Saturday, December 29, 2018

Willett Family Estate 15 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel No. 2371

VITALS:
- $225
- 118.8 Proof
- 15 Years
- Barrel No. 2371
- Region: Kentucky

As far as bourbon hunting goes, I've never been an "active" bourbon hunter. Rather, I've been more of an opportunistic bourbon hunter, making sure to take advantage of opportunities to purchase those rare and special bottles when they present themselves. While I haven't had hauls of BTAC or Pappy, I've managed to land some very nice bottles over the years, and luck had everything to do with it.

As for this bottle, that couldn't be more true. I have purchased bottles on the secondary market two times, once as a straight up purchase, and once as the via an online raffle. Thanks to that online raffle, I was able to purchase this incredible bottle, #32/104 from this barrel, at only a fraction of the price.

Knowing how fortunate I was, not to mention wanting to savor every drop, it took me quite some time to eventually make my way through it, well over a year, tapping into it only on special occasions or when I had good friends over to share it with. Plus, I love the look of these bottles and simply enjoyed looking at it on my whiskey shelf!

The nose is sweet and subtle, with almost no burn despite its high proof. Though not very strong, the aromas are a nice blend of vanilla, caramel, and a light dryness from the oak. These flavors all seemed to be sweetened by a bit of burnt sugar and even a bit of almond.

The flavor hits you immediately with caramel and vanilla. A light spice tickles the tongue up front, and the wood tones add just a touch of bitterness, but not enough to really dry it out. This is an excellent balance of sweet, spicy and dry.

That sweetness seems to linger a bit, almost transforming to some dark sherry notes to go with the rich caramel and even dark chocolate notes, giving it a very decadent flavor. On later pours I even started to get other notes, including a light peanut flavor and even a light saltiness, just enough to keep it well balanced and intriguing.

Interestingly, the peppery spice on the front end didn't linger on the back end like so many spicy whiskeys do. Rather, a thick, oily caramel coating stuck around, seemingly forever. I couldn't help but enjoy that lingering flavor for a while between each sip.

Again, I was lucky to be able to get this bottle, and I couldn't be happier to have had the benefit of enjoying such a fine whiskey. This is certainly one of the best I've ever had, with a flavor profile that matches my tastes nearly to perfection. I miss this one already!

Grade: A+

Friday, December 21, 2018

Sons of Liberty Joyal's Liquors Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon

VITALS:
- $45
- 90 Proof
- 1 year, 4 months
- Barrel No. 15-0159
- Rhode Island

You know what I love? Free whiskey.  You know what I love even more? Free whiskey that I otherwise can't get on my own. That's the case here. Before getting this as a Christmas gift from a good friend of mine who moved to Rhode Island not to long ago, I had never heard of Sons of Liberty Distilling, let alone tried anything they offered. At the very least, I was intrigued.

After all, this is their own distillate. That being said, it was only aged for one year and four months. This is also one of those whiskeys that was barreled in smaller barrels, presumably in an effort to recreate the effect of a standard aging in a normal sized barrel but in a significantly abbreviated time span. It's been my experience that these methods simply don't work, that there's no substitution for time and tradition, but I remained open-minded, which was slightly easier to do once I realized that this was a store select. After all, presumably someone liked this particular mini-barrel enough to want to have it bottled.

Cracking it open, the first thing I noticed, even before putting my nose to the bottle, was the sweetness. I'm guessing this is due, at least in part, to the fact that it has a mashbill of 100% Rhode Island grown corn.  In addition to having a very, almost sugary nose, it had that distinct smell of over-ripe fruit, specifically apple, that I've found to be common in young bourbons. It smelled like a mixture of sugar cookies and baked apples, but without the cinnamon (which probably would have helped).

The tasted tended to match the smell, for the most part. Interestingly, rather than sugar cookies, I was distinctly reminded of oatmeal cookies. It still had that sugary pastry quality, but also an added earthy note that reminded me of oatmeal. Perhaps that's because the sweetness tended to be more of a molasses sweetness, than a sugar sweetness, if that makes sense.

It certainly has all the hallmarks of being a young whiskey, with that over-ripe apple note. However, unlike so many others, it wasn't an offensive note. Rather, it was just an odd note that seemed to not play well with others. For instance, there was a distinct coffee note that seemed to underscore everything else. Although I couldn't place my tongue on it right away, once I did I couldn't help but notice it, and that over-ripe fruit flavor just seemed to clash with that flavor. 

Again, this wasn't an offensive combination, but even towards the end of the bottle it seemed to be about the depth of what this whiskey had to offer--an odd combination of coffee and baked, over-ripe apples. As much as I wanted it to work, and as much as I hoped to like this whiskey, it just never seemed to be . . . right. There's something to be said for the fact that the big guys in the industry have been doing it a certain way for centuries, and that there simply are no shortcuts. This proved to be no exception.

Grade: C-

Friday, December 14, 2018

Knob Creek Twice Barreled Kentucky Straight Rye

VITALS:
- $45
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I feel like I haven't quite found that Knob Creek Rye that I love. I can't get enough of the private selection bourbons, having found a few amazing bourbons among them, and at the very least, always a very good bourbon for a very good price.

As for Knob Creek ryes, however, between the regular rye and the few private selections I've tried, I have yet to find that "very good" rye, one that comes off as exceptional. That being said, I still keep looking, and in recent months I've grabbed both the barrel strength rye and this bottle, the twice barreled rye. I can't help myself when I see a limited release (though I don't know just how "limited") at a decent price.

The nose is full of spice, mostly cinnamon, but other baking spices as well, along with a distinct oak quality (true to its name).  There's a slight pine note as well on the nose, but the cinnamon and wood notes really prevail, almost like a subtle cinnamon stick.

The flavor is far more complex than the nose, however. On the first sip, I immediately got notes of maraschino cherry and amaretto, a nice, rich blend of dark fruits with a more decadent nutty flavor. I also got the cinnamon from the nose, though not as heavily as I expected.  All of this is underscored by a light layer of unsweetened vanilla.

On the back end there was a mint note that seemed to linger forever, almost cooling the back of the throat. Meanwhile, I was smacking my lips as they seemed to stick together. It was as though after each sip, powdered sugar came into the picture to balance out the cinnamon spice.

In later pours, while the cool mint note was still there, I found that I noticed more a sweet caramel stickiness that not only stuck on my lips but hung around at the back of my throat, as though I had just let a soft caramel dissolve in my mouth for the last half hour.

Compared to other Knob Creek ryes (and most other ryes I've had for that matter), this is sweet and spicy, and complex in that it offers all sorts of flavors from front to back and from pour to pour. It had a nice, oily and sticky mouthfeel that you find in older and higher proof bourbons, and it was absolutely delicious. I should have grabbed more!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

High West Double Rye! Binny's Private Selection Muscatel Finished Blended Rye

VITALS:
- $40
- 99.6 Proof
- Barrel No. 9595
- Min. 2 years
- Finish Time: 1 Year
- Utah

I feel like it's been quite some time since I've done a wine barrel-finished anything. That's a bit odd to me, as I've always enjoyed a good port or similar type of wine barrel-finished rye. Perhaps it's simply due to the fact that I just haven't been seeing these High West barrel finishes hitting the shelves like I used to. The other day, however, that iridescent, shiny bottle certainly caught my attention, and as is always the case with these, the price was right!

This had a decent amount of time in the Muscatel barrel, a full year, and it shows. The nose is pungent, full of black currant and plum. It also has a sweet and syrupy note to it, making it almost jammy. There's a richness to it as well, a sort of chocolate note. All in all, it combines with the traditional rye spices of cinnamon and clove to give an overall aroma that reminded me of mulled wine--something I've only had around Christmas time, making this a very timely bottle!

The palate is immediately plum and raisin up front, a rich, full flavored sweetness that overwhelms the tip of the tongue. Some cinnamon hits the back of the tongue pretty quickly as well, giving a nice contrast. Overall this has a really good mix of spices and dark, unsweetened fruit, bringing me right back to the mulled wine notes.

Everything about this makes me think of Christmas, and I really enjoyed it as I sat in my family room with a fire going inside while there was a blizzard outside. The wine notes are strong but not too sweet, and they work great with the cinnamon and black pepper spices from the rye. It also has a nice balance of graham cracker, vanilla and wood tones to keep everything on even keel.

