Sunday, February 25, 2018

Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $130
- 120.4 Proof
- 13 Years
- Kentucky

After the somewhat maligned release of their 2001 Knob Creek Limited Edition Batches, which did not get great reviews (due in part to price, I'm sure) and which seemed to sit on the shelves forever (also due to price, I'm sure), Beam released the Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Single Barrel, a 13-year, barrel proof single barrel release to commemorate 25 years of the Knob Creek brand. Although this one also seemed to remain available on the shelves for quite some time (see parentheticals above), it, on the other hand, seemed to get pretty good reviews, so I decided to give it a try.

On the nose I got a lot of cinnamon and vanilla. The nose was strong, noticeable from a couple feet away, and was always accompanied by a strong alcohol note. Just sniffing this one you could tell it was a heavy whiskey as far as ABV is concerned. Also hidden in there was a pastry or bread like note, reminiscent of a bakery. That note was understated, though, and the spicy cinnamon and alcohol burn dominated.

When it took my first sip, the alcohol was the first thing I noticed. I've had some high proof bourbons that somehow find a way to hide or at least soften that alcohol burn. Not so with this one. There was no escaping it.

However, once I waded through the fumes, I found that this bourbon was packed with flavor. The cinnamon was at the forefront, but it had a burnt sugar flavor added to it that added complexity and character, as well as a sort of bitter-sweetness. It was sweet, spicy and toasty up front. It also had a pine note which at first seemed out of place. However, the more I drank, the more I found myself enjoying it. It seemed to work very nicely with the cinnamon and vanilla in sort of a weird, spices and herbs type of way.

On the back end the spice seemed to linger forever. This was certainly a higher viscosity whiskey, and it coated every inch of my mouth and throat with that vanilla and cinnamon, which, once the alcohol seemed to dissipate, was rich and delicious.

All in all, I found myself really liking this and frequently going back to this bottle once I eventually got around to opening it. That being said, however, lately there has been a glut of readily available Knob Creek store picks in my area. If I'm in the mood for something with Knob Creek's profile (or even if I just happen to come across one), I'm grabbing those store picks at less than 1/3rd of the cost and, almost invariably, just as tasty. While I appreciated this as very good bourbon, I just can't justify the spend.

Grade: B+

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Michter's Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Rye

- $80
- 109.4 Proof
- Barrel No. 17C535
- Kentucky

It's been a while since I actively sought out a particular bottle. Most of my purchasing decisions are made on the spot while browsing the shelves of my local liquor store. I had heard great things about the Michter's Toasted Barrel Finish bourbons (though I never got to try one), and when I heard they were releasing a Toasted Barrel Finish Rye, I knew I had to get my hands on a bottle.

But, I had very little luck in securing a bottle. It seemed every time I asked a store they only got one or two bottles and each time they had just sold out. I had given up, and went back to my old ways of browsing the shelves and seeing what catches my eye, when I wandered into my local Binny's and found one sitting in their locked cabinet. Without hesitation I summoned the nearest employee and snatched it up (their last one, they told me).

So, I completely hyped this product in my mind, and I was going to be really disappointed if it didn't live up to expectations. I had really set myself up for disappointment here, but fortunately this did not disappoint! I've referenced in past posts what I like in a rye, and I've referred it as traditional rye flavors. I think what I've come to define as traditional is a more rye heavy mashbill (75%-95% rye), and with minimal barley influence, something I've started noticing in some ryes. I've found the barley mutes the spiciness, and that spicy kick is what I love in a rye.

Admittedly, I don't know what the mashbill is on the Michter's rye. I do know, however, that it fits my framework of "traditional" rye, and I really like it. And I love this barrel strength toasted barrel finish! Apparently maturing the rye and then finishing it in toasted barrels (as opposed to heavily charred barrels) has a very positive and delicious effect on the whiskey.

The nose gives of a sweet cereal smell, reminding me of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal, but without the milk. On top of that, though, it has an intriguing molasses note, and even hints of anise. The nose itself was more complex then most other whiskeys I've been drinking lately.

As noted above, the flavor is right in line with what I enjoy in a rye. It has a sweet vanilla flavor up front, followed by a long, cinnamon-spiced finish that just never went away. It has a very silky texture (comparatively speaking) that made it very easy to sip and enjoy and minimized any alcohol burn. It had a nice, viscous texture as well that coated the mouth with each sip, nice and thick and sticky.

Interestingly, along with that pronounced vanilla flavor up front was something that reminded me of wine, but not the grape or fruit notes of wine. I think it reminded me more of the tannins that you get in wines, perhaps a result of extra maturation in the toasted barrel. It was subtle, but certainly there. In later pours, I also got those molasses notes that I initially got on the nose, as well as a certain nutty flavor, kind of like pecan. When all combined, this was like drinking a pecan pie with ice cream that, for some reason, had a nice cinnamon kick at the end.

I couldn't get enough of this whiskey, and as I sit here typing this post out I'm wishing I had more. I'll move on to other whiskeys and I'm sure there will be plenty of other ryes that I enjoy, but this one certainly set the bar for me. This is absolutely delicious, goes great with Girl Scout cookies, and if you find it, buy it!

