Saturday, December 29, 2018

Willett Family Estate 15 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel No. 2371

- $225
- 118.8 Proof
- 15 Years
- Barrel No. 2371
- Region: Kentucky

As far as bourbon hunting goes, I've never been an "active" bourbon hunter. Rather, I've been more of an opportunistic bourbon hunter, making sure to take advantage of opportunities to purchase those rare and special bottles when they present themselves. While I haven't had hauls of BTAC or Pappy, I've managed to land some very nice bottles over the years, and luck had everything to do with it.

As for this bottle, that couldn't be more true. I have purchased bottles on the secondary market two times, once as a straight up purchase, and once as the via an online raffle. Thanks to that online raffle, I was able to purchase this incredible bottle, #32/104 from this barrel, at only a fraction of the price.

Knowing how fortunate I was, not to mention wanting to savor every drop, it took me quite some time to eventually make my way through it, well over a year, tapping into it only on special occasions or when I had good friends over to share it with. Plus, I love the look of these bottles and simply enjoyed looking at it on my whiskey shelf!

The nose is sweet and subtle, with almost no burn despite its high proof. Though not very strong, the aromas are a nice blend of vanilla, caramel, and a light dryness from the oak. These flavors all seemed to be sweetened by a bit of burnt sugar and even a bit of almond.

The flavor hits you immediately with caramel and vanilla. A light spice tickles the tongue up front, and the wood tones add just a touch of bitterness, but not enough to really dry it out. This is an excellent balance of sweet, spicy and dry.

That sweetness seems to linger a bit, almost transforming to some dark sherry notes to go with the rich caramel and even dark chocolate notes, giving it a very decadent flavor. On later pours I even started to get other notes, including a light peanut flavor and even a light saltiness, just enough to keep it well balanced and intriguing.

Interestingly, the peppery spice on the front end didn't linger on the back end like so many spicy whiskeys do. Rather, a thick, oily caramel coating stuck around, seemingly forever. I couldn't help but enjoy that lingering flavor for a while between each sip.

Again, I was lucky to be able to get this bottle, and I couldn't be happier to have had the benefit of enjoying such a fine whiskey. This is certainly one of the best I've ever had, with a flavor profile that matches my tastes nearly to perfection. I miss this one already!

Grade: A+

Friday, December 21, 2018

Sons of Liberty Joyal's Liquors Private Selection Single Barrel Bourbon

- $45
- 90 Proof
- 1 year, 4 months
- Barrel No. 15-0159
- Rhode Island

You know what I love? Free whiskey.  You know what I love even more? Free whiskey that I otherwise can't get on my own. That's the case here. Before getting this as a Christmas gift from a good friend of mine who moved to Rhode Island not to long ago, I had never heard of Sons of Liberty Distilling, let alone tried anything they offered. At the very least, I was intrigued.

After all, this is their own distillate. That being said, it was only aged for one year and four months. This is also one of those whiskeys that was barreled in smaller barrels, presumably in an effort to recreate the effect of a standard aging in a normal sized barrel but in a significantly abbreviated time span. It's been my experience that these methods simply don't work, that there's no substitution for time and tradition, but I remained open-minded, which was slightly easier to do once I realized that this was a store select. After all, presumably someone liked this particular mini-barrel enough to want to have it bottled.

Cracking it open, the first thing I noticed, even before putting my nose to the bottle, was the sweetness. I'm guessing this is due, at least in part, to the fact that it has a mashbill of 100% Rhode Island grown corn.  In addition to having a very, almost sugary nose, it had that distinct smell of over-ripe fruit, specifically apple, that I've found to be common in young bourbons. It smelled like a mixture of sugar cookies and baked apples, but without the cinnamon (which probably would have helped).

The tasted tended to match the smell, for the most part. Interestingly, rather than sugar cookies, I was distinctly reminded of oatmeal cookies. It still had that sugary pastry quality, but also an added earthy note that reminded me of oatmeal. Perhaps that's because the sweetness tended to be more of a molasses sweetness, than a sugar sweetness, if that makes sense.

It certainly has all the hallmarks of being a young whiskey, with that over-ripe apple note. However, unlike so many others, it wasn't an offensive note. Rather, it was just an odd note that seemed to not play well with others. For instance, there was a distinct coffee note that seemed to underscore everything else. Although I couldn't place my tongue on it right away, once I did I couldn't help but notice it, and that over-ripe fruit flavor just seemed to clash with that flavor. 