The last few pours of this were certainly sweeter, but I actually found myself wishing they weren't. Although this may not fit all moods, I really enjoyed this for what it was on the first 3/4 of this bottle. It was a nice, warming pour, with rich fruit notes and spices that refrained from being overwhelming.

The last few pours were just too syrupy or jammy for my tastes. This is a rare instance, as I usually find myself enjoying those last few pours the most. While it was still good, and it wasn't exactly a drain pour or anything, it wasn't as good as it was at the start.

Grade: B+

Monday, November 19, 2018

Maker's Mark Private Select Binny's Beverage Depot #6 Kentucky Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 110.4 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I feel like I've been seeing more of these Maker's Mark Private Selects on shelves these days, with the big box stores getting four at a time, and even the little guys getting in on the game with their own private selections. All in all, it's not a bad thing, particularly where I'm typically such a fan of these. However, where before I grabbed these bottles without thinking twice, now even just a little bit of saturation has me seeing what else there may be first.

However, when Binny's got in a new batch of these, and I just happened to be there with a friend who understands my willingness to bend to peer pressure, at his suggestion we each grabbed a bottle to taste and compare. And, naturally, I don't regret it.  That being said, however, I think his bottle was better than mine.  C'est la vie.

The particular breakdown of oak finishing staves added to this barrel is as follows:


I have a tendency to gravitate to the ones with the Roasted french Mocha or the Toasted French Spice. I think this is because the first couple Private Selects I ever had absolutely blew me away, and I find myself trying to recreate that experience. So, I look for the same usage of staves. Unfortunately, I've never quite been successful in that endeavor.

The nose on this one was kinda weird. It was malty and grainy, along with a decent amount of ethanol, which never seemed to fade away, even on the last few pours. In addition, it had an interesting citrus note on the nose, like orange peel, adding a bit of bitterness that seemed to mix with an out-of-place peanut scent. All in all, the nose was . . . weird. These different aromas, while making the nose complex, just didn't seem to jive together

The flavor, however, was not weird or confusing, but was actually really tasty! It had this floral note (something I usually get in single malts, not bourbons), almost like a lavender flavor. I know, right away it seems weird, but that flavor seemed to merely add something unique (and inoffensive) to the more traditional caramel and vanilla flavors that really stood out.

This was unquestionably a sweeter bourbon, even more so compared to other wheated bourbons. However, it carried this nice buttery quality to it as well, with an almost creamy mouthfeel, that reminded me of the kind of brown sugar and butter crumble you'd put on top of a cobbler. At other times, the buttery, buttery and sweet qualities reminded me of funnel cake. Either way, this was delicious and sweet.

I realize that taste is what matters most, and in this category, this bourbon was amazing. However, the nose on this one really threw me off. Even on the last couple pours I still got not only the strong ethanol note, but that weird citrus note was not only present, but was unavoidable. If this didn't smell so odd, it would have received top marks from me. Nonetheless, this was still very delicious, and I found it hard to go to other bottles before finishing this one first

Grade: B+/A-

Friday, November 16, 2018

Bomberger's Declaration Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2018)

VITALS:
- $45
- 108 Proof
- Batch No. 18C316
- NAS
- Kentucky

I have never been lucky enough to come across a Bomberger's Declaration or a Shenk's Homestead in the wild, to just be able to grab them off the shelf. A few weeks ago, however, that luck changed, and just in passing while buying wine for my wife I came across this bottle sitting on the shelf. Without hesitation I grabbed it and headed to the register. And then I forgot about it for a few weeks. I guess I just had other good stuff to get through first.

Eventually, though, I got around to opening this, and I really wish I had done so sooner! The nose was sweet and almost savory all at once. I was immediately hit with anise and clove, the kind of spices that are somewhat sweet, but that sweetness is constantly buried by the cinnamon spice and wood tones. It also smelled rich, if that makes sense. My mouth immediately started watering at the idea of tasting these complex and deep notes I got off the nose.

When I took the first sip, I knew immediately that I had something really good in my hands! I haven't had that experience in quite some time where I knew it was great from the second it touched the tip of my tongue. Up front it was initially sticky sweet maple and brown sugar, which oddly didn't really match the nose, but was nonetheless absolutely delicious.

Other flavors seemed to slowly make their way to the stage, including a nice, smooth vanilla note throughout, and that wonderful spicy cinnamon on the back end that I love the most. The juxtaposition of the sticky sweet front end and the spicy back end was absolutely spectacular.

It has a nice, oily quality to it, too, that makes that finish last forever. As it stuck around, that spicy note seemed to fade, only leaving the lingering sweet vanilla flavor. It reminded me kind of the way Fireball jawbreakers dissolved from spicy cinnamon to whatever that sweet center of the candy is.  It was like that, only a thousand times better tasting.

Throughout it maintained a slight, earthy and woody tone, which really helped keep it from being too sweet. Other than the very front end, it had an excellent balance of sweet, spicy and woody.  It all worked together to make a sort of cinnamon and dark chocolate treat.

I'm a fan of Michter's products, though I wouldn't say I'm a BIG fan. I just think they make quality products and would never turn one away. This, however, tells me that they can really make an outstanding bourbon. I loved everything about this from beginning to end. This was one of the best surprises I've had in a while. Grab it if you can!!

Grade: A

Friday, November 9, 2018

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Release #11

VITALS:
- $70
- 139.8 Proof
- 12 Years
- Release #11
- Kentucky

I do love a good heater, and these old label releases of Elijah Craig certainly do the trick. These are certainly the hottest bourbons I've had, and this one, clocking in at 139.8 proof, might be the highest proof whiskey I've ever had, though I'd have to verify that. It's certainly the highest proof whiskey I've reviewed here.

This particular bottle came from the influx of ECBP that my local liquor store got in a couple years back. My wife seemed to pick me up a bottle every time she went. I figured they were all from the same batch, until some months later I realized that this one bottle was a different proof than all the rest, thus from a different batch. Here I had been holding onto it thinking it was a back-up, and it was a whole new bottle altogether! It kinda made my day.

The nose is, as expected, very hot! After popping the cork for the first time, I made the mistake of sticking my nose right to the mouth of the bottle. That was quite some time ago at this point, though, so rest assured I've recovered since then. After that ethanol burned off, though, some tasty caramel and tangy amaretto notes came through. I also got a distinct malty note that I didn't expect. Towards the end, while it seemed to get sweeter on the nose, it also developed a sort of leather aroma, which weirdly worked.

The flavor is spicy cinnamon up front and spicy cinnamon on the back. In fact, the back end even took on a bit of a black pepper spice. My point is, it was spicy . . . and, of course, hot. The burn from the alcohol seemed to exaggerate the cinnamon and pepper spice.

However, beneath all that spice there was a consistent layer of brown sugar, a bit of sweetness to help tone it down. That amaretto note also came through pretty noticeably, adding a bit of tanginess to the mix.

I think one of my favorite characteristics to come through, though, didn't make an appearance until about the last third of this bottle. I got a distinct dark chocolate flavor that once I noticed I couldn't ignore. I'm not much of a fan of dark chocolate itself, but as a tasting note in my whiskey, I thought it was great! It worked so well with the brown sugar and cinnamon to create this rich and decadent dessert like quality, but with a heavy spice that kept it grounded.

I also loved the texture of this one. It was so buttery and oily that my mouth just remained coated in flavor long after each sip (and that's all it took was a sip). I think that's partly why it took so long for me to work my way through my bottle is that just a little bit would go a long way, and in more ways than one. This was yet another fantastic bottling of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof!

Grade: A

Monday, October 29, 2018

Very Old Barton Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $17
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

For a long time Very Old Barton Bottled In Bond was not available in my area. I had heard of it, and had heard good things about it, but all I had available to me were the other Very Old Barton offerings. At some point, though, and I'm not sure when, that changed, and now I see it regularly on the shelves in my area. In fact, I see local retailers actually showcasing it, as though it were limited in allocation (which I don't believe is the case).

In fact, in chatting up my local liquor store guy, we got on the topic of solid drinkers for a solid price, and he walked me over to this bottle as his favorite example. Though I've had this whiskey many times in the past, I've never bought a bottle for myself, and I decided it was about time I grab a bottle and give it its proper due on this blog.

