Friday, December 13, 2019

W.B. Saffell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $50 (375 ml)
- 107 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 1
- Kentucky

One thing I love about these little bottles is the way they feel in your hand. It makes you want to just shotgun the whole thing (as bad of an idea as that may be). They just feel good in your hand. The downside, of course, is how little liquid they hold. It’s like they hold half the amount of whiskey as a regular bottle! I really have a hard time getting on board with that. Bigger is always better.

That being said, I have heard really good things about this latest release in the Whiskey Barons collection coming out of Wild Turkey. It’s my understanding the Russells didn’t have a hand in the first two releases, but that they did have a hand in this one. Perhaps that’s what did the trick, I don’t know. But, I certainly wanted to find out for myself just how good this one is.

The nose on this one was really pungent, with strong notes of anise along with a peppery spice that provided a nice bite. I also got some dark cherry. A certain amount of tannic wood notes came through as well, which at times came across as more of a walnut note. It kind of smelled like what I’d expect Nick Offerman to smell like if he were a bourbon guy.

Interestingly, I found the flavor to be quite different from the nose. Instead of dark cherry and wood tones, I got something bright on the flavor, like fresh peach. It was sweet and even a bit tangy. It was balanced out by a kind of earthy, tea-like flavor as well.

It was on the sweeter side, but that sweetness was balanced out by a nice cinnamon spice (this is, after all, a Wild Turkey product), as well as the tangy flavor from that peach note. The pepper spices that were intermingled helped balance out that sweetness as well.

What did come through from the nose was that walnut note. This flavor was present throughout, from first pour to last and from front to back. It wasn’t strong, but it was always there. On later pours I noticed some orange peel or burnt orange notes. Those notes, along with everything else this had going on, seemed to blend into a sort of walnut Old Fashioned flavor, like a more earthy, less sweet version of the cocktail. I found I really liked it.

This is a product I certainly wouldn’t mind grabbing some more of. While it didn’t blow me away, it certainly would be the kind of whiskey that I would, from time to time, be in the mood for. It was very good, and I could see myself at some point down the road yearning specifically for another pour of this.

Grade: B+

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Knob Creek Binny's Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 14 1/2 years

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 14 1/2 Years
- Kentucky

I feel like every time I write a review on a Knob Creek store pick, I start it off by stating just what a great value these store picks are. And here I am doing it again. The fact that recently there seems to have been a flood of 13+ year old Knob Creeks hitting the market, at nearly full proof, and for only $40, has had me grabbing these left and right lately.  As I've said before, every Knob Creek pick I've had has been, at bottom, very good, and some of them have been absolutely great! That makes grabbing a 14 1/2 year old, almost full proof bourbon at $40 a no-brainer!

The nose on this was rich and bold, with anise and cherry mixing together, almost like an aperitif you'd get at a nice Italian restaurant. It also had a nice, spicy cinnamon note. The nose did have a bit of burn (to be expected given the proof), as well as a distinct wood note that carried a bit of bitterness with it.  That seemed to fade over time, however, and on later pours I noticed a bit of an apple pie note, with baked apples and baking spices coming through.

Upon taking my first sip, one of the first things I noticed was how easy it was to drink. Despite the high proof and the amount of alcohol I got on the nose, there was almost no alcohol in the flavor. It also had a nice, oily texture which might have helped with that and certainly carried the flavors to a nice, long and lingering finish.

It was very vanilla forward, like an unsweetened natural vanilla flavor. That mixed well with a healthy amount of dark chocolate, making this a very rich and decadent whiskey. I even got some peanut notes which only added to the richness.

On later pours, the vanilla seemed to dominate even more, but it also seemed to sweeten up a bit. I even got a light note of spearmint, kind of like what I get in some ryes. It worked really well with the heavy vanilla flavor.

This is one bottle that seemed to change a lot over time, because in later pours I got a distinct note of root beer. It's as though that heavy vanilla finally married with the other spices, the cinnamon and anise, to the final flavor that had me thinking of root beer. It was followed by a light note of black pepper spice, seemingly rounding it out.

While I nabbed this bottle because of its age (as well as the fact that I have a hard time passing up Knob Creek picks), ultimately, regardless of the age, this was a delicious bourbon. Once opened, I found myself repeatedly going back to the well on this one, and it was over with before I knew it.

Grade: A

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Blanton's Binny's Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel No. 067

VITALS:
- $60
- 93 Proof
- Barrel No. 067
- NAS
- Kentucky

I bought this bottle just about a year ago, at a time when hype over Blanton's store picks was incredibly high (perhaps it still is, but since the demise of the Facebook secondary market, I really don't have my fingers on the pulse of such things).  I held onto it for quite a while until I put together a lineup of six different iterations of Blanton's.

Compared to its cousins, which included two Straight From the Barrels, a gold, a red, a black and another store pick, this one was easily one of the favorites. The only one that got as many top votes was the Blanton's Gold. It was unanimous, however, that Binny's had picked a great barrel with this one.

The nose on this had the traditional Batch #2 notes, with heavy doses of toffee and caramel leading the way. It also had a nice cinnamon flavor, and even a bit of black pepper. On top of that, though, what stood out with this one was a very familiar smell of cherry pie. I got notes not only of cherry, but also the warm, bready crust and a light, sugary sweetness.

As to the flavor, I feel like I could almost just say, "See notes above." The flavor really matched the nose, with caramel and brown sugar leading the way. It was rich and sweet up front, followed by a nice, light cinnamon finish.

It also had a nice vanilla undercurrent that at times had me thinking of candy corn, but not quite as sugary. That sweet vanilla was balanced out by the light peppery note on the back end.

But best of all, that cherry pie note from the nose was also present in the flavor, and it was delicious! Those baked cherry notes and pie crust flavors worked incredibly well with everything else that was going on in this whiskey, and it really made this an enjoyable dessert whiskey without getting too sweet.

