Sunday, January 28, 2018

Basil Hayden's Dark Rye

- $50
- 80 Proof
- Kentucky/Canada

Okay, let me start off by saying that I'm generally not much of a fan of Basil Hayden's bourbon. The time I tried it way back when, it just didn't do much for me at all, and the brand has been off my radar since then. Beam then released the Basil Hayden's Rye, and given my prior experience with Basil Hayden's, as well as the fact that the rye wasn't very well received, it remained off my radar.

However, the Basil Hayden's Dark Rye, a 2017 release, caught my attention primarily due to what it is. In fact, going in, based on the description, I wasn't certain it would be good at all and thought there was a decent chance of it being awful. After all, the Dark Rye is Kentucky straight rye whiskey that is blended with Canada rye whiskey (perhaps the Alberta dark rye?). As if that weren't enough, they also blended it with port. So, unlike so many of the port-finished ryes that are out there, this was not finished in port barrels, but actually had the port added directly to the blend.

Accordingly, this kind of a cocktail rather than a rye (blended or not), although the amount of port is certainly minimal compared what a normal mixer in a cocktail might be. Per the bottle, they add "just a touch" of port. The result is, as expected, a very dark whiskey, with substantial red hues.

The nose is rich and fruity, definitely showing off the added port. The fruit note is lighter than expected, taking on a significant cherry quality. The low proof leaves zero burn on the nose, and what's left is delicious, warm and inviting.

Going in for my first sip, I held no expectations. I knew this was not going to taste like any rye I've had before, and I wasn't expecting it to. I went in open-minded, just hoping I liked it, and I was very pleasantly surprised. If I had any expectations, this would have exceeded them.

This is one of the best combinations of sweet and spicy I've ever tasted from a bottle. The sweet obviously comes from the port, which contributed rich and long-lasting flavors of plum and dark cherry. The velvety texture (I expected it to come across as more watered down) allowed these flavors to completely coat the mouth and seemingly linger forever. There was also an underlying unsweetened vanilla note that balanced perfectly with the port.  Towards the back end it had a nice, nutty note, like walnut, that worked really well with the vanilla and even light caramel notes to underscore the dominant port notes.

This really is a delicious pour that from the first sip reminded me of Thanksgiving. In fact, I first opened this bottle just before Thanksgiving, and it was my drink of choice for our first Thanksgiving celebration with some of our former neighbors (who also really enjoyed this!). It is sweet, but not too sweet, and is really a dangerous pour due to just how easy it is to drink. I found myself working through this bottle faster than I had ever intended.

Although it's certainly different, and far from a traditional rye, the Basil Hayden's Dark Rye makes no bones about what it is, and if you can get past the fact that it has the port directly added, certainly give this a try. It was surprisingly incredibly tasty.

Grade: A-

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Four Roses Single Barrel Binny's Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OESQ

- $65
- 123.6 Proof
- 8 years, 9 months
- Kentucky

So here it is, recipe #9 of the ten different Four Roses recipes that I've had the chance of trying, leaving only the OBSO left to try (and I welcome any leads in the Chicago-land area!). At this point I've come to the conclusion that regardless of recipe, the Four Roses private barrel picks are can't-lose bottles, and I certainly recommend them to anyone that may come across one or more.

This OESQ recipe is a 20% rye mashbill and is described as having a "floral essence." Though that seems a bit odd to me for a bourbon, the OESF that I had came with a similar description and that was one of the best bourbons I've ever had. This is also the youngest of the Four Roses Private Selections that I've had, and in fact the youngest that I've ever seen bottled.

Despite that, however, this was an absolutely delicious bourbon! The nose was full of cinnamon, a nice, Christmas-y spice to it. It also had a nice, mellow caramel note to it that helped to offset the alcohol fumes.

The palate, though, was rich and decadent, offering much more than the traditional cinnamon and caramel notes. Right up front I was hit with dark fruit notes, like raisin or plum, which was nonetheless underscored by a nice layer of caramel.

This bourbon also had a great viscosity to it, that allowed those delicious, rich, dessert-like flavors to carry from beginning to end, coating the mouth with flavor! By the second pour, the alcohol burn from both the nose and the palate had faded, leaving behind only flavor, and allowing the whiskey to really sweeten up.

What was raisin before sweetened to a more caramel appel flavor, but a nice, crisp, tart apple, like a Granny Smith. With additional notes of peanut and brown sugar, this really turned into an absolutely delicious pour, one that I couldn't help myself but to keep going back to over other bottles.

Towards the end it also seemed to develop a rich amaretto flavor, that seemed to complement perfectly the raisin, caramel and apple notes that were present throughout. Aside from that dark fruit note that was always there, the other real consistency with this bourbon was the richness of it, especially after it was open for a bit and the alcohol started to fade. This is one where I was disappointed when the bottle was finished, as I wished I had enough for at least one more pour.

Grade A

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Goose Island Private Select Barrel #5558

- $40
- 120 Proof
- 12 years, 9 months
- Barrel #5558
- Kentucky

Each year on Black Friday Goose Island releases its Bourbon County Brand Stout, a bourbon barrel aged stout. Each year people line up outside Binny's and other Chicago area retailers to get their hands not only on the Bourbon County Brand Stout, but also the variants that Goose Island also releases along with it. These variants, including a coffee stout and barleywine offering, are highly sought after, and certain of them command a premium on the secondary market.