On the nose I got a lot of cinnamon and pecan, along with a sweet honey note. It kind of reminded me of pecan pie that had been dusted in cinnamon. The cinnamon provided a nice counter to the spicy and nutty notes that predominated. Although somewhat faint, it also had a nice, soft chocolate aroma to it. It wasn't immediately noticeable, but once I found it I enjoyed it. So far, so good.

On the palate, the first thing that I noticed was how smooth this whiskey was. "Smooth" is a descriptor that is way overused in describing whiskeys. However, in this context, I mean that usually with 100 proof whiskeys or higher you get that certain bite from the higher alcohol content. In fact, I've come to appreciate that in higher whiskeys. However, that bite just wasn't here with this one. It drank like an 86 proofer, which I guess could be dangerous.

As for flavor, this one really hit all the traditional notes, those flavors that draw people to bourbon. It had the baseline vanilla to carry through all the other flavors. It also had that distinct spicy cinnamon, as well as some nutmeg, again providing that nutty quality that distinguished this bourbon from others.

It also had a tangy flavor, kind of an almond extract note. Combined with the cinnamon and vanilla, it really tasted the way a bakery smells, if that makes sense. The mix of baking spices, yeast and sweet vanilla all combined didn't quite remind me of any particular dessert or pastry, but rather that blend of all the flavors you might find in a bakery. Unfortunately, the chocolate note from the nose didn't carry over, but I found that I didn't really miss it all that much.

The only detracting flavor that I got was an earthy, almost leathery note. It wasn't there the entire time, but once I noticed it, I couldn't help but not notice it from time to time. Luckily it was fleeting, and it didn't take away from the other good flavors going on here.

All in all, this is an excellent bourbon for the price--an every day drinker as some might put it. I would even suggest that if you find it at a even a few more dollars it is still absolutely worth it.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 113.8 Proof

VITALS:
- $60
- 113.8 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

It's rare that I actively go on the hunt for a particular whiskey. When it comes to buying rare or allocated whiskey, I tend to think of myself as more of an opportunist--if the opportunity presents itself to pick up something rare or special, then I nearly always pounce. But, rarely do I go out actively hunting particular bottles.

This bottle was different, though. I loved Willett's two and three-year ryes, but it felt like an eternity since the three-year was first released. About a month ago, however, I started seeing people on Facebook who had managed to find bottles here in Illinois. And so the hunt was on. I was asking my local liquor store guys to hold a bottle back, I had all my friends inquiring on my behalf at every liquor store they happened to venture into, and I was regularly using my lunch breaks to hit as many stores as I could, asking the same question--"Got any of that 4-year??"

After a few weeks of these regular visits, and getting an answer of, "Not yet," I finally started getting different answers--"Sorry, we're all sold out." I couldn't believe it had come and gone and I missed it. On my way back from one such trip, feeling defeated, I got a text from a buddy of mine with a picture of the bottle letting me know he landed one!  The next day I was cracking it open, and a week later I was finishing the last drop.

Now that I've written the longest intro to one of my posts ever, allow me to get into the whiskey itself. The nose was familiar and expected. I got rich scents of cherry and almond, along with an earthy but sweet pipe tobacco note. It also had a distinct sweetness on the nose, almost rum-like, that I wasn't expecting.

On the palate I got a ton of sweet cinnamon, a flavor somewhere in between cinnamon bread and cinnamon red hots. The spice didn't really kick in until it hit the back of my throat causing me to salivate and yearn for that next sip. I also got some pine notes (something I've noticed in past releases), along with a brown sugar sweetness that at times came across as more of a maple sugar sweetness.  Perhaps that's where the rum notes on the nose came from.

The flavors seemed to just get more complex from here, though. Along with some traditional vanilla notes, I also got a strong amaretto note along with a sweet but tart apple flavor, like a Granny Smith apple. That sweet, fruity tartness seemed to linger for an eternity, providing a crisp but long finish. I know Granny Smith apple might seem like a weird note to get in whiskey, but it really worked well here, almost providing a certain refreshing quality to counter the cinnamon spice.

As mentioned above, I finished off this bottle in very quick fashion. I spent more time trying to find this bottle than I did enjoying this bottle. But I regret nothing. This was absolutely delicious, complex and unique. It's one of those moments where it lived up to all of expectations I had built up in my own head. I guess I'm back on the hunt for more now!

Grade: A

Saturday, October 13, 2018

I.W. Harper 15 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $80
- 86 Proof
- 15 Years
- Kentucky

Over the years I've seen this bottle sitting on the shelves off and on. I'll see it, think about giving it a try, ultimately passing, and then I won't see it for a few months. However, it invariably shows up again. And the main reason I notice it is the sparkly, decanter type bottle that it comes in. While the age is certainly noteworthy as well, the bottle is simply easy to remember.

And yet, I never bothered to pick one up, despite the nice package and the age of the whiskey. For whatever reason, it just didn't appeal enough to me, almost as though it were trying too hard.

However, when a coworker is giving me one as a gift, I'm far from the type of person to turn it down, and so I accepted, opened, poured and enjoyed.  After all, the neck-label tells me that, "Anywhere, any time, it's always a pleasure." I took that quite literally, immediately giving this a swig at the office.

The nose is very heavy on the cinnamon. It immediately comes across as spicy and even a bit dry. It has distinct vanilla undertones. Also, I don't know if it comes from the wood or what, but it had a certain peanut note to it. Along with these somewhat earthy notes, I also got a slight bit of cherry and even some citrus, kind of like orange peel.

The first thing I noticed when I took a sip was the watery texture. I guess that's to be expected at only 86 proof, but given the age, I anticipated a bit more of an oily mouthfeel nonetheless. That simply wasn't the case. As a result, I felt the flavors were more subtle than expected too.

The most prominent flavor is the oak note that was consistent from beginning to end on this bottle. It's well-aged and it shows. I've had other 15 year bourbons where the influence wasn't nearly this strong, but this whiskey certainly had a bit of a chewing-on-a-stick quality to it.

Beyond the oak notes, however, it had some nice flavors going on, even if they were a bit muted. I got a primarily vanilla flavor that was almost as if it were coated in cinnamon and chocolate. In fact, that chocolate note, which was more of an unsweetened type of chocolate, became more and more pronounced as I made my way to the end of the bottle.  I also got a flavor that reminded me of corn flakes (but without the two tablespoons of sugar that I would otherwise pour on top of my cornflakes because I'm twelve). I wasn't a big fan of this note, as it just didn't seem to work with the other flavors going on here.

In the end, this is simply an oak-forward whiskey--not in a bad way, necessarily, just in a defining way. For those who like a good, dry, oaky bourbon, this might be their thing. For me, however, after a while it just seemed to become taxing, and I just couldn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

Grade: B-

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak Single Malt Whisky

VITALS:
- $119.00
- 92 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Taiwan

Though I've had Japanese whiskeys before, this is my first foray into Taiwanese whisky. I've certainly heard of Kavalan and seen their bottles on the shelves, but I never grabbed one for whatever reason. My wife, however, was willing to make that leap for me, and she bought me a bottle of the Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak single malt as a birthday gift. Needless to say, I was eager to try it.

The nose is distinctly a single malt, not unlike your typical Highlands Scotch Whisky. It smelled soft, almost floral and certainly malty. I did not get a huge bourbon presence on the nose, but I did get more vanilla than I typically find in single malts. I also got that typical pipe tobacco note that I find in Irish malts.  Finally, there was a bit of a pepper spice to the nose. Clearly, at least as far as aroma goes, there was a lot going on here.

While the nose was soft and delicate (though full of aroma), the palate was a bit bolder.  At first I got a lot more cinnamon and wood than I ever would have expected. It was a lot like a single malt with American rye whiskey qualities.  I don't know if it was the wood tones or a combination of that with the cinnamon, but it gave the whiskey a bit of a sharp bite that I found to be a bit off-putting.

As I spent more time with the bottle, though, I came to appreciate many of the complexities of this whisky. After being open for a while, those sharp edges seemed to die off. It still retained some bitterness, but it took on more of an orange pith type bitterness, and was actually welcome. I even got fleeting notes of fresh mint.