While I really enjoyed the Blanton's tasting and will likely never do something quite like that again, I feel like I should have opened this one much sooner. This was a fantastic bourbon, and it was different from most other Blanton's I've had but in a delicious way! While I wished I had opened it sooner, I'm now sorry that it's gone.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

High West Yippee Ki-Yay Blended Rye Finished in Vermouth and Syrah Barrels - Batch No. 19C27

VITALS:
- $75
- 92 Proof
- Blend of 2 to 16 year whiskeys
- Batch No. 19C27
- Utah/Kentucky/Indiana

Who loves free whiskey?!? I know I’ve asked this question at the start of reviews in the past, but it really is one my most favoritest things in life! For my 40th birthday, a good friend of mine bought me this bottle of Yipee Ki-Yay. He’s in California, so he purchased it online through Binny’s, and I just got a text message to go pick up my bottle. Kind of nice walking into a liquor store, having them hand you a bottle of whiskey, and then just walking out!

For reference purposes, per High West's website, this is a blend of straight rye whiskeys aged from 2 to 16 years, as follows (though the ratios are a secret): 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP; 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley from Barton; and 80% Rye, 20% malted rye from High West Distillery.

I’ve reviewed this whiskey before, here, but that was over 3 ½ years ago, and it was Batch No. 1. I didn’t go back and look at that post until I finished this bottle (didn’t want to be influenced by it), but I did have a recollection of not being too fond of it when I tried it back then. I remembered the vermouth influence being not to my liking and that the whiskey was very sweet. I was curious as to how my impressions may have changed, or how the whiskey may have changed, over time.

On the nose I got a sort of blend of pepper, cinnamon and cherry. I’m sure the cherry came from the Syrah barrels. The nose was very strong—I could smell it from a couple feet away. I also got something with a bit of bite to it, like a strong anise note, stronger than I would have preferred.

The first thing I noticed when I poured my glass was the distinct red hue. For what it was worth, it looked really good. On the first sip, the first thing I noticed was a bright, but lightly bitter raspberry flavor. It was reminiscent of the sherry notes I’d pick up from sherried Scotches. Along with that bright raspberry note, however, was a sort of metallic note. I couldn’t quite place what it was, but it was kind of like that tin can flavor that tends to seep into canned foods. This was a bit off-putting.

The back end had that pepper spice I got from the nose, which was really enjoyable with the bright fruit notes. I also got a sort of cloves flavor that at times seemed to go between notes of cinnamon and notes of anise or black licorice.

It was not as sweet as I had remembered it being. That was the one thing that I recalled from the last time I had this whiskey, and it just wasn’t much of an issue this time around. Rather, I got a more dry quality from this. Part way through the bottle I was picking up notes of unsweetened peach tea. It had that sort of herbal or earthy flavor of the tea, along with the unsweetened fruit notes, almost like it was the “essence” of peach as some flavored waters might describe it.

I certainly think I like this better than I did the last time, though my grade, looking back now, is only slightly higher than the grade I gave to Batch No. 1. Perhaps I liked it more the first time than I realized, or perhaps I just don’t like this as much as I initially thought this time around. Either way, it’s a decent whiskey, but I’ll continue to lean toward other High West offerings.

Grade: B

Friday, November 22, 2019

Michter's Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey

VITALS:
- $60
- 86 Proof
- NAS
- Batch NO. 19G1243
- Kentucky

I have really enjoyed the toasted barrel releases from Michter's.  I absolutely loved the toasted barrel rye, and the few times I've dried the toasted barrel finished bourbon, I've thoroughly enjoyed it.  So, when the opportunity came along to grab one of these, the toasted barrel sour mash whiskey, I didn't hesitate.

This is essentially a double barreled whiskey, much like many other brands are doing. With the rye, I felt it created another layer of flavor that softened the rye spice and added some earthy flavors that were really enjoyable. I assume by calling it "toasted," that that is in contrast to being charred. Perhaps that is intended to bring more woody notes and less sugars and vanillans into the whiskey. But really I have no idea what I'm talking about.

The nose on this one was a bit distinctive. I got a sharp, bitter but fresh note of orange peel. That bitterness was also accompanied by a sort of tannic note, kind of a woody bitterness. It also had a healthy amount of caramel, and overall it reminded me of an oaked old fashioned.

The flavor was much more fruity than the nose. This bourbon had a slight syrupy quality, which really carried the flavors from front to back and allowed them to linger for quite a while.  That texture, mixed with the fruity notes, reminded me a lot of maraschino cherries, again bringing me back to that old fashioned.

It really had that nice mixture of sweet, bitter and even a touch of savory. It had a constant undercurrent of brown sugar and a bit of yeast or bready flavor to it. It was a sort of cinnamon bread, but only lightly sweetened.

At times, though, sweeter notes would poke their head in, just long enough to say hello, and then they were gone. At times I got maple syrup, and at other times it was more of a burnt sugar note. It seemed to be changing from one pour to the next, but I think that is what I liked most about it.

Although it wasn't a vanilla or cinnamon "bomb," and while it wasn't my most favorite flavor profile, what I did love and appreciate about this whiskey was its complexity and the fact that with each sip I seemed to notice something different or seemed to get a different combination of flavors. Though it wasn't my favorite whiskey from a flavor standpoint, it certainly was one of the most interesting and one of the most fun whiskeys I've had in a while.

Grade: B

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Four Roses Single Barrel Warehouse Liquors Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OESV

VITALS:
- $75
- 121.2 Proof
- 9 years, 7 months
- OESV
- Kentucky

A while back I attended a whiskey tasting at Warehouse Liquors in Chicago. It happened to be a tasting with Al Young, wherein we got to taste the 130 Anniversary Small Batch Limited Edition, the new Small Batch Select, and four new (at that time) Warehouse Liquors private selection single barrel picks. Needless to say, it was an incredible time, and among the private picks that we tasted that night, this was my favorite.

Before writing this blog, I looked back at my notes from that night to compare to my notes I took as I sipped my way through this bottle, months later.  At the time of the tasting, these were my notes:

It seemed to lean more towards traditional bourbon notes than the others did, with lots of caramel, a great, creamy, buttery texture, and a long, kettle corn finish. I absolutely loved this one and a bottle came home with me that night.

