store owner will make it a point to hold a special bottle back for me. Recently, though, it led to an opportunity to try a 65 year old rye whiskey from a distillery that closed up shop only shortly after this particular rye was bottled.

A good friend of mine was visiting his family when he sent me a text informing me that his father had found a bottle of Baltimore Pure Rye Bottled-In-Bond Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey from around 1951. Though it wasn't offered at that time, my buddy, without my prompting, made it a point to hassle his father to get a sample for me to try. A few months later he brought me a small jelly jar with a healthy sample.

Prior to tasting, though, I felt I needed to do my fair share of research, to know what it is I was about to taste. Unfortunately, though, there's not a whole lot of information available regarding the Baltimore Pure Rye Distillery.  The most comprehensive information I was able to find on another whiskey blog, Though no sources are cited in the article, it provides a nice history of the distillery, including information regarding how the distillery marketed its rye, claiming it contains "Real RYE-E-RYE" referring to their 98% rye mashbill, and is made "in the old-fashioned Maryland way."

Unfortunately, the distillery closed in 1957, after which point Seagram's purchased the distillery and operated it for the next 30 or so years. Apparently, though, some bottles remain in the wild, and I was lucky enough to enjoy a pour of one.  So, to the juice itself!

The nose is very pleasant, giving off a wonderful sweet, pipe tobacco smell, including strong vanilla and honey notes. I was actually surprised at the sweet scent of the whiskey given that it's almost 100% rye. Certainly the rye spice was noticeable as well.

Despite its nose, though, the whiskey was not as sweet as I expected. It has all the earmarks of a high rye whiskey, the spiciness and cinnamon flavors you'd expect. It also came across as a very dry whiskey, with the wood tones taking front stage. It reminded me of a much older whiskey (though I don't really know its age).

What I noticed most, however, was a very prominent and distinct charcoal flavor, much like you notice in Jack Daniels. It piqued my curiosity as to how this whiskey was made and whether charcoal was used in the filtering process. Given the location of the distillery it wouldn't surprise me that it was, in fact, charcoal filtered, but I was never able to find an answer.

I took my time with this sample, knowing I wouldn't come across it again. Overall, I really enjoyed drinking this, though perhaps more for the nostalgia than the whiskey itself (which was very good--not great, but very good). I'm not treating this as an official review for the site and am not going to give a 60 year old sample a grade.  I'm not certain't there'd be much point in that. Rather, I just wanted to share an opportunity and an experience that happened to find me, one I'm certain never to experience again. Then again, I guess I never know what other surprises may lurk in the attics and basements of friends and their relatives!

Friday, February 17, 2017

W.L. Weller 12 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $65 (1.75 Liters)
- 90 Proof
- 12 Years

This bottle was something that I really just fell into. While shopping at one of my local stores, someone else came in asking for some Elmer T. Lee. The clerk looked it up and learned that they had six bottles in back. Overhearing this conversation, I asked him to grab one for me as well. After the other customer left, this clerk then let me know of other bottles just sitting in back and not yet out on the shelves, including a 1.75 Weller 12, available at retail, nonetheless. So, while I was not seeking it out, it nonetheless came home with me.

I haven't purchased a "handle" of booze since my college days, and for some reason this one seemed to last a lot longer than I recall them lasting back then. Granted those were usually handles of Captain Morgan, so I wasn't exactly taking my time to enjoy them.

Weller 12 has become quite the rarity, these days, even a collectible. I can't tell you how many "crotch-shots" I've seen online of someone with a bourbon brag over a bottle of Weller 12 they just located. Obviously much of this stems from comparisons to Pappy, though having never had Pappy, I've got no frame of reference here. I can only compare to other wheated bourbons that I've tried, and I must say, this stacks up with the best of them.

The nose is delicious! It's heavy on the vanilla, with a certain earthiness to it, kind of a blend of leather and wood. It all balanced very well, and it smelled so good I wanted to snort it (though I ultimately thought better of it).

The bourbon itself is very drinkable neat. It's not thick or oily in texture, but rather on the watery side. Nonetheless, it has a rich sweetness to it that gives it strong character and allows it to hold up nonetheless. It is very vanilla forward, with a very mild cinnamon spice undertone. I also got a decent amount of oakiness to it, however, it did not have any of that dry bite that older bourbons so frequently get.