Towards the end of the bottle, this seemed to be almost entirely butterscotch, cinnamon and vanilla, however. It sweetened up significantly, allowing the butterscotch and sweet vanilla to take more of a center stage, with the sharp, dry and bitter edges taking more of a back seat.

The cinnamon and pepper spice remained throughout, giving this a bit more of a spicy character than a Highlands single malt. However, it still retained that malty character. There's no question that it was a single malt, as that buttery, almost floral character was consistent. I only wish the bourbon barrels had imparted more of an influence than they did. It seemed to have promise of lending some of those flavors to this single malt, but they either didn't lend as much, or not in the way I had hoped.

While I really enjoyed this bottle from beginning to end, it certainly wasn't consistent from beginning to end. It had a lot going on, but the flavors didn't complement one another as much as I would have liked. Rather, it was a cacophony of various flavors, some more enjoyable than others, all thrown together.

Grade: B

Friday, October 5, 2018

Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Rye Binny's Selection Barrel #6870

VITALS:
- $45
- 115 Proof
- 5 years, 8 months
- Kentucky

Recently Binny's got in four private selection barrels of Knob Creek Rye.  I happened to be in my local store as they got the boxes in, and I grabbed a bottle of whatever was in the top box. It just happened to be this barrel #6870. As with most Knob Creek store selects, I felt that I just couldn't go wrong. Granted, these are about $5 more than the store select bourbons, but still worth it.

The last such bottle that I had was decent. It didn't blow me away or anything, but it was certainly better than the standard rye, and it did not make me in any way shy away from trying another. Overall, at first I wasn't big on this one, but by the end, it had really grown on me. As a quick disclaimer, however, I may be a bit impartial due to the situation in which I drank a good portion of this bottle and the experience I now associate with it.

I first opened this bottle while on a canoe trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had never done anything quite like this, and while I've been camping a million times, I had never been "wilderness" camping, where there are zero amenities, and the closest civilization is a two hour canoe ride away. It was under these circumstances that I first opened, poured and enjoyed this rye, and I have to say, it was a great pour for the moment.

The nose was malty and piney. It had a certain amount of cinnamon spice that I've come to expect, but the pine notes really suited the scene, sitting next to a campfire in the middle of a forest, surrounded by pine trees and only the light of the fire to remind me where I was. Interestingly, I also got a peach note from the nose. This was a first for me, though I didn't find it offensive or anything. Just . . . different.

My initial impressions upon tasting was that it came across as watered down, despite its high proof. The flavor was almost all cinnamon and pine. That spicy and woody flavor seemed to last from front to back. It had a bit of a fleeting mint flavor on the back end which I really enjoyed and wished had stuck around a bit more. Those first few pours while camping, though, seemed to suit the scene well.

Of course, I didn't finish the bottle in that one night, and I continued to work my way through during the weeks that followed from the comfort of my couch. However, I found myself enjoying this rye more and more with each glass I poured. It sweetened up significantly, with a nice brown sugar flavor that really took center stage. The pine and cinnamon notes remained, but they took a back seat, and some of the rough edges that had previously come with those flavors were gone.

What was left at the end of this bottle was a sweet and rich whiskey. Though it wasn't overly complex, it was completely delicious, and the high proof never got in the way of the flavor. This bottle renewed my faith in the store pick Knob Creek Ryes.

Grade: A-

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Elijah Craig 18-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2017

VITALS:
- $130
- 90 Proof
- 18 Years
- Barrel No. 4370
- Region: Kentucky

I've been lucky enough to have lucked into finding a bottle of Elijah Craig 18-year at retail for three years running. I can't help but feel privileged in this respect, as it is consistently one of my favorite whiskeys. Here we are in the fall of 2018, now, with this year's set to release soon, and I can only hope to be so lucky once again. In the meantime, however, I finally polished off last year's release, and I think it may be the best one I've had yet!

What I've always loved about Elijah Craig 18-year is that noticeable-but-not-overpowering oak note. For me it has always been so well-balanced in this whiskey that, for those who like a little woodiness and dryness in their whiskey, really does that flavor profile well.

The nose on this one is soft and sweet. It had a lot of vanilla and honey up front, providing a nice, subtly sweet scent. The dry, woodiness was also immediately noticeable, and that combination of vanilla and wood had me salivating. I also got some rich notes of raisin and even some baking spices, giving a bit of an unsweetened raisin bread note. All of this together provided for an absolutely incredible aroma coming off my glass.

In the past with this release, I've found that the first few pours tended to be oak-heavy, but that after having the bottle open for a bit, the sharp edges smoothed out. Here, there was no smoothing out to be done. The oak was right up front with this one, but not in a sharp or abrasive way. Rather, it worked well with a heavy vanilla profile. In fact, I didn't expect to get as much vanilla as I did.

It also matched its nose with some rich notes of dark fruit, almost like a pinot noir flavor. However, that dark fruit or wine note was sweetened up with a honey note that also matched the nose. All these flavors combined to create an incredible rich and complex flavor, the likes I haven't really had before, though others have come close.

The vanilla sticks around from beginning to end, and lingers for quite a while after each sip. What was nice, though, was an added cinnamon spice on the back end that I really didn't get up front. That, paired with the oak notes I was getting really worked well to counter-balance the sweetness of this whiskey on the back end, and the result was me immediately reaching for that next sip.  It's safe to say that each glass I poured from this bottle seemed to disappear faster than most.

As mentioned above, for three straight years I've been able to get a bottle of the Elijah Craig 18-year, and this bottle is easily the best of the three. It had everything I look for in a bourbon, and then some--an absolutely fantastic pour!!

Grade: A+

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

High West Double Rye! Warehouse Liquors Private Selection Rye Finished Blended Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $45
- 103.2 Proof
- Barrel No. 4218
- Finish Time: 1.4 yrs. - Rye
- Utah

Gifted whiskey is so often the best whiskey, and this one proved to be no exception. Warehouse Liquors in Chicago has been killing it with their private picks for years now. Without hesitation, I have grabbed numerous private picks off their shelves knowing that I would almost certainly enjoy what's inside, and I've never been let down. 

This bottle, which was given to me by a departing co-worker who apparently just didn't want to pack it up, carried on Warehouse Liquors' tradition of making outstanding private picks. This particular Double Rye! was finished for an additional 1.4 years in rye barrels (apparently different barrels from those in which the rye initially matured). I'm guessing the idea is to add to the richness of the typical rye flavors and spices, resulting in a bolder, more pronounced rye whiskey.

The nose is all traditional rye, full of cinnamon spice from front to back. I also got lesser, complementary notes, including a light mint note and even some pine notes. Along with the cinnamon, it reminded me a bit of Christmas. I don't know if it's all these combined, or just the particular cinnamon smells, but I got a lot of baking spices on the nose, adding to a rich and enticing aroma.

Although it didn't really come through on the nose, there was a lot of vanilla on the palate. In fact, it kind of hit me unexpectedly given that the aroma did not provide any forewarning. The cinnamon spice was in full force as well, hitting the tip of the tongue and leaving a nice, lingering spice at the back of my throat after each swallow.

The pine flavor also came through, adding a nice, earthy flavor and even a bit of woody dryness to the mix. This seemed to help keep the whiskey from seeming too sweet and helped balance it out. It even had a bit of orange peel, especially on the finish, that added just the right amount of bitterness, not going overboard. It also added a bit of a citrus note that, despite the spice and wood notes, made this seem a bit refreshing.

I think I would have liked to get more of the mint that I found on the nose, but it just wasn't there. That kind of left me wanting a bit more. Not that it's anyone's fault, it's just that I enjoyed it on the nose, and if it were noticeable on the palate I think that those mint notes would have really worked well with the bitter citrus notes to create something wonderful. 

Then again, maybe not. After all, regardless of what I may have wanted to taste, in the end this is an excellent rye, and once I started into the bottle I had a hard time turning to anything else until the very last drop was poured.

Grade: B+

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Booker's "Front Porch Batch" Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $65
- 125.9 Proof
- 6 yrs., 5 mos., 25 days
- Batch No. 2017-03
- Kentucky

It's been quite some times since I've taken on a bottle of Booker's. In fact, aside from the occasional bar pour, it's been almost three years. The last bottle I had was on New Year's Eve, and I recall having one of the worst hangovers in recent history the next day. I also recall, however, being a fan.