So, now that I got the chance to enjoy a full bottle before writing a review, here's what my notes reflect. The nose was all brown sugar and dark cherry, a great combination. It also had a bit of a chalkiness to the nose. I know that sounds more like a texture than an aroma, but it had that fourth grade classroom smell to it. There was also a definite cinnamon spice to it as well that tickled the nostrils a bit.

As to the flavor, brown sugar and cinnamon predominated. It also had a certain woody bitterness, combining into a sort of candied cinnamon stick flavor. Though the brown sugar was there, I did wish it were just a touch sweeter.

I also got a certain bitter bite, like an orange pith note. This, along with the cinnamon and wood, seemed to lead to a bit of an astringency quality. As I look back at my earlier notes, this was something I didn't notice then.

However, despite that astringency quality, there was still a lot to love about this bourbon. It also had notes of honey and graham cracker, giving it a sort of flaky apple pie crust type flavor. Any sweetness that came through, however, was always tempered. At times there was almost a sawdust note to it (perhaps that chalky note I got on the nose).

Ultimately, though, the wood and cinnamon were prominent throughout. As I made notes with each pour I tasted, I never got the creamy, buttery texture, nor did I get that long, kettle corn finish. In fact, I didn't love it nearly as much as I did that first time. Perhaps it was the atmosphere that contributed. In the end, this was still a really good, complex pour. With a little extra sweetness and a little less of that astringent quality, it would have been a great pour.

Grade: B

Sunday, November 10, 2019

High West Double Rye! Binny's Barrel Select Armagnac Finished Blended Rye

VITALS:
- $45
- 102.6 Proof
- NAS
- Finished 1 yr., 8 mos.
- Barrel #112653
- Utah

I feel like it's been a while since I've seen bottles of High West Barrel Select, but when they do appear they seem to always do so in groups. Recently, Binny's got in a bunch of different barrel finishes, including bourbons and/or ryes finished in Syrah, brandy and Scotch barrels. What intrigued me most, however, was this particular bottle, finished in Armagnac barrels for over a year and a half.

I've recently had the pleasure of enjoying some well-aged Armagnacs, and I very much found them to my liking. I have no idea what barrels were used for aging this rye, but if that Armagnac tasted anything even close to what I tried, then the result of the aging should be pretty incredible.

The nose smelled like candied pear and baked apple. It had that crisp, fleshy fruit flavor, but also had that cooked brown sugar note as well. It smelled like a rich, decadent dessert.  This tells me that the Armagnac really influenced the whiskey, so I was already looking forward to tasting it. I also got some cinnamon and even a bit of pecan to balance the sweetness and to add just a touch of earthiness and even a light bitterness to round things out.  I could have sat there sniffing this whiskey forever.

The flavor really followed suit with the nose. I immediately got that strong pear note, along with the brown sugar. That sweet fruitiness was constant from the first pour to the last and definitely dominated. However, the rye spice wasn't overwhelmed. A spicy cinnamon note was also present from front to back and from first pour to last. The combination was a rich, dessert like cooked pear flavor that was so inviting.

In addition to those note, I also got a white wine note throughout. However, it wasn't like a sauvignon blanc, but was sweeter, like a Gewurztraminer or Riesling. It was definitely white-grapey, though.  That sweetness was a bit tampered by the tannins that came through as well, really driving home that wine note that I was getting.

Towards the end I found myself picking up other, unique notes. At times I got a dried apricot note that was a bit fleeting and I wished were more prominent, because it was delicious while it was there.  I also got a bit of a tangy note, kind of like an amaretto liqueur, out of the later pours. This just added to that baked, candied pear flavor that I was getting throughout.

I was so happy to find these again, and I was very excited to try something new, and this absolutely did it for me. Not only was it something different, but it absolutely delivered on flavor. I only wish I had more!

Grade: A

Friday, November 8, 2019

Buffalo Trace Bruno's Liquors Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $25
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

Not too long ago while in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, on a recommendation I found in a bourbon Facebook group, I made my way to Bruno's Liquors. As I walked in the door, I was immediately met with a display of their private selections, a 1792 Full Proof, which I've previously reviewed here, and this Buffalo Trace. Although my wife was with me and I promised I'd grab just one bottle, I still managed to walk out with both.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- whenever I see one of these Buffalo Trace private picks, I'm grabbing it. For the price, it's almost always very good whiskey.  I have yet to be disappointed, and there is zero risk of any buyer's remorse. These are an easy sell to me.

The nose was rich and flavorful. I immediately got notes of cinnamon and dark cherry, a great combination that resulted in sweet and rich notes. I also got a strong brown sugar note, that reminded me of chocolate chip cookies, but without the chocolate chips. Just brown sugar and butter. The nose on this was great!

The flavor was all traditional bourbon notes. A nice caramel and brown sugar flavor dominated the profile. This bourbon was definitely on the sweeter side, and while I tend to like my whiskey to be a bit spicier, this was nonetheless done really well, and for those who like those sweeter bourbons, I could see them loving this.

It also had this sugar cookie note, which I only mention due to the fact that I got the chocolate chip-less chocolate chip cookie note on the nose. The baked goods note is strong throughout, just with slightly different flavors from the nose to the palate.

Other flavors came through as well, most notably a cooked peach and cinnamon note, that fell somewhere in between sweet and savory. It was almost like a side dish that could also have served as a dessert.

Of course, having opened this bottle just before Halloween, I consumed a glass or two while at the same time raiding my kids' trick-or-treating hauls. I noticed that, after enjoying a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup or four, the chocolate peanut butter notes in my mouth, when mixed with this bourbon, gave it a strong but sweet anise note. I typically don't like anise, but this was more of a candied anise note that I really enjoyed.  As expected, this was a solid pour with great flavor, and I will be stopping at Bruno's each and every time I'm in Lake Geneva.

