Monday, October 29, 2018

Very Old Barton Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $17
- 100 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $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

- $119.00
- 92 Proof
- 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

- $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-