I had heard good things about this particular batch, and when I found it on the shelf, a good year after its release, I figured now was the time to re-visit Booker's.

When I first popped this cork, I got pure ethanol. It did nothing but singe my nose hairs, and I couldn't even attempt to find other notes.  In fact, my first pour was no different -- pure burn. So much so that I didn't even bother with a second glass, and I didn't even go back to the bottle for a couple weeks.

However, when I did, while the burn remained there, the flavors really started to take over, layered just beneath that alcohol burn. It developed a nice richness and complexity that I wasn't sure was possible at first. The nose took on notes of cherry and brown sugar, even a molasses type note. It also had a distinct clove quality to it which is one of my favorite smells. It was very rich and very spicy, but with some sweetness mixed in.

The palate for the most part matched the nose. It was heavy on the vanilla up front, with a decent amount of dark cherry added. It also had a significant cinnamon note up front, something I usually get more on the back end, making this taste a lot like a spiced cherry pie.

The back end was a bit different, though. The vanilla didn't linger as I would have expected it, but rather it was a sweet brown sugar finish that coated the throat. Slowly, cinnamon and amaretto notes then snuck in, leading to a nice, complex finish that never seemed to go away. I found myself enjoying the flavor of this one long after each sip.

It also had a certain amount of dryness to it, some wood notes that I didn't expect given its age. While I liked all the flavors that were going on, I had a hard time getting past the alcohol burn on this one. I've had a number of bourbons at even higher proofs than this that weren't so full of burn. This one was very aggressive in that respect, and it never seemed to peter out like I had hoped it would, even on the last few pours. It's a shame, because everything else about this bourbon was great!

Grade: B

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $59
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 11
- West Virginia

Smooth Ambler has been able to develop quite the cult following around its Old Scout line, sourcing delicious bourbons for years. They've bottled some of their own stuff as well, though those offerings haven't quite garnered the attention that the Old Scout line has. Recently, Smooth Ambler released Big Level, a wheated bourbon that is all their own.

Although no age is stated on the bottle, the interwebs tell me that it's 5+ years old.  What I take from that is that, while that is certainly still on the younger end, it's not as though they rushed this product out early for the sake of generating revenues. Rather, somebody felt it was aged well enough to bottle it under Smooth Ambler's name and release it to market.

The nose on this was interesting. I got some alcohol off of it, but oddly got a bit of a charcoal flavor. I know it was distilled in Virginia, but that alone should not have imparted such a note. I also got a bit of overripe apple, which I've always associated with young, craft whiskies.

My first impression upon taking a sip was that this is very sweet, like sugar cookie sweet. It had a bit of a baked goods flavor to it, but with a whole bunch of sugar to it. Unfortunately, it also had that craft-ish flavor to it, that familiar over-ripe apple flavor that is just so off-putting. Granted, the sweetness was something that other craft whiskies haven't been able to accomplish, but it was still hard to get past.

On the finish I got a certain amount of tartness that just didn't work for me either. I like a good cherry tart note. However, this was more of a "bad blackberry" type note. It had that dark berry note, but it just wasn't quite right, and it certainly wasn't enjoyable.

I don't know if it was the wheat or what, but I also got a distinct wood note, like chewing on a twig. It was earthy and dry. That with the tartness gave a bit of an orange peal, and even some amaretto flavor. Don't get me wrong, though, this did not approach the flavor of an old fashioned or anything like that. Rather, these were just more the bitter aspects of these flavors, and they just didn't work to make this much more enjoyable.

I had high hopes for this whiskey, and as I made my way through the bottle I wanted very badly for it to improve over time and with a little oxidation. But, in the end, it came across as unbalanced and unrefined, and I just didn't find it that enjoyable.

Grade: C-

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Elijah Craig Small Batch The Pride Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $26
- 94 Proof
- Kentucky

I've never had a store pick of Elijah Craig before, but when I got the idea in mind to do an Elijah Craig tasting at work, I figured it would make a great addition to the tasting, and I knew where I could easily and quickly (not to mention cheaply) get my hands on one. It just so happened that it was at a gas station liquor store.  Or, to put it more accurately, at a liquor store adjacent to the gas station after which it's named.

At our tasting, which featured the normal small batch, this store pick, two versions of the barrel strength and the 18-year, this one seemed to fare pretty well. Overall it was well-accepted, and it realistically would probably have taken third place if we were keeping any kind of accurate score.

On the nose it's more or less what I expected from Elijah Craig. I got the traditional caramel and vanilla with only a light cinnamon and peppery spice. The alcohol, as expected, was minimal to non-existent, allowing the aroma to really take hold. It smelled sweet up front and gave a good indication of what was to come.

On the palate, that sweetness certainly carried over. The sweet caramel on the tip of the tongue was the first thing I noticed, and that eventually transformed to more of a burnt sugar flavor. It still had that sugary sweetness, but it also had that char note to tone down that sweetness jut a bit.

It also had a hint of dark fruit, like plum. I feel like when I get those dark fruit notes I always fall back on plum. Perhaps I need to eat more dark fruits to expand my palate a bit, but that's what I get. It wasn't dark cherry, or blackberry, but a more mellow and less berry flavor of plum.

The texture was more on the watery side, which was to be expected. What wasn't expected, however, was the silky feel that came along with. It had the mouthfeel of an aged Scotch, which tend to be lower in proof. It lacked the viscosity, but had a rare smoothness to it that I typically associate with more malt-forward whiskeys. This was a pleasant surprise.

Towards the end of the bottle, the vanilla really came to the forefront, mixing with a brown sugar sweetness that reminded me a bit of coffee cake. As is so often the case, I found those last few pours to be the best of the bunch.

This bottle was certainly better than the standard offering, and whoever is doing the selecting for The Pride did a pretty good job. It didn't blow my mind or anything, but given that it cause just as much as regular small batch, which itself is a great bourbon for the price, this one was really a no-brainer!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Buffalo Trace Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #22 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $26
- 90 Proof
- Batch #22
- Kentucky

Who loves free whiskey?!?!?  I sure do! I'll try not to let that influence this review, but I had helped a buddy work though most of this particular bottle, and with a handful of pours left, he handed it over to me. Good friend? Or sucker? Who's to say?

Either way, I've had nothing but positive experiences with store selections of Buffalo Trace, and it's absolutely a great bang for your buck. This one certainly proved to be no different.

The nose is heavy on the caramel, something I've expected from Buffalo Trace bourbon. It also had a nice, mellow vanilla undertone, and there was even a bit of black pepper there to tickle the nose with some spiciness. Overall, the nose was inviting and flavorful.

The flavor was very sweet up front. It was a nice mix of sweet vanilla, like vanilla bean ice cream, along with some rich molasses. It even leaned, at times, towards a maple syrup note. It kind of reminded me of pancakes after they've become soggy from the butter, syrup and melted whipped cream.

This certainly came across as a dessert-like whiskey. What I think I liked most about it, is also what surprised me most about it. Despite being a 90 proof whiskey, it had a very oily mouthfeel, like you usually get with higher proof whiskeys. This seemed to add to the complexity of what is otherwise a pretty straight-forward, simple bourbon. It added depths that not only gave off individual flavors of vanilla and caramel, but combined those flavors to remind me of something more elaborate, like warm pecan pie.

In fact, as I got that note I realized that there was a certain nutty quality to this bourbon that I had been tasting all along, but I hadn't quite put my finger (my tongue?) on it. That's what gave it that warm pecan pie flavor. It had all the parts, the graham flavor of the crust, the nutty quality of the pecan, the caramel and molasses flavor of the filling, and even the vanilla flavor of a dollop of whipped cream on top.

I realize as I'm typing this that I'm making this sound like the most amazing bourbon ever. It wasn't that. However, it was really damn good, and I wish I had grabbed a bottle or two to bunker when this was released. This was like a significantly better version of an already very good bourbon, and at an amazing price!

Grade: B+

Friday, August 17, 2018

High West Double Rye! Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys

VITALS:
- $20/375 ml
- 92 Proof
- Batch No. 15K05
- Utah

I am admittedly a High West fanboy. It's the only distillery I've been to multiple times, I've made friends with some of their employees, and I constantly recommend their products to friends and strangers. I've even branded my car with their logo. And yet, I've never gotten around to reviewing one of their flagship offerings -- Double Rye!