Grade: B+

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Maker's Mark Finishing Series 2019 RC6 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 108.2 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I was very excited when I first read the announcement of this release. Aside from bottles with different color was to commemorate various sports teams or the horse racing commemorative bottles, all of which contain standard Maker's Mark, I've not seen or had available to me any other special or limited releases from Maker's Mark.

So, I made it a point to track down a bottle, and the best part of it was that it required very little effort. While a "limited release," it was and still is nonetheless very available, and at a price point that's similar to their private selects, which I appreciated. This release (and I assume there will be others) was finished using ten virgin toasted American oak staves, classified as stave profile RC6. So, it's like a barrel strength Maker's 46, but using different staves not available in the private select program.

On the nose, the first note that I got was a wood note, kind of like that sawdust smell of my garage when I've been cutting boards using a circular saw. It also had some cinnamon and pepper spice to it, as well as dark fruit notes. Those fruit notes reminded me of Cabernet, along with some cherry and black raspberry. I also got a lot of chocolate, and all of this blended together for a great, rich and sweet aroma.

The chocolate certainly carried forward into the taste, but it was distinctly a dark chocolate flavor, with only a light sweetness but a distinct bitterness to balance out the rich chocolate. That chocolate paired well with the fruit notes, but unlike the nose, the fruit notes here were brighter, kind of like fresh red raspberry. They had a certain crispness to them that differentiated these flavors from what I was getting on the nose.

The wood notes came through as well, but it was more oak than sawdust. This flavor seemed to also produce the kind of bitterness I associate with tannins in wine, but it wasn't overdone. Rather, it provided just the right amount of bitterness to work well with everything else.

Along with the raspberry, the bitter notes of wood and dark chocolate were complemented by a vanilla undercurrent that lingered from beginning to end. It also had a lot of caramel to provide the necessary sweetness to balance everything out, as well as a light, spicy cinnamon note that really came through at the end.

This bourbon had a great oily texture and, despite the bitter notes, was actually quite soft around the edges. It made things interesting but without losing that balance between flavors. I really enjoyed this and finished this bottle faster than I really intended to. Maker's Mark found something unique and delicious here, and I will certainly be picking up the next release in this series.

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 31, 2019

1792 Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $45
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

Barton's 1792 Small Batch has never really done a whole lot for me. It's always just kind of been there, certainly a good bourbon, but with nothing to hate or love. That being said, however, I have really liked nearly every one of their other releases, from the port finish, which was fantastic, to the sweet wheat to the high rye.

When they released the bottled in bond version, I was curious, but not go-out-of-my-way-to-get-a-bottle curious. After all, it seemed to me it would just be regular small batch, just meeting the requirements of the Bottled in Bond Act. However, one of my whiskey dealers informed me that he was able to try a sample at a recent event he attended and that it was outstanding! Though skeptical, my curiosity level certainly went up significantly and I made sure to grab a bottle the next time I found one. I didn't get around to opening it immediately, and when I did, I immediately questioned that decision to wait.

The nose was interesting on this one. The very first thought that came to mind when I sniffed my glass was creamed corn, something that was a staple in my household growing up. Other notes came through as well, however, including notes of wood with cinnamon, as well as a sweeter molasses note. I also got a sort of cooked peach smell too.

The flavor on this, even though it didn't necessarily match the nose, was delicious! The first thing I noticed was an oatmeal cookie note, that sweeter, sugary type of cookie but with that oatmeal undertone. In this sense, it was certainly different, but as someone who loves oatmeal cookies (without raisins, of course) I thought it was great.

In addition to that cookie note, there were a lot of other flavors that all really seemed to play off one another. It had a light note of molasses, which made it lean at times toward a gingerbread type flavor. It also had a light pepper spice that was almost fleeting at times, just around enough to be noticed, but never really stuck around.

The baked peach that I got on the nose seemed to make its way through from time to time as well. I also got an interesting mix of orange peel and cola notes, which flavors really worked well together. I noted that on later pours I got a kind of a pear flavor as well, and all of these flavors were kind of placed on top of a caramel note that was present throughout.

This bourbon had a lot of different flavors, a combination which I don't think I've really ever noticed in other bourbons. Between oatmeal cookie, orange, cola, pear, and molasses, it really had a lot going on. But, here it all worked really well together, making it not only interesting and unique, but really tasty as well. I'm not sure why it's so much different than the regular 1792, but it is, and even though I waited a while to get around to opening this bottle, I had it finished off in a matter of days, because I just kept going back to it.\

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 110.2 Proof

VITALS
- $45
- 110.2 Proof
- 4 years
- Kentucky

If I can be considered a "Stan" or a homer for any particular brand of whiskey out there, it's this one. I've loved the WFE small batch ryes ever since they started out releasing them at 2 years old. Each new bottle I try simply confirms my fandom, and I have yet to have a batch that I didn't absolutely love.

For some reason, Willett has managed to hit on all the flavors I love in my rye and it has done so consistently. In fact, it's the one bottle that I regularly make sure to grab backups of, something I can't say for any other bottle. So, know going in that this review is going to be full of love and praise, and that because they are based on such personal preference, reviews are stupid.

As expected, this bottle did not disappoint. On the nose I got some of the fruit-forward notes that I've become accustomed to with Willett ryes, including a rich and almost slightly bitter blackberry note. At times I also got a brighter fruity note, like red raspberry. That mixed well with cinnamon and brown sugar notes, and all of it had a rich underlying note of almond and pistachio.

On my first sip the first thing I noticed was the nice, oily texture, moreso than I recall noticing in previous batches. I loved this texture, as it coated my mouth and throat with flavor, really allowing me to savor each sip.

I immediately noticed the forward fruit notes, with plum and raisin taking center stage. It also had a slight bitterness, but it wasn't the kind I'd associate with raspberry or blackberry, but rather was almost a watermelon rind type flavor. In that respect it was unique and actually very good.

That may be due in part to the fact that what bitterness that was there was welcome as it played off the sweet cinnamon note that seemed to dominate from front to finish. That cinnamon mixed with brown sugar provided an almost candied orange peel note.

