Saturday, March 24, 2018

High West American Prairie Reserve Blend of Straight Bourbons

- $50
- 92 Proof
- Batch No. 14H28-A
- Region: Utah (distilled in Indiana and Kentucky)

Just over a year ago I made my first pilgrimage over to the High West distillery in Utah. At the end of our tour, we saddled up to the bar and ordered our samples. Of course, I went with the "Reserve" flight which included their Valley Tan, Light Whiskey, Bourye, Midwinter's Night's Dram, and their American Prairie Reserve. The bartender informed us then that the American Prairie Reserve was no longer for sale in bottles and they had no plans to release it again. This was even more disappointing news Once I made my way through my flight and realized that the Reserve was the best of the bunch.

Then an odd thing happened. Back in the Chicago area, a batch of Reserve from 2014 managed to make its way to shelves. We first saw it at Warehouse Liquors. I picked up a bottle at a shop in Huntley. A bunch of bottles also sat on the shelf at the downtown Binny's for months. This glut of bottles appears to have dried up now, and who knows when I'll see it next, but I was thrilled to have gotten my hands on this bottle.

The American Prairie Reserve is a blend of 6 year old bourbon from MGP/LDI and 10 year old bourbon from Four Roses. As with High West's American Prairie Bourbon, High West donates 10% of profits from the sale of these bottles to the American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana. Without even drinking it yet I already love this stuff.

But, the whiskey is damn good too!! On the nose I get a lot of corn and some light alcohol.  I also got something a bit savory, almost like peanut butter. It had a twist too, with some almond and cherry coming through. I loved the complexity of the nose and couldn't stop sniffing my glass.

On the palate the whiskey was sweet with nice, spicy cinnamon notes that I noticed at the back of my throat. The almond sort of tang, like amaretto, also carried forward from the nose, and it mixed with a delicious vanilla note that was present throughout. Toward the end it developed a sort of Honey Nut Cheerios flavor as well as a bit of a black cherry note. The cherry note was subtle, but there just enough to add an additional layer of flavor that seemed to counterbalance the corn or grain notes.

Although not super viscous, this whiskey was thick enough to coat the mouth and allow all these flavors to linger for quite a while. It had a lot going on but was still very approachable and drinkable.

I went into this one knowing I loved it, and I finished it off wishing I had more. I love just about everything that High West does, and this is one of my favorite things to come out of there.

Grade: A

Friday, March 9, 2018

Little Book The Easy Blended Whiskey

- $90
- 120.48 Proof
- Batch No. 1
- Region: Kentucky

As weird as it seems, for the first time I was excited for a release of a new blended whiskey, and I actually actively sought it out. Why? Because Little Book represents the first whiskey released by heir to the Jim Beam throne, Freddie Noe (son of Fred Noe and grandson of Booker Noe).

Little Book The Easy is a blend of a four-year-old bourbon, a thirteen-year-old corn whiskey, an approximately six-year-old straight rye whiskey, and an approximately six-year-old straight malt whiskey. The final product was then bottled at full proof, uncut and unfiltered. This is quite the blend, and it packs the biggest punch of any blended whiskey that I've ever had. Going in, this was the most curious I've been in a long time about a new whiskey.

Immediately the nose told me this was going to be a solid whiskey. It was pungent and full of aroma, loaded with brown sugar and molasses. It had some burn (expected given its proof) as well as a nice peppery spice that tickled the nose. I loved the way this whiskey smelled, and I found myself constantly sniffing my glass.

The flavor matched the nose very well, providing a nice mix of heat and sweet (kind of like what I like about mango habanero hot wings). The brown sugar from the nose carries forward to the palate and is certainly the dominant flavor here. It also has a significant amount of corn influence, giving it a sweet cereal flavor that reminded me a lot of Life cereal.

As expected from a Booker's spin-off of sorts, it has a decent amount of burn, but that burn is balanced out by the sweet brown sugar as well as a nice spicy cinnamon that kicks in about half way and lingers forever on the nice long finish. After each swallow I felt like I had just finished a Fireball candy with that sticky, sugary and spicy cinnamon still sticking around on my tongue and in the back of my throat.

Interestingly, in the first few pours I noticed the slightest hint of pine, just subtle enough to notice but not strong enough to stand out. In later pours this flavor really seemed to develop and became much more prominent. While it seems like it should mix well with the heavy cinnamon notes, here it just didn't seem to. Rather, the two flavors seemed to stand in contrast to one another, neither one being a bad flavor but neither one really working with the other either.

Overall, Freddie Noe has something good here, and I will certainly pick up the next expression he releases. This is a big, bold and flavorful blended whiskey the likes of which I've never had before. If all blended whiskeys were like this, they would be far more popular than they are.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Kentucky Owl 11 Year Kentucky Straight Rye Batch No. 1

- $140
- 110.6 Proof
- 11 Years
- Kentucky

The release of Kentucky Owl Rye was much anticipated by most in the bourbon community. After all, Kentucky Owl has long had a cult following and been known for releasing highly allocated but absolutely delicious bourbon. When their release of Kentucky Owl Rye was announced, I had resigned myself to the fact that, much like their bourbon releases, I wasn't going to stumble across any bottles of the rye.

However, and I don't know if this is attributable to the purchase of the brand by Stoli or not, this release seems to have been plentiful. Though the price is high, it is, at least, pretty readily available, relatively speaking. I know that I can run to the store right now and grab a bottle if I so desired, and that, to me, means a lot. After all, if the whiskey is good, why not get it in the hands of as many people as possible!

And luckily for me, this whiskey is very good! The nose had more alcohol than what I had expected. While it's somewhat high proof, I've had much higher proofed whiskeys that didn't burn quite as much. Behind that alcohol, though, was a lot of cinnamon. It smelled like a stick of Big Red gum and immediately had my mouth watering. Interestingly, I got a distinct malt note. Although the mashbill is undisclosed, there appears to be a significant amount of Barley used as a secondary or tertiary ingredient.

Incredibly, on the palate that alcohol burn from the nose did not carry over. There was almost no burn at all to this whiskey, which allowed all the other flavors to shine, and the overall flavor of this whiskey is delicious!

There is definitely a maltiness to it, providing an interesting mix of the spicy rye and unpeated Scotch notes. I've had other barley-influenced ryes in the past that didn't do much for me, but in this one it worked. There were a couple times that I took a sip and the barley seemed to dominate, but for the most part it stayed in the background, providing a soft blanket for the otherwise up front and spicy rye flavors.

This whiskey is full of brown sugar and cinnamon. It tasted the way Christmas cookies smell when they're being baked. I realize that's kind of obtuse, but if I could capture that smell as a flavor, this was it. It also had a slight piney/minty flavor that seemed to just barely make its way into the flavor profile, just enough to add a little more character.

This whiskey was lauded by some as the whiskey of the year for 2017. I certainly don't begrudge them that. Interestingly, this one seemed to fluctuate from a very good whiskey to an amazing whiskey. Some pours I simply enjoyed, and other pours blew me away. I don't know what to make of that, but overall this is an excellent whiskey and one worth trying for sure.

Grade: A-