There was a sweet tang to it as well. I couldn't quite place my tongue on it, but it reminded me of that bit of tang you get from the crème of tartar in snickerdoodle cookies (one of my favorite cookies!). In fact, overall this bourbon reminded me a lot of snickerdoodles . . . and graham crackers. Snickerdoodle graham crackers! (Someone needs to make those!)

This was an excellent after-dinner pour. In addition to the sweetness, it also had the right amount of burn--actually more than I expected given its proof--that, although it may have just been a placebo, felt like it really helped me digest whatever I just ate. Additionally, this bourbon picked up greater sweetness over time. The last few pours were genuinely dessert-like, with the sweet vanilla completely overtaking any burn, spice or underlying wood tones. There was also a lot of sweet tobacco towards the finish which, with the heavy vanilla, was delicious. I liked it at first, and I REALLY liked it at the end.

I'm not sure if the hype is real or not, and I'm not certain that the secondary prices are worth it. However, at retail, this is an excellent bourbon for the cost, and I wouldn't hesitate at all to grab it again, even if it did take a while to get through the big bottle!

Grade: B+

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Knob Creek Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey

- $30
- 100 Proof

I've decided to make it a point to make my way through all the base-level ryes that are out there. I'm a fan of ryes, generally, and I prefer the high rye bourbons out there. And, although I've had pours here and there, I've never bothered grabbing a bottle of the standards - Jim Beam Rye, Wild Turkey Rye, Knob Creek Rye, Woodford Reserve Rye, George Dickel Rye, etc.

So, I made it a point while at the store the other week to pick one out, and, with no rhyme or reason to my decision, I started out with the Knob Creek Rye. I figured Knob Creek might offer me a nice baseline for comparison.

The nose is a mild cinnamon. It's not very pungent at all, but is yet pleasant. There's a sweetness on the nose that, while not immediately noticeable, is nonetheless enjoyable.

On first sip, the first thing I notice is the texture. Unlike some of the rich, wonderful ryes I've had in the past, this one is watery and thin. It does nothing to coat the tongue and mouth, with its flavor seeming to dissipate almost immediately.

As for flavor, not unexpectedly given the nose and my initial thoughts on the mouthfeel, this is not a very bold rye. It is very simple, providing vanilla with a mild cinnamon spice near the end. You get hints of citrus and pine as well, making it very drinkable, but it's nothing worth spending much time with. Interestingly, I think I found that the nose was more enjoyable than the flavor.

As the bottle stayed open and I tried pour after pour, my impressions did not seem to change. It did not open up with time, nor did it seem to open up with a little bit of water. It just comes across as a plain rye, with no complexity and very little spice. The one thing I noted later that I didn't really notice initially was a minty flavor that seemed to come through. Perhaps that was the rye grain finally making its presence known. But by then, it was too little too late.

This is really just a boring and bland rye whiskey. I know I didn't reach for something considered "special" when I grabbed this bottle, but as someone who generally enjoys ryes, I was disappointed.

Grade: C-

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The High West Distillery Experience . . . And More!

This view alone made the trip worth it!
While on my ski trip to Park City, Utah, I knew I'd be remiss if I didn't make my way over to High West Distillery, a quick 25 minute drive away. The timing was critical, though, as we wanted to be sure to get a solid day of skiing in before heading out, so my buddy Dave scheduled a 3:00 tour, the last of the day. This turned out to be the best decision we could have made.

After a morning and good portion of the afternoon of skiing some fresh powder thanks to the heavy snowfall the night before, we cleaned ourselves up and headed out. After taking the highway for 20 minutes or so, you then exit and drive a few miles along essentially an access road just off the highway. That road eventually dead ends into Blue Sky Ranch. We checked in there and got our parking passes as well as a warning to go slowly up to the distillery due to the abundance of wildlife.