While I didn't get the mint that I've found in prior bottles, I did get a decent amount of pine. In fact, this flavor seemed to become increasingly prominent as I worked my way through the bottle. The last pour reminded me of Christmas with its mix of dark fruits, cinnamon and pine. Although recency bias may have role, this may be the best batch I've had to date.

I make no bones about the fact that, personally, this stuff hits all the right notes for me. I love what Willett does with their ryes. Even at a young age, they've managed to make complex, interesting and, most importantly, delicious rye whiskey, and I won't ever hesitate to grab a bottle when I find one, even if it's just to have another in reserve.

Grade: A

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Knob Creek Cask-N-Cellar Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 13 yrs., 9 mos.
- Kentucky

A couple months ago I was traveling to Indiana, and of course as I made my way I kept an eye out for any liquor stores that might provide a nice little side trip during my travels.  On this particular day, I found myself wandering into a store called Cask-N-Cellar in Schererville, Indiana.  I've never heard of the store, but it's apparently a decent sized chain in Northwest Indiana, and one that I wish I had known about.

The store itself was pretty good sized, but what caught my attention immediately was the display to my left as I walked in -- store pick after store pick, with everything from Knob Creek to Journeyman to Four Roses to 1792. There were at least 12 different selections on display, and I was immediately impressed.  And of course I knew that one of these would have to come home with me. After hemming and hawing over which one to grab, I finally noticed a single Knob Creek Bourbon among a stack of ryes, and when I looked at the age, almost 14 years, the decision was easy!

The nose was heavy with molasses, almost giving off a gingerbread note. It also had some rich vanilla notes to balance it out. It was substantially more complex than that, however, with red wine notes that imparted flavors of raisin and plum. It even had some oak and chocolate on the nose, along with a decent amount of spice, like a Mexican chocolate. There was a lot going on just in the way this smelled.

When I took my first sip I was immediately hit by a rush of brown sugar and sweet caramel. It immediately reminded me of candy. It wasn't cloyingly sweet, though. It just had those flavors. There was also an anise note that came forward pretty quickly, but it was relatively mild, just the way I like it.

I also got the Mexican chocolate notes that I was getting on the nose. It was kind of a rich, dark chocolate and cinnamon note that provided some tempered sweetness up front and some spicy cinnamon on the back end.

Layered underneath all these notes were almond and even walnut notes. There was also a decent amount of wood on the palate. These notes, along with the caramel and chocolate seemed to all combine to a sort of dark chocolate and pecan pie combination, and it was delicious, especially when countered by the spicy cinnamon on the back end.  It was like the dessert I never knew I wanted!

Knob Creek picks are always an easy decision given the price. This one was one of the better ones I've had in quite some time, and I'm very impressed with the palate of whoever at Cask-N-Cellar picked this barrel. I can't wait to get back to try some of their other selections to see just how much or palates align in other products.

Grade: A

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Devils River Small Batch Texas Bourbon

VITALS:
- $25
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Texas

My father-in-law has been getting more and more into whiskey lately, and, accordingly, he has been branching out on the whiskey he's been trying. One evening he was telling me about this rye that he sampled at a little store near him, and he liked it so he bought a bottle. As he was telling me the story, though, he couldn't think of the name of the brand. That same evening, he was out running errands, and when he stopped by my house, he literally dropped a bag with two bottles of booze right into my lap as I sat in my recliner.

Curious as to what this brand was he was telling me about, I opened the bag to find two bottles of Devils River whiskey, a rye and a bourbon. I had never heard of Devils River before this, and despite my generally negative experiences with Texas whiskeys, I was still somewhat intrigued. And, in inspecting the label, I couldn't hep but smile when I read the words "Sin Responsibly" right below the Surgeon General's warning.

That intrigue, unfortunately, waned pretty quickly. The nose was harsh. I got primarily young corn and ethanol. These were really sharp notes that seemed to sting the senses. It also had that overripe apple note that I always get with young bourbons. I don't know the age of this whiskey, but it couldn't have been much over two years.

The palate was a little bit more forgiving than the nose. I was surprised at how smooth it was, having expected to get harsh notes and burning sensations based on what I was getting on the nose.

Of course it had lots of corn notes, like canned corn. It had a certain amount of bitterness, almost a tannic quality. Yet it didn't have the wood notes that seem to go with it. It seems weird to have one without the other, but it had that astringent quality to it.

It also had a black pepper quality at the end which, if this bourbon had the traditional sweet and rich caramel, toffee and vanilla notes, would have worked really well. Without those notes, however, it just came across as hot without the flavor.

I wish I had more to say about this bourbon, but it was just hard to drink. It needs significantly more time in the barrel. It's young and undeveloped, and the flavors that are there are a bit rough.  My father-in-law agreed. He found it unpalatable, and yet he still speaks fondly of the rye.  I'll have to give that one a try soon, as young ryes seem to hold up better than young bourbons do.

Grade: D+

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Great King St. by Compass Box Glasgow Blend Blended Scotch

VITALS:
- $35
- 86 Proof
- NAS
- Scotland

I know I've asked this question before to start off a post, but I'll ask it again -- who loves free whiskey?? I do! This bottle was a Christmas gift from last year that I've been (very) slowly working my way through. I haven't exactly been reviewing a lot of Scotches lately (or anything non-American for that matter), so eventually I got to where I made it a point to go in this direction so that I can finally make this post.

I've loved most everything that I've tried from Compass Box, including the Great King St. blends. This one is a blend of an Islay peated whiskey with a sherry-cask matured Speyside Scotch and a lowland whiskey. I've enjoyed the peat and sherry combination in other Scotches, so I was pretty excited to have this bottle placed into my hands.

Of course the peat is the first thing to hit the olfactory senses, with a nice campfire note. However, behind the smoke I got some floral notes as well as a bright berry note, like fresh raspberry. The smoke note is pervasive, however, and it all came together in a kind of sweet barbecue note.

