Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Minor Case Sherry Cask Finished Straight Rye Whiskey

- $50
- 90 Proof
- 2 Years

I think I heard about Minor Case prior to its release, though I can't be sure. It certainly did not have a bunch of hype surrounding it, but I recall being intrigued by a rye offering from the same people that make Yellowstone Bourbon. To be completely honest, the real reason I grabbed this, aside from the simple fact that I was looking for a new rye to try, was the incredibly handsome bottle they decided to put the whiskey in. Three different people commented on the bottle just on my way out of the store.

Great looking bottle aside, what matters is the juice contained within. To Limestone Branch's credit, they do provide an age statement on the back of the bottle, letting us know that the rye was aged for 24 months, though we don't know how long it spent finishing in the sherry casks. They are also up front that the rye was distilled and aged in Indiana (so it's MGP rye), and was bottled by Limestone Branch in Kentucky.

The nose, as expected with a sherry finish, was soft and fruity. It came across as a light, crisp raspberry scent. I hunted for some of the traditional rye spice on the nose, but just couldn't find it.

On first sip, it hit me as being simple, on the sweeter end, and it carried that fruit from the nose over to the palate. Again, as with the nose, raspberry notes seemed to stick out. Interestingly, despite this being a two year old rye, it had a relatively long finish, though it was that raspberry note that stuck around for so long.

It's probably because it's a young rye, but I really wanted some traditional spiciness, a little bit of cinnamon to push its way through the berry notes.  Although the spiciness wasn't there, what was left was a very, almost refreshing pour, something that would be very enjoyable over ice during the Summer. Though the flavors were good, it did come across as a bit watered down. It was, however, very easy to drink with almost no burn whatsoever.

About half way through the bottle, it seemed to sweeten up even more, coming across more like a dessert or after-dinner drink, with a certain creaminess added to the fruity notes. Enjoyable flavors of vanilla and nougat seemed to compliment those notes. Though it's not what I'd traditionally enjoy in a rye, and it ultimately did not satisfy my rye craving that led me to the store that day, I did find myself happily going back to the bottle for seconds. I didn't like it for what I hoped it would be, but I did enjoy it for what it was, even if only for the novelty of it.

In the end, I might buy a bottle again, but I think the mood would have to hit me just right. If it's a solid rye whiskey that I'm after, though, this isn't the bottle I'm reaching for.

Grade: B-

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Longrow Red Limited Edition Pinot Noir Cask Finished 12 Year Peated Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch

- $120
- 105.8 Proof
- 12 Years

My wife enjoys picking out bottles to surprise me with, usually for some sort of special occasion like a birthday or Father's Day. It's something I've really grown to love about her! When she does this, she tends to go with Scotch Whiskies, because there's less of a chance that I've had it before. So for my birthday she looked for something special, something limited, and she came home with this.

I have to admit, I was completely unfamiliar with this line. According to the label, Longrow is a peated single malt produced at Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown, and less than 100 casks of Longrow are filled each year. This particular bottling was matured for 11 years in bourbon casks and then one year in fresh New Zealand Pinot Noir casks, and on 9,000 bottles were produced. What was clear to me from the label was that there was a whole lot going on with this whisky, and I couldn't wait to dive in!

The nose is interesting. It had the traditional barley malt nose that I associate with Scotches, along with the expected peat smoke. However, those scents blended with what I'd describe as a sweet raspberry note, and in the end, it all culminated into a soft hickory smoke nose. It was like barbecue with a raspberry glaze that just made me salivate at the thought of tasting it.

On the palate, the peat is prominent but not overpowering. Rather, the myriad other flavors are allowed to come through, as though they poke their heads out through the peat smoke to hit the tongue, only to retreat back to their smokey home, kind of like a whisky whack-a-mole!

I enjoyed some delicious dark fruits hidden within, like plum and blackberry. These flavors were overlaid on a nice platform of vanilla and cereal notes, kind of like rice crispy treats. On another sip I noticed brown sugar, which balanced very well with the peat smoke and the slight heat (though I wouldn't describe it as "burn"). As with the nose, the palate was also very reminiscent of sweet barbecue ribs.

The fact that this was aged in bourbon barrels for 11 years seems to certainly have had its influence. I believe that the aging in the bourbon barrels gives this whisky its robust character and the vanilla and brown sugar flavors up front. The Pinot Noir barrel finish added further complexity, and softened the whisky with delicious fruit notes that complemented the other flavors rather than contrast with them. This whisky has a lot going on, and it's that kind of robust character that's needed for all these different flavors to come through.

This is easily one of the most interesting whiskies I've ever tried. As I said, there is a LOT going on, from the peat smoke, to the bourbon barrel aging, to the Pinot Noir barrel finish. A lot of factors influenced the flavor of this whisky. However, in the end, it was in incredibly fun pour and, more importantly, an incredibly delicious one. I certainly will be keeping my eye out for future releases!

Grade: A

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $130
- 91 Proof
- 13 Years

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary was released to commemorate Jimmy Russel's 60th year working at the Wild Turkey Distillery. Obviously he wasn't in the role the entire time, but the master distiller at Wild Turkey is one of the top celebrities currently in the bourbon world, and his career is certainly worth celebrating. I couldn't imagine doing anything for 60 years, and this milestone is nothing short of incredible.