We then proceeded up a winding mountain road with incredibly beautiful views and, as warned, dozens of deer and elk just off the road. The trip there alone made the tour worth it. Even walking up to the distillery we couldn't help but notice that the patio right outside the visitor's center, built over a nice, picturesque stream, seemed to also perfectly frame the incredible view of the valley below.

Ceiling of the visitors center made from used staves!
We arrived and immediately began perusing the gift shop, chatting up the woman working there and our tour guide, and making our decisions as to what we were going to purchase after the tour. Finally, Jack, our tour guide, kicked off the tour and across the patio we went to the distillery. The tour was limited primarily to one large room where they house the stills (a combination pot still and column still) and the mash tuns and fermenters. As was explained to us, with the recent purchase by Constellation Brands, expansion is on the horizon, and the next time I return I can expect to see a lot more equipment.

We got to view all their equipment up close, got a very thorough explanation of the distillation process from grain to bottle. However, we didn't get a chance to see the storage area or go into the bottling area, only getting to see that area from a distance.

Following the scheduled tour, however, the goodness then began! We sat down for our tasting, and the three of us there all agreed on the reserve flight, consisting of pours of the Valley Tan, the 14-Year Light Whiskey, the Bourye Limited Sighting, Midwinter Night's Dram and the American Prairie Reserve. The three of us also agreed that we ranked each of the pours from best to worst (worst being a relative term) in reverse order. The American Prairie Reserve (which was not available for purchase) was outstanding!

While sitting at the bar, enjoying our flight, we got to talking with not only our bartender (with the unforgettable nickname of "Bucket") but also the two guys sitting at the end of the bar who eventually informed us that they are the blenders for High West--the guys putting the product into the barrels. As the bar began to close down, these two guys, Tui and Dylan, who had just told us what they had been doing for the day--filling rye blends that had been finished in vermouth barrels--asked us an interesting question: "Wanna go smell some barrels?" As odd as that question may seem in retrospect, it was nonetheless at the time met with an immediate, "Hell yes!" And so the second portion of our tour began.

Dylan and Tui brought us back to the bottling area, the area the tour only let us view but not enter, and started popping the bungs off the barrels sitting in the queue to be bottled. They then invited us to enjoy some free smells of the sweet, vermouth-y Yippee Ki-Yay! Already this was more of an experience than I had expected. As we got to talking about the different products that High West has produced, the recent finishes on the Double Rye! (some of which I've reviewed here) and new products coming down the pike, they then took us even further into the facility, showing us some of the more recently filled barrels, including a Syrah finished rye where you could just see where the wine had previously seeped through! We also got some free smells of a barrel of A Midwinter Night's Dram!
Snortin' barrels of Yippee Ki-Yay!!

They then took us out of the building down the drive and into their warehouse, where their barrels are aging. Again, we got a sneak peak at some of the stuff that will eventually (hopefully) hit the shelves, including ryes aged in tequila barrels as well as Caribbean black rum barrels. We then went back up to the distillery and Dylan opened up one of the fermenters so that we could, again, enjoy some free smells of the fermenting beer (one of my favorite parts of any distillery tour).

Despite being the last tour of the day, and despite their having already worked their shift, Dylan and Tui spent another hour of their time giving us a personal and comprehensive tour, one which we spent in large part just shooting the shit about working for high west, filling barrels, the various high west products and our mutual enjoyment of whiskey in general. Despite that morning being the best skiing we had all trip, they made this easily the highlight of our trip!

Even without the "extra" tour, this distillery is well-worth the visit, from the enjoyable drive to the beautiful facility to the incredible views (we even watched a bald eagle fly across the valley) to the delicious whiskey, this was one of the more enjoyable tours I've experienced. The extra time that Tui and Dylan spent just to let us whiskey nerds in on more of the operation, however, made this an incredible experience, one I'm never going to forget. And, whether he knows it or not, Tui (who could play Ice-T in his biopic) is now my new best friend!

Below are just some barrel-porn pics for everybody:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

High West Bourye Limited Sighting Blended Whiskey

- $80
- 92 Proof
- Min. 10 Years

While visiting the High West Distillery, I enjoyed what they called the "Reserve Flight," consisting of some of their more top shelf whiskeys. Included in that flight was their most recent batch of Bourye. I enjoyed it so much that after my tasting was finished, I went straight to the gift shop and grabbed a bottle to pop open and enjoy as soon as I got back to our resort.