When I took my first sip, I was surprised that the peat smoke was not nearly as strong as the nose had me expecting. It was certainly there, but it did not come anywhere close to overpowering the other delicious flavors in this whiskey.

It had a smooth and rich undercurrent of vanilla that was present from front to back, and seemed to be the flavor that stuck around the longest. I also got some fresh strawberry notes along with a honey note to add a significant amount of sweetness to contrast the smoke.

I found myself smacking my lips after nearly every sip, but thanks to the peat the sweetness was never cloying or overdone. The fact that this only clocked in at 86 proof probably helped avoid a syrupy quality that might otherwise have been there.

That being said, after having had this bottle open, even for a few months, it seemed to develop a more oily body, and the flavors seemed to transform a little bit, just enough to develop some added complexity. What was previously a honey note seemed to come across as more of a butterscotch note. The fruit notes seemed to come across as more of a raspberry-almond note, with just a little bit of amaretto tang to it. And even though the vanilla seemed to lighten up, I instead got notes of chocolate and coffee, which still worked very well with the peat.

Although this isn't my favorite peated Scotch, this blend offered a lot of complexity that had me pondering nearly every sip I took, trying to pinpoint each different note that I was getting. And, for the most part, each flavor seemed to complement all of the others--exactly what a blend is supposed to accomplish.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Blanton's Gold Edition Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60 (700 ml)
- 103 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 259
- Kentucky

A while back I managed to get my hands on a Blanton's Gold and a Blanton's Straight from the Barrel. My guess is the guy I bought them off of simply made the trip to Canada to get a few of eacch and then made a few bucks off them. I was happy to pay what I did (certainly more than the $60 suggested retail price), figuring I had no other real way of getting my hands on such bottles.

After also acquiring two different store picks of the regular Blanton's, I then had my eyes set on setting up a Blanton's tasting for my whiskey club. I searched and ultimately landed a Black and a Red, both Japanese imports only, and I finally had my 6-bottle Blanton's tasting!  Everyone in the group was pumped to try this tasting, and one of the guys even brought an additional bottle of Straight from the Barrel.

Quick spoiler -- to the extent the tasting was a competition, the Gold was the winner. It wasn't everyone's favorite (some liked the Red), but it definitely had the most votes.  And there was plenty of reason for it. The nose on this one was soft and sweet. It was full of caramel with a light spice to it that was kind of a blend between cinnamon and black pepper. I also got a healthy dose of brown sugar as well as what I swore at times was the distinct note of chocolate-orange.

It smelled delicious and it had a palate to match. This was what some might describe as a toffee bomb.  It was full of those butter and molasses notes that made this just taste like candy. In addition, to go with the sweet and buttery flavors, this had a nice, oily texture to it that coated the mouth in flavors of brown sugar and butter. At 103 proof, it had some added kick that you don't get out of the standard Blanton's, and it worked so well with everything else.

On the back end I got a little bit of that heat, paired perfectly with a light cinnamon spice to tickle the back of my throat. It also had a nice, long finish which, along with that light cinnamon spice, had some rich notes of vanilla bean that seemed to stick around forever.

As I made my way through the last pours, there was a sort of yeasty quality, which turned into this dessert-like pastry, almost like a caramel coffee cake with vanilla icing on top. Those last few sips were some of the best tastes of whiskey I can recall in quite some time.  If only this were a regular offering, or, at the very least, actually able to be purchased here in the states.

Grade: A 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Clyde May's Special Reserve Alabama Style Whiskey

VITALS:
- $60
- 110 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

This is one of those whiskeys that I've decided to give a second chance.  I've had the regular Clyde May's before, and from what I recall, I got a lot of cinnamon red hots and green apple Jolly Rancher notes out of it. My main takeaway from back then was that it had a certain artificial taste to it that was a bit off-putting. My research tells me that this is a Kentucky whiskey that is bottled in Florida, but finished "Alabama Style," which I gather means finished on apples. The flavor back then did not come across as fresh apple to me.

However, that was a number of years ago, and my palate and experiences have changed, and in some ways the whiskey has changed. After all, this particular bottling, the Special Reserve, is bottled at a much higher proof at 110 proof, which in an of itself can make a significant difference. After reading others' approval of the Special Reserve in various online media, I decided to give this another chance. Plus I feel like it's been a while since I've reviewed something that's not a store pick or a limited release.

On the nose I immediately noticed the scent of apple. However, despite my expectations and, dare I say, bias, it wasn't the artificial or Jolly Rancher-esque aroma I had anticipated. Rather it came across as natural, with a sweet yet bitter quality that reminded me of Granny Smith apples (my favorite kind of apple, for what it's worth). I also got a lot of caramel that made this really seem like a sweet fall treat, like I was at the pumpkin patch with the kids getting ready for Halloween.

As for the taste, and while it's not much of a tasting note, it's worth starting with the fact that I thought it had really good flavor, and that the proof helped a lot. Rather than the prominent caramel, it had more of a vanilla-based flavor profile. It was only later that the apple really came forward, and again it came across as more of fresh apple rather than artificial apple.

I also never really got the cinnamon that seemed to jump out at me when I had the regular Clyde May's. Rather it was just a whole lot of vanilla with that sweet but bitter Granny Smith apple mixed in.  On later pours I seemed to get a certain breadiness, kind of a sweet white bread flavor that developed, and while it may initially seem odd, it really kind of worked.

It came across as a touch syrupy in texture, though it wasn't overly sweet. I did find that I enjoyed it more over ice than neat, and it made for a great front porch drink on a sunny day, particularly after mowing the lawn.  In that respect, while this isn't the next Pappy Van Winkle, and I don't expect that Alabama Style will be something offered by the likes of Beam or Wild Turkey any time soon, I think this whiskey was very tasty, certainly hit the right chords in certain situations, and would absolutely have a place on my shelf.

Grade: B

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Elijah Craig Warehouse Liquors Private Select Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $37
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Ser. No. 5589830
- Kentucky

I stopped into Warehouse Liquors bright and early in the morning a few weeks back while on my way into work. I was heading there for the sole purpose of grabbing their newest Buffalo Trace single barrel, which I did snag. But, while I was waiting for the guy to grab one from the back, I noticed he was in the process of unpacking their latest Elijah Craig pick.