These bottles, however, are what have been described as "shelf turds." I'm guessing this is due in large part to the fact that it's a $130 (or even up to $150) bottle, and it's only bottled at 91 proof. This doesn't exactly scream to bourbon enthusiasts, "Hurry up and buy me!" Reviews have been somewhat mixed on this release as well, further adding to the general lack of interest. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try for myself.

The nose is very pungent, the kind of whiskey you can smell from across the room. It is almost entirely vanilla, with a very light cinnamon spice to it as well as a nutty note. The burn is not noticeable at all, but I guess that's expected given the proof.

The flavor, however, is not as sweet as the nose. It's got that traditional Wild Turkey flavor, something that I've come to associate with higher rye whiskeys in general. It has a very distinct wood character to it, a strong oak influence. It also is heavy on the vanilla, though not a sweet vanilla as the nose would make you think, but more of an unsweetened vanilla, like tasting vanilla extract.

It's got that long, drawn out spice at the end that is common to Wild Turkey products. It's got a full body, which makes sure the bourbon really coats the mouth and helps that spice linger for quite some time.

After a few pours I started to notice a sweeter, pecan flavored note alongside some herbal notes that I couldn't quite place. It was somewhere between dill and oregano. It wasn't strong, but was certainly noticeable if for no other reason than it seemed very out of place. It didn't matter much, though, as those flavors seemed to be quickly consumed by the dominant wood flavor that persisted from beginning to end.

For such a special release (not to mention the hefty price tag) I really expected a more special bourbon. In that sense, while this was a good bourbon, it was a bit of a let down.

Grade: B-

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Old Bardstown Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $21
- 90 Proof

On a recent family mini-vacation to St. Louis, I sniffed out a liquor store with a good whiskey selection (luckily for me it Randall's Wines & Spirits was just down the road from my hotel). Though I always love perusing the selections and prices at any liquor store, I was primarily looking for a relatively cheap bottle of something that just doesn't make it to the shelves in Illinois. When I looked up and saw a Willett bourbon for $21.00, and a label that I don't believe I've ever seen in my life, I knew I found my bottle.

The bottle does not have any frills. Nothing about it screams "buy me!" In fact, the label is incredibly plain, a two-toned label of brown on cream. Even the bottle shape is that of other bottom-shelf offerings. But I do have a love for Willett, and back to the hotel I went with it to give it a go.

The nose is heavy on the caramel, with a hint of cocoa to it. It was actually quite enjoyable, and I took it as a sign of good things to tome.

On the first sip the first thing I noticed was the texture. I fully expected a thin, watery bourbon much like most of the other stuff you can find in this price range. What I found, however, was a nice, velvety smooth bourbon that was more oily in texture. It really coated the mouth, which caused the flavors to linger around for a decent amount of time.

As to those flavors, up front it is distinctly brown sugar overlaying a strong cherry note. I find such a note offensive in some bourbons, as frequently it reminds me of cough syrup. That wasn't the case here, though, as instead the cherry with the brown sugar created a nice combination that resulted in a sweet and long finish.

I looked for the cocoa from the nose, but it just didn't seem to be there. Nonetheless, other flavors found there way in as well. The traditional vanilla and caramel were there, though subtle. There was almost no spice and no burn. However, there was a slight anise note that seemed to be noticeable only on the finish. This was really the only negative mark that I would give it, as that note seemed to come out of nowhere and did not really mesh with everything else going on in this bourbon.

That being said, that one down mark is not enough for me to not recommend this to others. At the price of only $21, were this available by me, this is a bourbon that I could certainly make a regular drinker. Although it's not a bourbon you'd write home to mom about, it nonetheless drinks like a much more expensive bourbon, and for that it gets higher marks!

Grade: B

Monday, April 3, 2017

Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey

- $35
- 99 Proof
- Batch No. 6

Smooth Ambler out of West Virginia has been producing some quality rye and bourbon for quite some time now. Their rye, store picks and single barrel bourbons are pretty well sought after, because, quite frankly, they're good whiskeys! Whenever Smooth Ambler announces a new product, I am therefore intrigued, and their release of an American Whiskey was no different.

The nose is predominantly cereal notes, with hints of vanilla and the soft scents of sweet tobacco leaf. It reminded me of a more grain-forward Irish whiskey in this sense, like Green Spot only with corn flakes added in.

On the palate, the whiskey immediately strikes me as being sweet. This was a bit unexpected. I was immediately hit with brown sugar and orange peel to give it just a bit of bitterness to counterbalance the sweet brown sugar. The cereal notes from the nose are there as well, though more subtle than what I expected. My initial impressions from my first pour were that it's an okay whiskey, but that it feels like after time it could really open up and that the cereal and vanilla notes might eventually take over.

As I made my way through this bottle, other notes came to the front that I hadn't noticed at first. A certain cocoa flavor made its way in, and, mixed with the cereal and brown sugar flavors, reminded me of chocolate covered graham crackers (a seriously underrated dessert/cookie in my book). It also seemed to take on a creamy nougat flavor, making this more like a dessert whiskey. While it didn't have that over-sweet, sugariness that some whiskeys have, it was nonetheless more sweet than I'd prefer, and it seemed to get more sugary as time went on.

Overall, I like that Smooth Ambler is releasing new products such as this as well as their wheat whiskey. They continue to make quality products, and this is no exception. Although I didn't find this whiskey to be great, it is nonetheless very good, and I'd recommend to anyone that they give it a try. At the very least, it seems to be well-priced and you won't be stuck with the buyer's remorse of overpaying for a bottle you don't really enjoy.

Grade: B-