Again, this wasn't an offensive combination, but even towards the end of the bottle it seemed to be about the depth of what this whiskey had to offer--an odd combination of coffee and baked, over-ripe apples. As much as I wanted it to work, and as much as I hoped to like this whiskey, it just never seemed to be . . . right. There's something to be said for the fact that the big guys in the industry have been doing it a certain way for centuries, and that there simply are no shortcuts. This proved to be no exception.

Grade: C-

Friday, December 14, 2018

Knob Creek Twice Barreled Kentucky Straight Rye

- $45
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

I feel like I haven't quite found that Knob Creek Rye that I love. I can't get enough of the private selection bourbons, having found a few amazing bourbons among them, and at the very least, always a very good bourbon for a very good price.

As for Knob Creek ryes, however, between the regular rye and the few private selections I've tried, I have yet to find that "very good" rye, one that comes off as exceptional. That being said, I still keep looking, and in recent months I've grabbed both the barrel strength rye and this bottle, the twice barreled rye. I can't help myself when I see a limited release (though I don't know just how "limited") at a decent price.

The nose is full of spice, mostly cinnamon, but other baking spices as well, along with a distinct oak quality (true to its name).  There's a slight pine note as well on the nose, but the cinnamon and wood notes really prevail, almost like a subtle cinnamon stick.

The flavor is far more complex than the nose, however. On the first sip, I immediately got notes of maraschino cherry and amaretto, a nice, rich blend of dark fruits with a more decadent nutty flavor. I also got the cinnamon from the nose, though not as heavily as I expected.  All of this is underscored by a light layer of unsweetened vanilla.

On the back end there was a mint note that seemed to linger forever, almost cooling the back of the throat. Meanwhile, I was smacking my lips as they seemed to stick together. It was as though after each sip, powdered sugar came into the picture to balance out the cinnamon spice.

In later pours, while the cool mint note was still there, I found that I noticed more a sweet caramel stickiness that not only stuck on my lips but hung around at the back of my throat, as though I had just let a soft caramel dissolve in my mouth for the last half hour.

Compared to other Knob Creek ryes (and most other ryes I've had for that matter), this is sweet and spicy, and complex in that it offers all sorts of flavors from front to back and from pour to pour. It had a nice, oily and sticky mouthfeel that you find in older and higher proof bourbons, and it was absolutely delicious. I should have grabbed more!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

High West Double Rye! Binny's Private Selection Muscatel Finished Blended Rye

- $40
- 99.6 Proof
- Barrel No. 9595
- Min. 2 years
- Finish Time: 1 Year
- Utah

I feel like it's been quite some time since I've done a wine barrel-finished anything. That's a bit odd to me, as I've always enjoyed a good port or similar type of wine barrel-finished rye. Perhaps it's simply due to the fact that I just haven't been seeing these High West barrel finishes hitting the shelves like I used to. The other day, however, that iridescent, shiny bottle certainly caught my attention, and as is always the case with these, the price was right!

This had a decent amount of time in the Muscatel barrel, a full year, and it shows. The nose is pungent, full of black currant and plum. It also has a sweet and syrupy note to it, making it almost jammy. There's a richness to it as well, a sort of chocolate note. All in all, it combines with the traditional rye spices of cinnamon and clove to give an overall aroma that reminded me of mulled wine--something I've only had around Christmas time, making this a very timely bottle!

The palate is immediately plum and raisin up front, a rich, full flavored sweetness that overwhelms the tip of the tongue. Some cinnamon hits the back of the tongue pretty quickly as well, giving a nice contrast. Overall this has a really good mix of spices and dark, unsweetened fruit, bringing me right back to the mulled wine notes.

Everything about this makes me think of Christmas, and I really enjoyed it as I sat in my family room with a fire going inside while there was a blizzard outside. The wine notes are strong but not too sweet, and they work great with the cinnamon and black pepper spices from the rye. It also has a nice balance of graham cracker, vanilla and wood tones to keep everything on even keel.

The last few pours of this were certainly sweeter, but I actually found myself wishing they weren't. Although this may not fit all moods, I really enjoyed this for what it was on the first 3/4 of this bottle. It was a nice, warming pour, with rich fruit notes and spices that refrained from being overwhelming.

The last few pours were just too syrupy or jammy for my tastes. This is a rare instance, as I usually find myself enjoying those last few pours the most. While it was still good, and it wasn't exactly a drain pour or anything, it wasn't as good as it was at the start.

Grade: B+