And so, at 7:30 in the morning in the middle of the week, I found myself walking out of a liquor store with two new private picks in hand!  Certainly the earliest I've bought a bottle of whiskey, but it did help set the mood for the rest of my day.  It also had me eager to finish up for the day to get home and try both of them.

I popped the cork on this one that evening, and the first thing I noticed on the nose was the odd combination of caramel and black pepper.  I've certainly gotten such notes in other whiskeys, but for some reason the interplay between the two on this one really stuck out.  I also got some vanilla as well as a light woodiness.  On later pours, I noticed a kind of tangy quality, like an amaretto note. I kind of wished this note was a bit more prominent.

As to flavor, the caramel was again the most prevalent. However, it also had notes of cherry as well as the black pepper. Again, however, this created a kind of odd combination that made the cherry note come off as a bit medicinal.  I also got a bit of a maple syrup flavor to it as well, that certainly sweetened things up just a touch.

Similar to the nose, I did get a touch of woodiness in the flavor. It came across as more of a sawdust note, though, like the flavor of the air when cutting two-by-fours with a circular saw. That's very specific, I know, but that's where my mind went. I also got a lot of unsweetened, almost raw vanilla, and at times I noticed some raisin flavor coming through.

Overall, this bourbon had a lot of flavor to it, a lot going on. However, it seemed to be somewhat all over the place, with bitterness, sweetness and earthiness, and even a bit of a medicinal quality. None of the flavors seemed to really work with one another but rather stood on their own, in contrast to one another. It had complexity but lacked cohesiveness.

Despite the various syrup notes I was getting, the texture was anything but syrupy. It was actually really watery. Certainly the proof has something to do with that, but even at this proof it seemed more watery than most. I don't know if that had anything to do with the kind of lack of cohesiveness among the flavors or not.

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Buffalo Trace Binny's Small Batch Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch #24

VITALS:
- $24
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Batch #24
- Kentucky

These are bottles that no bourbon drinker should pass up when he or she sees one. Regular Buffalo Trace on its own is worth every penny of the $24 it usually costs. The private picks are, for the most part, anywhere from just as good as the regular stuff to, quite frequently, much better. So, for a mere $24 off the shelf for a private pick of an already decent bottle, it's really a no-brainer.

This is the most recent offering from Binny's, not a single barrel, but a small batch select.  The nose has everything I love about bourbon. It's full of caramel and vanilla, but with a healthy dose of baking spices and brown sugar to round it out. I got a bit of baked cinnamon apples mixed with a sort of cinnamon pastry, which reminded me of elephant ears you'd get at the fair. I could have sat there sniffing this all night and been completely content.

The palate matched the nose in nearly every way. Up front I got a nice blend of caramel and brown sugar, providing a nice but balanced sweetness that I loved! This is one bourbon that, for me, hit that perfect note of sweetness. It also had a touch of spice that I likened to a sweet cinnamon, kind of like a cinnamon sugar.

The more I drank this the more I liked it. At times it came across as more caramel heavy. Also, at times, the cinnamon spice came across more as a light black pepper spice. Throughout, though, the brown sugar was prevalent, giving it almost a root beer note.

It almost had a cookie quality to it. The heavy brown sugar had me thinking of chocolate chip-less chocolate chip cookies--something I actually love and have requested specifically from my wife, much to her chagrin (she doesn't understand the point of not having chocolate in the cookies).  

The flavors in this one were more bold than regular Buffalo Trace. Everything I like about the regular offering seemed to be underscored, italicized and set off in bold-face in this particular bottling. It is honestly one of the best private picks I've had, if not the best.

I took this bottle with me on a recent canoe trip I did with my oldest son up to the U.P.  I found myself really looking forward to each night, when I would get to sit by the fire, staring off into the pitch black forest and sipping on this bourbon. It was absolutely delicious, and I only wish I had more.

Grade: A

Monday, September 30, 2019

Whiskey Acres Artisan Series Rye Whiskey Distilled with Caramel Malted Rye

VITALS:
- $40 (375 ml)
- 87 Proof
- Aged at least 1 year
- Illinois

I recently had the incredible experience of visiting Whiskey Acres in Sycamore, Illinois. This was a long time coming, as I've been living literally down the road (20 miles down the road, but it literally took me one turn to get there), and yet I had never been there to visit. I signed up to attend an event with a local whiskey group, the Fox Valley Whiskey Society, which involved cocktails, hors d'ouevres consisting of local meats and cheeses, a tour of the facility, and an extensive tasting of whiskeys straight from the barrel.

The facility and the grounds are absolutely beautiful! The visitor's center is a brand new gorgeous building, with a great bar and a great selection of delicious cocktails at its center. Outside are sample crops of corn varietals they may use, a solar field that powers the entire operation, and of course warehouses full of whiskey! One of the owners, Nick, not only gave us a thorough history of the distillery and tour of the grounds, but also took us into those stores, at night with flashlights, to taste barrel after barrel, straight from the whiskey thief. It was an incredible experience that anyone in the area, or visiting the area, should definitely check out.

Before I left, of course, I perused their bottles for sale, and I was intrigued by this one. As Nick explained it, each summer they have any number of interns, and at the end of the internship, he allows them to make their own whiskey using various grain and yeast combinations. This is one of those experiments that was so good he decided to bottle it.  I was more than happy to take one home to find out for myself.

On the nose I got lots of caramel and lots of corn. It had that traditional young smell, like something in between baked apples and over-ripe apples. It is worth noting, however, that that "young" smell seemed to disappear after being open for a week or so. I found that at that point, the nose was pretty much what I would describe as a caramel oatmeal cookie, which while very sweet, smelled pretty delicious!

