Saturday, September 23, 2017

Widow Jane 10 Year Straight Bourbon

- $70
- 91 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #1398
- Region: Kentucky (bottled in New York)

Widow Jane was one of those bourbons I had only read about on social media and message boards. I knew very little other than that it existed and I had never seen it on the shelves in the Chicago area, at least until a few months ago when Binny's suddenly had three of their products sitting on the shelves.

Although a bit pricey, one of the options on the shelf was this 10 year old single barrel bourbon, and, with those qualities, I was certainly willing to give it a chance.

From what I understand, Widow Jane sources its bourbon from Kentucky, though the exact distiller is kept as something of a mystery. As they advertise, they then use "pure limestone mineral water from the Widow Jane Mine - Rosendale, NY" to proof the whiskey down. Not much more information than that is provided on the bottle's label.  In any event, it's at least worth a try to find out what difference, if any, New York limestone water can make to a 10 year Kentucky bourbon.

The nose is pleasant but soft, giving off some brown sugar and butter notes. It seems sweet, but not too sweet, and it certainly doesn't come across as pungent. There is almost no alcohol on the nose, which is good given the proof.

My initial impressions of this bourbon on the first pour or two was that it was kind of bland. Sure, it was easy to drink, but the flavors weren't very strong. What flavors were there were light cinnamon and brown sugar, with vanilla undertones. The flavor that I could find was very tasty, and there was something else that I just couldn't place my finger on.

After having the bottle open for a few weeks, this whiskey really opened up and all of a sudden seemed bursting with flavor. It sweetened up a bit, with a honey sweetness that seemed to also bring out the cinnamon and brown sugar notes. There was also a new and delicious chocolate now, and I was also able to figure out that the flavor I couldn't quite place was a kind of a plum flavor that I really enjoyed.

As I made my way through the last few pours, I also got a bit of bitterness, but a good kind of bitterness, the kind that you'd associate with a mix of coffee and dark chocolate. Again, these flavors seemed to complement the cinnamon and brown sugar that was found throughout.

At first I thought this bourbon was going to disappoint me. That first pour really was unimpressive. However, after letting it open up, even for just a short amount of time, I found myself really enjoying it! It developed a complexity that I didn't expect, and the varietal flavors all really worked well with one another to make for a very well-rounded bourbon.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ezra B Single Barrel 12 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $40
- 99 Proof
- 12 Years
- Barrel #623
- Region: Kentucky

When I first started to drink more bourbon and less Scotch, Ezra B was one of those bottles that I always saw on the shelf, memorable for the bottle design, particularly the ribbon and waxy medal on the front. And yet, it was that design that turned me away from it. I felt that the hokey design might signify a lesser quality bourbon, apparently ignoring the fact that this is a 12-year Kentucky bourbon at a very reasonable price.

And then it went away, and I just didn't see it on shelves anyway, and I had some regret at never having given it a chance. Two years later, though, I managed to locate a bottle in a gas station liquor store, and I didn't pass up the opportunity. I missed out on not grabbing it way back when.

The nose is rich, primarily oak and sweet vanilla--a traditional and welcome scent. There's also a bit of cherry on the nose, but not the medicine-like cherry. Rather, it's got a bit of fresh, real cherry that adds to the delicious nose.

This bourbon is incredibly drinkable. It's full of sweet vanilla and caramel, reminding me in the first few pours of a caramel sundae. The oak that was on the nose doesn't come through on the palate. It was so prevalent on the nose I really thought that it would, but there's no dryness or bitterness to this bourbon at all.

It has a nice, oily texture that coats the mouth, and it leaves behind a nice cinnamon spice that seems to stick around forever. The sweet vanilla also lingers a bit on the finish, though not nearly as long as the cinnamon.

As much as I enjoyed the first few pours, this bottle only got better and better as I made my way through it. The caramel sundae comparison holds strong, if not becoming even more apt. It is a sweet and smooth bourbon, an excellent example that I'd pour for a novice drinker as a prime example of what I would want in a bourbon.

The last few pours might have been the best, as the cinnamon spice turned more into a cinnamon sugar flavor, the kind I used to put on toast with butter as a sweet snack when I was a kid. It also picked up some maple syrup notes that made this a very breakfast-y bourbon.

