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-