Grade: A+

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Quick Hits: Knob Creek Goose Island - Austonian Texas Whiskey - High West Bourye - High West Pinot Finished American Prairie Bourbon

Sometimes I find myself enjoying a bottle so much, that before I even have a chance to pause and pay attention to what I'm drinking, what I'm tasting, or to even take notes, that bottle is gone. It would be easy enough to just not bother reviewing it, and wait until I finish my next bottle to which I've given a bit more attention.

However, when I do go through a bottle so quickly (always with friends, of course -- I try to make it a point not to drink an entire bottle in one sitting when I'm drinking by myself), it's often due in part to the fact that it's really good whiskey. So, why shouldn't you hear about it, even if it doesn't provide all those bullshit tasting notes that nobody really believes I'm tasting anyway?!?!?

So, below are my quick hit reviews from the four bottles of bourbon myself and some friends finished last weekend during our annual guys' ski trip:

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Goose Island Private Select Barrel #5555

- $40
- 120 Proof
- 12 years, 9 months
- Barrel #5555
- Kentucky

This was the bottle we enjoyed the first day of our trip. It was the first thing we cracked open when we got to the condo to toast the rest of our upcoming trip. More importantly, it was a really damn good whiskey, and we realized right off the bat that we had something delicious and potent here. I've had Barrel #'s 5556 and 5558 for comparison, as did one of my other friends on the trip, and we both agreed that we liked this Barrel #5555 the best. It was bold and strong, with nice spice overlaying molasses and vanilla. It was complex with a nice, oily mouthfeel that left a long, drawn out vanilla finish that (dangerously) had us going right back for that next sip, and then that next pour. My friend had previously had a Knob Creek private selection that was one of the best whiskeys I've ever tried, and he couldn't help but make a direct comparison. This bourbon was, in many ways, exactly what I look for in a bourbon, from flavor to texture to proof to price. It's a shame it's going to be hard to come by again (though the collectability of these bottles means more than a few are going to hang around for a while).

Grade: A


Austonian Texas Whiskey

- $26
- 90 Proof
- Texas

This was the surprise of the trip. We opened this bottle not knowing what to expect. However, given the price and the region, we expected it to be not so great. To the man we knew immediately after the first sip we were wrong! Although it's not bourbon, nor does it try to be, it is nonetheless a sweet, delicious whiskey. It's on the sweeter end, but it does a great job of doing what it seems to have set out to do. This was also the whiskey that accompanied me on the slopes in my hip flask, so I enjoyed this one in multiple settings. The most prominent flavor here was oatmeal cookie. I'm not sure what it is, but every time I took a sip, I kept coming back to that same note of oatmeal cookie.  And I really liked it! Something about it worked! It was a sweeter whiskey, but not a too-sweet whiskey. It certainly was not "rough" as I've heard some Texas whiskeys described, and it certainly did not have the harsh qualities that other "rapid-aging" or "alternative aging" whiskeys I've tried have had.

Grade: B+


High West Bourye Limited Sighting Blended Whiskey - 2018 Release

- $80
- 92 Proof
- Batch 17L21
- Utah, Indiana

We happened to be in town and, even better, at the distillery on the day that this year's Bourye was released. Of course I wasn't going home without a bottle. I did the same thing last year and that bottle went very quickly. This year was no different. Having had last year's as my most recent and direct comparison, that's what I immediately did was compare the two, and this year's, to me (at least from what I remember) was just a little better than last year's, which I thought was great. As with last year's, it had a unique nougat character that I really enjoyed, a sort of sweet, soft and creamy quality that seemed to envelop the more traditional vanilla and caramel flavors, and provided a nice contrast to the lightly cinnamon-spiced, finish. I thought this was a delicious blend of bourbons and ryes that really captured some amazing flavor. Curiosity got the best of me, and I should not have been surprised at my love for this year's release given its make-up:

2018 Batch (New Label - year two):
All sourced from: MGP, Lawrenceburg, Indiana
14yo - 95% rye, 5% barley malt
13yo - 95% rye, 5% barley malt
12yo - 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt
11yo - 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt
11yo - 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% barley malt

That's some well-aged bourbons and ryes which High West did an incredible job of blending to create an absolutely delicious whiskey!

Grade: A


High West American Prairie Bourbon Pinot Noir Finished Private Selection

- Not Available for Resale
- 106.6 Proof
- Finished 1 year, 9 mos.
- Bottled for Utah Whiskey Drinkers Union
- Utah

This was a special treat from a very good friend of mine at the High West Distillery, who accepted our invitation to our Super Bowl Party on our last full day in Utah. We had a chance to try a sample of this Pinot finished American Prairie while we were at the distillery, and all five of us were floored at just how good it was! Apparently this is a private bottling for a local whiskey club. As such, it's not available for retail whether at the gift shop or otherwise. However, we were nonetheless able to obtain a bottle through the good graces of our guy, and it still didn't disappoint. This was unanimously the best whiskey of the trip, and one of the best whiskeys I've had in quite some time. The flavor is fruity, but it doesn't overpower the bourbon. Rather, the dark raspberry, cherry and plum notes from the Pinot finish blend perfectly with the blended bourbon to create a silky, sweet and delicate whiskey that we could have enjoyed by the pint. Soooooo good!!!!

Grade: A+