I've reviewed many versions of Double Rye!, private selections from different stores with various finishes. And though I've had it a million times, I never got around to giving it a proper review here. This bottle, which was handed to me by a former work colleague as he left the office for greener pastures, gave me just that opportunity!

The nose is sweet, a nice blend of cinnamon and molasses. It gave it that deep, sweet note balanced by the cinnamon spice typical of ryes. It's what drew me to rye in the first place, and I was very pleased to get some of these traditional notes. It also had a layer of vanilla along with a slight pine note. Interestingly, there was also a hint of something fruity, like raspberry, that was hard to notice at first, but once I did I couldn't not notice it.

The first thing I noticed when I took a sip was how easy it was to drink. I realize it's not a super-high proof, but it went down dangerously easy. One quality that stood out right away was a malty note that I don't usually get it rye. Perhaps this is what helped make it so easy to drink. It didn't come close to tasting like Scotch or anything, but it just had that smooth, sippable quality to its flavor.

Of course, the most prevalent flavors were brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. The sweet vanilla was right up front, but quickly that cinnamon spice came in and lingered long after each swallow. Somewhere in the middle the brown sugar took on more of a burnt sugar note. That was balanced by an almond extract type flavor as well.

The cinnamon spice wasn't a sweet spice, and at times it came across more as a black pepper spice at the back of my throat. Towards the end of the bottle, I started noticing a light coating of caramel in my mouth and throat as well, and between that and the spice, it had me reaching for that next sip almost immediately.

It's no wonder I've enjoyed grabbing the store selects and finished versions of this rye. This really has everything I look for in a rye, and for being their sort of base-line product, it offers a lot of flavor and complexity. This is very good, and well-worth the price!

Grade: B+

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon 2017 Batch No. C917

VITALS:
- $60
- 131.0 Proof
- 12 Years
- Batch No. C917
- Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I lucked into and simply couldn't hesitate to grab it off the shelf. I was just in my local grocery store and, on a whim, figured I'd check out the whiskey selection, and there was this bottle, and at more or less retail! The batch that was released prior to this one (B517) won all sorts of accolades, and I found it to be a superb whiskey when I had the chance to try it. So, I was looking forward to giving this one a go.

I managed not to crack it until just a few weeks ago when I hosted a whiskey tasting with a flight of various Elijah Craig offerings, including Elijah Craig Small Batch, a store select single barrel, the 2017 release of the 18 year single barrel, Release #11 of the Barrel Proof and this bottle. Although the results were close, this bottle came out as the favorite of the five among our group.

On the nose I got a nice, light amount of wood notes. It wasn't an oak bomb by any means, but just enough to appreciate it. Those wood notes seemed to go great with the cinnamon and heat that came off the top, blending well to an almost piney scent.

On the palate, it's immediately sweet and rich up front. That sweet richness really hides the alcohol, as the burn was minimal. Instead, my mouth was coated with almost syrupy liquid layering caramel and vanilla over a toasty, burnt sugar flavor that was amazing.

Almost as if to make sure it didn't come off as too sweet, the heat that I was expecting up front finally came through on the back end, adding a nice burn on the back of that caramel richness. However, eventually that heat subsided, as it usually does, and I was left with a lingering caramel note that just coated my entire mouth and throat.

On later pours other notes seemed to come through, working to complement the dominant caramel notes, with hints of orange peel and maraschino cherry coming through, reminding me of a less spicy old fashioned. Though these other flavors seemed almost fleeting, they offered a nice, subtle but vibrant note to go along with the delicious, rich (did I mention this whiskey is rich?) caramel, vanilla and burnt sugar tones.

All in all, this was a dessert bourbon if I ever had one. The mouthfeel was thick and viscous, the flavors were sweet and rich, the burn was even welcome to cut the sweetness, and in the end my mouth felt coated as though I had been eating soft caramels for the past hour. This bourbon was absolutely fantastic, and I loved it even more than the previous release, which itself was pretty spectacular!

Grade: A+

Friday, July 27, 2018

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Selection Barrel #6270 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 13 years, 6 months


Once again the Knob Creek private selection came through for me.  I've gone on and on in this blog about these store picks being one of the best values out there. You get a privately selected, single barrel bourbon, usually aged 9-11 years, and sometimes as long as 13 1/2 years such as this one, or even longer, at nearly barrel strength, and for a cool $40.00.  You can't go wrong in picking one of these up off the shelf, and this bottle proved to be no exception.

The nose was all brown sugar and caramel. It came across immediately as a sugar bomb, almost like those caramel lollipops, Sugar Daddies. It also had milk chocolate and even a slight peanut note to the nose at first. This developed some additional stone fruit notes later on, with almost a tart cherry pie quality to the nose. Certainly the way it smelled suggested the flavor was, at the least, going to be complex.

Not surprisingly, the brown sugar and caramel from the nose was spot on, and the first sip was like drinking a boozed up version of a Sugar Daddy. Given the age, I expected a bit of dryness on the back end, perhaps even to balance out that sweetness, but such wasn't the case. It has surprisingly little wood influence to it, only barely noticeable on the back end.

Initial pours had a light burn to them, but that is to be expected given the proof, and it was anything but offensive. In fact, it cut the sweetness a bit.  Eventually that burn faded, however, and in doing so improved this bourbon so much! While I thought the burn provided a nice balance, what I found was it was masking the rich, sweet flavors that were waiting to emerge in this bourbon.

At first I thought the alcohol burn provided a nice balance to the sweetness.  However, as the alcohol seemed to fade, the sweetness came forward in a big way, but not in a way that made it cloyingly sweet or anything. Rather, that caramel/brown sugar thing it had going developed more in richness than intensity, if that makes sense. 

Don't get me wrong, towards the end of this bottle this absolutely took on a dessert-like quality. However, it wasn't overly sweet, just richly sweet. I may be talking in circles here, but it's as though with each successive pour, the quality of the caramel improved, like it started with some generic, store-brand caramel and finished with high-end, melt-in-your-mouth-and-consume-your-world high end caramel from Godiva or whoever might make really awesome caramel.

This bourbon changed much more from first pour to last than anything else I've had in the past year or so. At first it was a very good bourbon.  The last pour was an absolutely amazing bourbon that made me wish I had a few bottles more.

Grade: A

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Jefferson's 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $45
- 94 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch No. 63
- Canada

Well-aged ryes seem to be harder and harder to come by, and Jefferson's rye, which is now out of production, seems to be a symbol of this trend. After all, this 10-year rye at one point offered a well-aged rye at a decent price=point.  Good luck finding this old of a rye at this price today. As was the case with this bottle, the only way to land one is on the secondary market.

Jefferson's is a non-distilling producer, or NDP, however, meaning they don't produce their own whiskey, but rather select and bottle whiskey sourced from other producers. This particular whiskey, which is a 100% rye mashbill, is sourced from Alberta Distillers in Canada (despite the very patriotic branding with the Jefferson name, the profile of Jefferson himself and the arch of stars half-circling him on the bottle).

Nonetheless, I was eager to try something that, in all likelihood, I'll never try again. Interestingly, as I opened this one up, I noticed that the cork was loose, as though it had contracted a bit. The bottle did not show signs of any evaporation, and as I pulled it off the bottom of the court made a tight seal. I did some very brief research on the web and found a few other mentions of this phenomenon. I'm not really sure what to make of it.

The nose is soft, almost floral in nature. It has hints of cinnamon and pine, but not necessarily the spice that usually accompanies those flavors. Just mild versions of those flavors, and with little to no burn.

On the palate, this whiskey is smooth and sweet. It primarily has notes of caramel and vanilla, but also has that pine flavor from the nose. The pine, though light, adds an interesting tang to the mix. Cinnamon comes in late on the back end, but while all the other flavors fade away, the cinnamon flavor seems to stick around forever.

As I made my way through this bottle, I found it to be incredibly easy to drink. It is certainly inoffensive, and delicious enough to keep me going right back to this bottle pour after pour. Later pours revealed the lightest of wood tones that weren't present initially. This turned that cinnamon flavor into more of an earthy note, like a cinnamon stick.

I also picked up a bot of orange peel in the mix. I didn't get this note all the time, but when I did notice it, it provided a welcome and delicious mix of sweet and bitter that had me wishing that it was just a bit more prevalent.