Overall, this is an absolutely delicious bourbon, not one to be passed up due to off-putting ribbon and medal draped around the bottle's neck.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 4, 2017

Whiskey Acres Distiling Co. Bourbon

- $42
- 87 Proof
- at least 1 year old
- Illinois

DeKalb, Illinois is not exactly known for its rich history of bourbon distilling. Around me, anyway, it's known for Northern Illinois University, the closest college campus to go hunting for a kegger, and also for being surrounded by corn. On a recent trip to a small boutique store in Geneva, Illinois, however, my wife came across Whiskey Acres Bourbon. Knowing I hadn't tried this one and that I'd at least want to give it a shot, she picked up a bottle for me.

Now, going in, I knew this was not going to be the next Pappy. First, I had never heard of it. Second, it's only a one-year old bourbon--hardly enough time for any bourbon to mature, no matter who is making it. So, while I more than appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into buying this whiskey, I wasn't exactly calling all my friends to come over to give it a try.

Very much as expected, being such a young bourbon, it has both the smell and taste of over-ripe fruit, like apples that have been sitting on the counter for too long. I've noticed that this is a common flavor when a bourbon has not had the right amount of time in the barrel, and it's become a common flavor profile in bourbons bottled by new craft distilleries.

The flavor is a bit harsh. It has little to no sweetness (surprising since I understand it has a wheated mashbill), but is rather tart and bitter. In addition to the spoiled fruit flavor, there's a distinct coffee note. Not a good coffee flavor, though. More like "gas station right off the highway in the middle of Tennessee" bad coffee (yes, I know, that's not exactly relatable, but the flavor clearly brought back a bad memory).

On a more positive note, the back end provided a nice cinnamon note that stuck around the back of my throat for a while, and which I enjoyed after the other flavors faded away. The texture of the bourbon was actually nice and oily, coating the mouth and throat well, and allowing for that cinnamon to linger. This was particularly surprising given the proof and age.  Unfortunately, some of the less-desirable flavors also lingered around a bit.

In the end, this is a bourbon that clearly needs more time in the barrel to mature and interact with the wood and the sugars in the barrel. It's young and obviously so. The flavor and smell are both tough to get past, and I only drank this as a third pour for the night. In fact, my wife wouldn't even sit next to me while I drank it, she found the smell so offensive. I hope with time this bourbon improves, and after a few more years I'd be willing to try it again. Until then, though, this one is a pass for me.

Grade: C-

Saturday, September 2, 2017

David Nicholson Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $30
- 100 Proof
- Region: Kentucky

So many times I've seen this bottle on the shelf and so many times I've passed it up. It's an unassuming bottle, short and squat, with no cartoon birds or profiles of bourbon pioneers on the label. It's got a name that doesn't resonate either--couldn't tell you who David Nicholson is. At a $30 price tag, though, it was worth at least giving a try, and I couldn't be happier that I did!

This is a sourced bourbon from Luxco, the same company that brings you Rebel Yell and Blood Oath. The name itself has ties to the Van Winkle family, and it was purchased by Luxco in 2000. I have not been able to determine (through admittedly only brief internet research) where this bourbon is sourced from.

All that aside, regardless of where it comes from, this is very good whiskey! The nose is heavy caramel with a light undertone of vanilla, the traditional bourbon notes we've all come to know and love. This one also has a light smokiness on the nose that I really enjoyed. It had some alcohol burn, but that seemed to evaporate pretty quickly, and this was one of those pours that I found myself frequently shoving under my nose to enjoy the aroma.

With my first pour, my initial impression was that this was a somewhat bland bourbon. It didn't hit me with much flavor and seemed a bit watered down. I make note of this only because, looking back now, it seems a bit odd and perhaps, somehow, an anomaly. I say that because every other pour thereafter was full of flavor and very delicious!

The watery texture remained. This was not a chewy, oily bourbon. It was, however, a sweet and flavorful bourbon. The heavy caramel from the nose dominates the palate as well. That light smokiness from the nose came through on the palate as well, and there was minimal burn.

The caramel itself reminded me of smooth, warm caramel. While the differences may be somewhat subtle, there is a difference in caramel flavors from the hard caramels, to the caramel found in Rolos to the warm caramel you'd top a sundae with. This is the latter.

Accompanying that sweet, warm caramel flavor, though were notes of milk chocolate and even hints of crisp, green apple. These flavors complemented that caramel and light smoke flavor so well that, even though I wanted to open and try other whiskeys currently sitting in my bar, I couldn't help but keep going back for pour after pour of this stuff.

At $30, this is absolutely a bourbon worth buying and trying, and I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this bourbon that I've glossed over so many times before.

Grade: A-