This year Goose Island partnered with Knob Creek on on of their variants, the Bourbon County Brand Stout Reserve. As part of the partnership, Goose Island hand-selected barrels from Knob Creek to use to age their Reserve. Obviously, in order to hand select barrels, they would necessarily have had to try the whiskey in them (otherwise they're just looking at some barrels and saying, "That one"). So, those hand-selected barrels were bottled and released, coming in fancy boxes and each labeled as "Hand Selected by Goose Island Brewmaster Jared Jankoski." These Goose Island picks flew off the shelves, but I was lucky enough to get a couple before they were gone, the first being this Barrel #5558.

When I first popped the cork on this, the nose hit me immediately, which, unfortunately was a terrible thing. This is one of the worst smelling whiskies I have ever had . . . ever! It was pure ethanol on the nose, rubbing alcohol for days. And it was strong! I'd like to tell you about the other notes I got, but quite frankly there were none. This was pure nail polish remover. I had high hopes that the awful nose would fade as the bottle sat, but no such luck. That smell stuck with it from beginning to end.

However, and as much as the nose made me think I was in for a terrible tasting whiskey, the flavor of the bourbon was actually really good! In fact, if it weren't for the awful nose, I'd say this was one of the better bourbons I've ever had. The spiciness of the bourbon hits you right away, packing a heavy cinnamon punch to go along with a health burn as well. There was quite a bit of vanilla up front as well. The immediate finish was dry and spicy, with a light peppery spice that I enjoyed. It was also layered with cinnamon and oak notes and an unsweetened vanilla flavor. The oily texture allowed these flavors to stick around for quite some time.

This is where this bourbon got interesting, however. About two seconds after I swallow, I got a blast of caramel/toffee flavor at the back of my throat. It wasn't a subtle or light flavor, but rather as though somebody popped a Werther's into my mouth all of a sudden. I've never noticed anything quite like it before. It was incredibly noticeable and delicious, and it made me go right back for my next sip, wanting to experience it again!

As I worked my way through the bottle, it took on more of a salted caramel flavor, much like that caramel blast I was getting but more throughout. However, that kick of caramel after each swallow was still there.

I don't know what to make of this bourbon or exactly how to grade it out. Ultimately I'm drinking the stuff, not snorting it, right? So the nose shouldn't carry much weight. At the same time, it was so awful that it has to have some impact. Although this was one of the best whiskies I've ever tasted, I had a really hard time getting past the nail polish smell, which luckily didn't carry over to the taste. And so this one gets a grade just shy of an A from me.

Grade: B+

Saturday, January 6, 2018

House Spirits Westward American Single Malt Whiskey

- $100
- 90 Proof
- Oregon

House Spirits hooked me in early on when I first began writing this blog. I had read some positive reviews about their American Whiskey. So, wanting to try something different, I had my parents, who happened to live near Portland, swing by the distillery and grab a bottle, which they happily did as a Christmas gift to me. I tried it, and I have good memories of enjoying it.

Fast forward a couple years to when my sister and her family came to visit, also from the Portland area. On their way through the airport to their gate, my brother-in-law (who is a regular beneficiary of all the different bottles I try) picked up a bottle at House Spirits' store within the airport and personally delivered their new offering, a Single Malt as opposed to just an American Whiskey (and this time a full 750 ml bottle, as opposed to the 375 ml bottle that the American Whiskey came in).

The nose, as expected with a single malt, is soft, malty and lightly sweet. It's similar to a Scotch, and yet not. It's like sweetened cereal, like frosted Cheerios or rice crispy treats. It was, at the least, a very good start!

The flavor is also lightly sweet, but a different type of sweet than what I got on the nose. Rather, this was more of a brown sugar flavor, mixed with the dominant malt flavors that are to be expected. It nonetheless resulted in a combination that reminded me of honey nut Cheerios (I guess the take away is whether it's the nose or the palate, I'm getting some version of Cheerios on this one).

I also got a nice, light smoky flavor on this whiskey, as well as some crisp, light fruit notes that came through, kind of a pear flavor mixed with cinnamon. Also at times I couldn't help but notice a floral flavor to it (yes, I have eaten a flower before). However, those flavors were fleeting and that cinnamon flavor seemed to be more dominant.

As if that weren't enough going on, at the back end I got something different still. The finish had a distinct and lingering pine flavor to it, perhaps appropriate for a Portland whiskey. It wasn't overly strong to the point that it reminded me of air fresheners or cleaning products. Rather, it was just a light, pine note that lingered a while but didn't overpower by any stretch.

This whiskey really has a lot going on, a true cacophony of flavors. At times they didn't seem to really mesh, and at other times they seemed to complement each other in oddly tasty ways. In the end, however, it was a delicious product, though a bit higher in price than I'd like to see. Nonetheless, I'll continue to encourage my family to bring me more tasty treats from House Spirits any time they make it out my way.

Grade: B