Overall, this was a relatively simple, yet delicious rye. I went into it with hopes that it would blow me away, and it didn't quite do that. Perhaps that's a bit unfair to set the bar that high, but I really had this hyped in my head that it was going to be spectacular, and while it was very good, I just wouldn't go that far.

Grade: B

Saturday, June 23, 2018

FEW Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $23/200 ml bottle
- 93 Proof
- < 4 years
- Batch 15-6
- Illinois

FEW bourbon, a local spirit that is not only on shelves everywhere, but also in nearly every venue, has simply not appealed to me. I first sampled it at the distillery maybe four to five years ago. While I enjoyed their rye a lot, I just didn't find anything to like about the bourbon. It had that flavor I get in young, craft bourbons so often--rotten apple. I can't seem to get away from it, and when it's there, it's all I notice.

A couple years ago I gave FEW bourbon another try at a bar. Again, I got that young, rotten apple taste, and I was turned off again. At Christmas, however, a friend gave me this 200 ml bottle. Figuring it's been a few (no pun intended) years now, and the whiskey should be more matured than when I last tasted it, I figured I'd give it another go.

Unfortunately, things haven't changed a whole lot. I was optimistic at first, as the nose was great.  I got some caramel and baked apple that were delicious together, along with cinnamon spice. The nose was soft, inoffensive and inviting.

When I went in for my first sip, even, I got brown sugar right up front. It was sweet and delicious. Unfortunately, it was closely followed by that not unfamiliar but completely unwelcome flavor of over-ripe apples that had turned brown. I wanted it to not be there so bad, but there it was, front and center.

I will say, it did seem to be tempered a bit compared to past experiences. It wasn't offensive, it just wasn't good. On the back end I got a bit of a piney note as well. It wasn't quite a Pine Sol flavor, but rather a muted car freshener flavor (or at least what I assume one of those car fresheners would taste like if I ever ate one).

This bottle was good for two solid pours. On the second pour, I noticed a peanut flavor as well. This new flavor wasn't bad, but was just odd when mixed with the other odd, not-so-great flavors of this bourbon.

I wanted this bourbon to be good. I really did. But, I think I may be done giving it a chance. It's a shame that I just can't bring myself to like it.  I think I'll just stick to their ryes from here on out, which they do very well.

Grade: D+

Monday, June 4, 2018

Eagle Rare Binny's Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel #061

VITALS:
- $35
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #061
- Kentucky

Oh how I do love me some Eagle Rare. I heard about this particular release from one of the various bourbon groups I belong to on Facebook. I saw a message there that Binny's had just released two new Eagle Rare barrel picks. I first texted my friends to let them know (because sharing is caring), and then I was at my local Binny's five minutes later. I wasn't the only one with this idea, either, as two other people walked in immediately ahead of me asking for the same thing.

On the nose it has that old, familiar eagle rare scent. It's got a bunch of cinnamon and vanilla, making for a nice, sweet but spicy aroma. Caramel and even a fruity note come through on the nose as well, like candied cherries.

The flavor surprised me a bit, though, particularly after that nose. I fully expected to also taste the same old Eagle Rare. This had a little something more to it, though, that I loved. It still had that familiar cinnamon spice to it. The vanilla was certainly there as well, providing that stable foundation for all the other flavors.

However, what I really found myself enjoying was a nice, chocolate note. IT wasn't the bitter dark chocolate note that I sometimes get, but it wasn't sweet, milk chocolate either. It found a nice, comfortable spot right about halfway between the two, and it was great!

Unfortunately, about halfway through the bottle that chocolate flavor that I was loving seemed to fade away. Granted, other tasty flavors took its place, including some sweet caramel notes as well as a sort of graham cracker-y note. It still drank on the sweeter end, like a dessert bourbon, and it still had that great cinnamon spice to it, but I missed that early chocolate note.

I think it transformed, to some degree, developing not only those caramel and graham cracker characteristics, but also a delicious dark cherry note. That note had a little bit to it, almost a sour cherry (sounds weird in a bourbon, I know, but it was actually pretty good).

Overall, this was a fantastic bourbon, one that had me wishing I had grabbed a second bottle. It's also one of the few bottles where I enjoyed it more at the start than I did at the end. I really loved that chocolate note with the spice, and I just wish it hadn't faded away. Still completely delicious, though

Grade: A-

Monday, May 28, 2018

Weller Antique 107 Binny's Private Selection Batch 3 (NCF) Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $26
- 107 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Weller products have developed a sort of demand that I never thought I'd see. It's gotten to the point that even Weller Special Reserve, previously a low-mid shelfer, is now high in demand, low in availability, and commanding prices on the secondary that are borderline absurd. So, while a few years ago I might not have been so eager to get my hands on a bottle like this, when the opportunity presented itself a few months back, I found myself not thinking twice about grabbing a private select, non-chill filtered Weller Antique.

Don't get me wrong, I happen to like Weller Antique. While I tend to favor high-rye bourbons over wheaters, this one has always been one of my favorites. And the price is an absolute steal for any Weller private selection.  I'm more or less just commenting on the fact that not too long ago this would have just been another decent find, not some special bottle they kept in the back.

The best part about getting it at retail, though, is it makes it really easy to crack it open and drink it as an every day pour, and so I did! The nose on this is very good. It's a mix of cinnamon and a slightly sweet cereal. I couldn't help but think of Life cereal. I also noticed a nice caramel scent on the nose. It certainly smelled sweet, but not cloyingly so.

Its flavor matched that light sweetness, too.  It was primarily vanilla and caramel, with a light amount of heat to balance out that sweetness. It also had a slight anise flavor that added a bit of a tang somewhere right in the middle.

The sweetness on this lingered for quite a while, leaving me smacking my lips and looking forward to each next sip. And yet it was never too sweet.  It even seemed to develop a sort of a sweet coffee flavor, like a caramel machiatto.  Not one of those super-sweet Starbucks kind, but a real caramel machiatto that is somewhat sweet, but also roasty and bitter. It was a nice touch on the back end that gave it a sort of richness and complexity that made it more than just a sweet wheated bourbon.

This was very tasty and incredibly easy to drink.  Perhaps too easy.  I found myself getting to the bottom of this bottle more quickly than I had intended.  But I just couldn't help but keep going back to this one. It was just that good! And the price gave me no regrets!

Grade: A

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Warehouse Liquors Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 101 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 091
- Kentucky

So, typically I'll post a picture of my empty bottle when I'm done with one. After all, I don't review anything until I've at least given it a bottle's worth of a try, rather than just a single pour. With this particular bottle, however, due to a late night on my front porch with my neighbors, the empty seems to have gone missing. Odds are it ended up in my neighbor's recycling bin as part of our late night clean up efforts. In any event, I just don't have my typical empty bottle picture for this post. So, I used a nice picture of a half empty bottle I found on the internet.

I've never had Kentucky Spirit before, so maybe it's unfair that my first bottle is a store pick. That being said, perhaps I ran the risk of loving it more than necessary, as Warehouse Liquors has made some absolutely incredible private picks in the past. Nonetheless, having tried most all of the regulars from Wild Turkey, I was excited to finally give this one a go.

This whiskey smells great. It has a bunch of cinnamon on top of a consistent layer of vanilla. However, it has that familiar Wild Turkey funk to it, a slightly musty or tobacco flavored scent to it that is familiar and inviting. Although I've only had the cereal a couple times, I couldn't help but be reminded of Cinnamon Frosted Flakes with each whiff I took.

On the palate, in addition to the cinnamon and vanilla that I expected, the first flavor I noticed was a distinct almond flavor, like an amaretto liquor. That flavor seemed to go perfectly with the cinnamon to give this whiskey a nice bite, different from the alcohol bite you get from higher proof whiskeys. This was more of a tangy bite.  It also had a bit of a piney quality that added a bit of earthiness to it, the kind of earthiness I tend to associate with Wild Turkey products.

The cinnamon is also not the typical sharp cinnamon of a rye or even a high rye bourbon. Even that had a certain dank or musty quality to it. Nonetheless, overall this is a sweeter product than most Wild Turkey products I've had. Despite all the earthy qualities, it also has a sweet, honey like quality to it that seemed to balance everything out with the perfect amount of sweet, spicy and savory in each sip.