Bourye is a blend of aged bourbons and ryes, the youngest of which is a minimum of 10 years old. This 2017 Release is a blend of the following:

- A blend of straight Bourbon and Rye whiskeys aged from 10 to 14 years.
- Straight Rye Whiskey: 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP & 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley malt from Barton Distillery
- Straight Bourbon Whiskey: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt from MGP

Last year it was a blend of whiskeys sourced exclusively from MGP. It's nice to see some Barton rye thrown in there as well this year. By the way, as a bit of an aside, I love the transparency of High West, telling you exactly where their whiskey comes from, as well as the mashbills.

This blended whiskey is absolutely delicious from start to finish! The nose was molasses, a hint of oak and just a touch of the cinnamon spice from the rye influence. It come across as sweet and with absolutely no burn.

On the palate this is one of the best whiskeys I've had in a while. I immediately notice a delicious mix of molasses, caramel and light vanilla. It also has a light woodiness to it, however, not such that it makes it dry or gives it that bite that you sometimes get with older bourbons.

There is also a decent undercurrent of nuttiness to it, but a sweeter nut flavor, like a mix of cashews and almonds. Each sip seemed to just coat my mouth, and that's where the sweet nuttiness seemed to stick around long after each swallow. On the finish there is a light spice from the rye, but this is very much a bourbon-forward blend as far as the flavor profile goes. While I love a spicy whiskey, this whiskey is so enjoyable that I didn't even find myself yearning for that spicy finish.

Normally, with each pour I have of any given bourbon I'll make it a point to take some time to see what I notice, maybe even jot a note or two in my phone for reference later. The best note I have for this whiskey is that I have very minimal notes. That's because I enjoyed this so much that I couldn't help but go back for pour after pour (and also because I was on vacation when I enjoyed it). This bottle did not last long at all, and that's the best compliment I can give it.

Grade: A

Monday, February 6, 2017

Baker's 7 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 107 Proof
- 7 Years

This review seems like one that's been a long-time coming. I've been enjoying Baker's for years. It is frequently my go-to pour when I'm staying at a hotel, out at a bar with an otherwise limited selection, or wherever I may find myself thirsting for a pour of bourbon. Because it's so readily available, though, and because I have enjoyed it so frequently, I never picked up a bottle to take home and enjoy (and eventually write one of these reviews).

On my recent ski trip to Park City, Utah, though, the selection of available bourbons at the local State Liquor Store was somewhat limited. So, wanting a bottle to enjoy over the next few days of my trip and knowing exactly what I'd be getting, I reached straight for the Baker's!

The nose gives off a ton of brown sugar. It's immediately apparent that this will be a sweet and tasty bourbon. There is a mild spiciness to it, as well as a light burn on the nose that is indicative of its higher proof.

Much like its nose, this bourbon is what I would describe as a brown sugar bomb. It is sweet and dessert-like in that sense. However, it has a decent burn to it which keeps that sweetness from becoming too much. In addition to the sweet brown sugar notes are a distinct nuttiness, kind of a walnut flavored undercurrent which also balances out the sweetness. On the back end it has a nice spice, which is probably why I go back to this pour so frequently. I love that combination of a rich, sweet flavor followed by a nice cinnamon spice on the back end.

I mostly drank this bourbon while sitting in the hot tub after a long day of skiing, and, wanting to cool my drink down a touch, I put a little ice in my glass. I found that the added water really opened up this bourbon. Obviously the burn dissipated, but the flavors seemed to almost explode in my mouth, with caramel and walnut coming forward, a nice butteriness, and a long, spicy finish. Even some hints of black cherry seemed to come through, adding to the robustness of this bourbon.

I write this review with a bias, having gone into it knowing that I really like this bourbon, and so take this review for what it is. Baker's, like Basil Hayden's, Booker's and Knob Creek, is part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, and is, quite frankly, my favorite of the bunch. Naturally I will continue to buy Baker's when the opportunity presents itself, and I'd certainly encourage you to do the same.

Grade: B+