Once again Warehouse Liquors made a fantastic pick, and I only wish I had more. This whiskey ran the gamut of flavors, and yet it did so on a very well-balanced manner.  I only wish I had my empty bottle shot as a memento.

Grade: A-

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Barrell Rye Cask Strength Rye Whiskey Batch No 001

VITALS:
- $90
- 117 Proof
- 4 yrs., 6 mos.
- Region: Indiana & Tennessee

Barrell is one of the few "craft" whiskey companies that has really been able to take the world by storm. Their business model is a bit different, however, not only acknowledging the fact that they are a Non-Distilling Producer, or "NDP," but embracing it and marketing as such. They seem to take pride in transparency, and for this reason alone they have been a breath of fresh air.  Plus, it doesn't hurt when your sourced bourbons seem to frequently win awards and accolades.

I haven't yet gotten around to trying one of those bourbons, but I couldn't pass up their first rye release when it came out. Barrell products come with a somewhat steep price tag, relatively speaking, so it wasn't an automatic decision, but in the end it was one I was glad I made.

The nose, at first, was incredibly off-putting. When I first opened it up (and even on the next few pours) I got a strong whiff of ethanol singing my nose hairs (of which there are many). Eventually, however, that ethanol note disappeared, perhaps evaporated off, and other notes were able to come through, including natural cherry (as opposed to the cough syrup kind), even with a bit of tartness on the notes. It also had a more earthy, almond note to it. All and all, once that ethanol seemed to burn off, it smelled really good!

More importantly, though, even when that ethanol note was hanging around, this rye tasted amazing! It was sweet up front with a mild spice providing just enough kick to counterbalance the sweet. It was tones of molasses or brown sugar, balanced out by a Christmas-y cinnamon spice. It also had light pine notes and even a hint of dark fruits, like black cherry or plum. I couldn't quite place my thumb on it.

As this rye opened up, though, it became a caramel bomb. Pour after pour I found myself taking a sip and then licking my lips for a while before diving in for the next sip. The cinnamon spice still stuck around, but this was caramel all day, rounded out just a bit by those dark fruit notes.

This was Barrell's first foray into rye, and it was a great success! I loved everything about this rye (even despite the off-putting nose at first), and I would recommend this to anyone as a great example of a traditional rye. I certainly place this on par with Kentucky Owl Rye or even Michter's Toasted Barrel Rye, which I loved.

Their second batch is sourced in part from Poland, which has me intrigued. Given how good this one was, there's a real possibility I give that one a try as well.

Grade: A

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $15
- 80 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I can't help myself. I'm an admitted fan and homer of Buffalo Trace's Mashbill #2, the same mashbill that's used to make some of my favorites: Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms and Blanton's, to name a few. So, I figured it was about time I give the bottom shelf Mashbill #2 product a try. After all, at only $15, I certainly had no fear of buyer's remorse.

On the nose I got that old familiar smell . . . bourbon. It was that traditional toffee and vanilla with a slight amount of cinnamon spice that I look for in my bourbon. It even had a little bit of cherry to it. This one hit on all points.

When I took a sip the first thing I noticed was the texture. Given that this is only 80 proof, it certainly wasn't a surprise, but this was very watery in texture. It's very thin and certainly did not need any ice.

The flavor, though, was everything I had expected. The cinnamon bit was noticeable right up front. I could feel it on the tip of my tongue. That gave way, though, to the sweet vanilla almost immediately, followed a few seconds later by the traditional toffee and caramel flavors.

At the back end it was more complex than expected. It had a slight orange peel tang or tartness to it, as well as a bit of a burnt sugar flavor which went really well with the orange peel, almost like an old fashioned.

As I made my way through this bottle, I didn't notice any discernible difference or change in the flavor profile. It remained consistent, albeit consistently good, so who am I to complain. This was no knock-your-socks off whiskey, but yet I found myself regularly going back to this bottle for a pour over others.

This is absolutely tasty for the price point. It's not full of complexity or richness. It doesn't have a velvety, oily mouthfeel to it. But it does have really good flavor, more complexity than expected, is readily available and only set me back $15.00. Considering I can't get Heaven Hill 6-Year Bottled In Bond with any sort of regularity, I think I may have found my new favorite bottom shelfer! This one gets a higher grade for bringing flavor at a very low price point.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Breckenridge Whiskey PX Sherry Cask Finish

VITALS:
- $65
- 90 Proof
- 3 years
- Batch No. 1
- Colorado

Sometimes my friends at work can be real assholes. Then other times they do things like buy me bottles of whiskey for my birthday, whiskey they know I haven't tried before. Such is the case with this particular bottle. I've had plenty that Breckenridge has to offer, but I never got around to trying this, that is until my buddy showed up in my office one day with the bottle in hand.

When we first cracked it open, both of us had a very hard time getting past the cloyingly sweet aroma that seemed to pour out of the bottle. It was like powdered sugar and artificial raspberry flavors. It was a bit much right from the start.

Hesitantly we went in for the first sip, expecting the sweetness in flavor to match the nose. I guess in this respect it didn't let us down. It is very sweet up front. The sherry cask influence here is anything but subtle. Rather it smacks you across the mouth with a sweet but tart raspberry flavor. To its credit, though, on the palate that raspberry comes across as more of a natural flavor.

The bottle eventually came home with me, and from time to time I would revisit it, hoping that a little bit of time and air would soften the harsh edges. While that did not prove to be the case, it did, nonetheless, improve a bit over time. Although the sharp, sweet and tart raspberry never went away, other flavors did manage to make their way in.

Vanilla and cinnamon started to come through a bit. The cinnamon was particularly noticeable on the back end, after each swallow, a sort of combatant with the sweet fruitiness and a welcome challenger. And the vanilla notes seemed to mellow it a bit. It also seemed to increase in dryness, as though the wood influence was finally coming through.

I wanted to like this. I really tried. Unfortunately it paled in comparison to its older, port-finished brother. I found it relegated to being my second or third pour of the night, rather than my first. It's possible that sherry finishes in bourbons just don't work for me, and perhaps they work for others, but for me, I think I'll stick to having my sherry finishes in my Scotch rather than my bourbon.

Don't let it be lost here, however, that it was nonetheless a very generous gift and I was glad I got to try it, even if my buddy is otherwise a bit of a turd (I say it because I know he'll eventually read this)!

Grade: C+

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Rye Binny's Selection Barrel #5969

VITALS:
- $45
- 115 Proof
- 5 years, 2 1/2 months
- Kentucky

When I first heard via the interwebs that Knob Creek was going to be doing private barrels of its rye, and at 115 proof, I had my eyes and ears open, looking for the first such bottle to make its way to my area. And this was it! I've expressed my love for Knob Creek store picks for a while now. They're always affordable, always good, and sometimes absolutely amazing. Though it cost a bit more than the regular Knob Creek bourbon store picks, I nonetheless had high hopes for this rye.

The nose was soft and subtle. I had to work a bit to get any notes, but what was there was sweet and spicy, just how I like my ryes! I got a heavy dose of brown sugar with some vanilla notes backing it. But there was also the slight scent of cloves, hearkening back to my high school days when smoking those things was cool (who am I kidding, they were never really cool).

I found the flavor, much like the nose, to be softer and more subtle than expected as well. Although the flavor wasn't bold, it was nonetheless very tasty. It had a lot of vanilla up front, rather than being brown sugar forward like I expected. It also had a kind of custard flavor, not like vanilla ice cream but rather it reminded me of custard pie from Baker's Square, one of their more underrated pies!

On the finish I got a light cinnamon note that I noticed at the back of my throat, as well as a bit of peppery spice that stuck on the tip of my tongue and seemed to linger for a bit.

As those spices faded, I was left with a nice minty note at the back of my throat that was unexpected and very enjoyable. It was a nice contract to cool my throat after the spiciness from the cinnamon and the black pepper.

I can't wait for more of these to come out. This one didn't blow my mind or anything like that. It might have had it been bolder in flavor. But, even with this one being somewhat muted in flavor, what flavor was there was absolutely delicious. It had a great balance of spicy and sweet, with a very enjoyable and complex finish. Even at five dollars more than the store pick bourbons, I still won't hesitate to grab these when they show up. I don't think I'll be able to go wrong with them.

Grade: B/B+