As to flavor, the first thing I noticed was the sweetness. This was a very sweet whiskey, and it seemed to have a minimal amount of spice. In that sense it was more like a bourbon than a rye. Of course, I got a lot of caramel up front. I'm not sure if that's the power of suggestion from the "caramel malted rye" or not, but I feel like I couldn't escape it.

At first it had those young notes, that over-ripe apple again. Much like the nose, though, that flavor receded leaving primarily that sweet caramel note to stick around. At the same time, I felt like some of that more traditional rye spice seemed to come through as well.  I started getting some notes of cinnamon and even some drier, wood notes. In moments it came across as a bit piney. More earthy flavors seemed to be there, suffocating under the sweet caramel, but coming through every now and then, with some nice char notes and even some tobacco leaf flavors poking their heads out from time to time.

Overall, from my own subjective perspective, this was just too sweet for me, particularly if I'm wanting a rye. Granted, that should be expected given the description, so I'm struggling to hold that against this whiskey. For what it's worth, my father-in-law, who loves rum and only recently had taken more of a liking to whiskey, absolutely loved this bottle! While I'm giving it a B, he would most certainly give this an A. So, for anybody out there that likes the sweeter side of things, perhaps this is something for you!  In any event, go check these guys out in person. What they are doing is pretty incredible!!

Grade: B

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Eagle Rare JP Liquors Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $42
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 171
- Kentucky

Social media can be quite a source of great bourbon-related information, assuming you can find your way through the morass of bullshit, bullying and troll jobs that litter Facebook pages.  This particular bottle is such an example.  I play in a volleyball league every Friday in the Summer, and one Friday afternoon someone posted that this small liquor store one town over from where I play happened to get in their barrel of Eagle Rare.

So, being the fan of Eagle Rare that I am, I quick did a Google Maps search and discovered that this small liquor store was only about five minutes of out of my way. So I left fifteen minutes early for my match and made my way to this store which I had known existed but never went out of my way to check out. I immediately wished I had, as they had a great whiskey selection, and right in the middle were all of their Eagle Rare private picks.  I browsed a bit, grabbed my bottle and was on my way.

It wasn't until a few weeks later that I finally got around to opening the bottle, and I found myself immediately questioning why I had never gone into JP Liquors before this. On the nose I got the healthy layer of caramel that I love in Eagle Rare. However, and I don't think I've ever said this about a whiskey's aroma before, it also had a creamy quality to it, almost like a sweet cream. There was also this sweet bread yeast note to it, which, along with a rich raisin note, smelled like some amazing raisin bread/cinnamon roll hybrid. The nose on this whiskey was rich and delicious!!!

The flavor, for the most part, lived up to the nose, too!  That classic caramel base was certainly there, along with a nice, long cinnamon spice that was immediately noticeable up front and stuck around long after each sip.  It also had a light peppery spice that tingled a bit in the back of my throat.

Aside from these traditional flavors, though, this particular bottle had some unique characteristics that set it apart from the standard Eagle Rare, and the combination of flavors, though a bit odd on their own, really worked to provide for a tangy, sweet bourbon. I got a hint of dill, not unlike what a lot of people, myself included, find in MGP ryes.  That was accompanied by a note of nutmeg as well as a distinct root beer flavor.

As if these flavors weren't enough, mixed in among there as a red berry note, similar to raspberry I guess, though not exactly.  All of these flavors, while on their own might not hold up, mixed together  to create a sort of marriage of flavors that worked really well, and it was all complemented by the nice spicy finish.

Toward the end, on my last few pours, those nutmeg, dill and root beer notes took a bit of a back seat, and I was getting a little more citric acidity to it, kind of like burnt orange peel. However, the sweetness of the bourbon kept that flavor from being off-putting.

All in all, I flew through this bottle. Once I opened it, I just kept going back. It had the two hallmarks that I love about store picks -- it was delicious, and it had a really unique flavor profile that I won't find anywhere else. I will certainly be frequenting JP Liquors in Naperville, Illinois going forward, not only for their bourbon selection, but for their ability to pick a delicious single barrel as well!

Grade: A-

Friday, September 20, 2019

Russell's Reserve Binny's Private Selecting Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel #19-0035

VITALS:
- $54
- 110 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #19-0035
- Kentucky

I do love Russel's Reserve bourbon, and lately I've managed to get some fantastic private picks, including a couple recent picks by Warehouse Liquors in Chicago and one from the last go-round at Binny's. This time around Binny's managed to get a bunch in, and I, once again, felt compelled to at least try one of them.

I got a few recommendations, and I read through the tasting notes on the approximately eight or so different barrels, that seemed to offer everything from woody to robust to sweet to spicy to fruity. It was nearly impossible to choose, so I just picked one in the middle, and Barrel #19-0035, heralding from the fourth floor of Rickhouse CN A, is what I got.

The nose was delicious and traditional. It gave off warm aromas of cinnamon and caramel, as well as a light chocolate flavor. It had a lot of wood on the nose, and even a bit of tobacco leaf, something I find more in Irish whiskeys than American whiskeys.  Also noticeable, however, was the health dose of alcohol on the nose. Frequently that will dissipate after the first pour or two, but with this one it remained pretty consistent through to the bottom of the bottle.

As to flavor, the very first thing that I noticed on the tip of my tongue was this great, salty-sweet combination that was like salted caramel. In fact, that salted caramel flavor seemed to dominate throughout this bottle.  All other flavors were really only playing second fiddle.

I never got the wood from the nose, or really anything else to balance out the sweetness. I got a bit of a raisin note, making it taste almost like a raisin cookie. However, that sweet caramel really overshadowed any of the more fruity, earthy or savory notes that might have been there.

On the finish, it had a little bit of spice to cut through the sweetness, with some nice, warm cinnamon at the end and a good, long Kentucky hug.  Even with that, however, I found myself smacking my lips after every sip, with that sticky caramel flavor just lingering.

As I'm writing this out, I'm realizing that for some palates, this might be exactly what people want in a bourbon. It actually sounds delicious! However, it was a bit too sweet and unbalanced for me, and it just seemed to get sweeter as it went. If it had a bit more influence from the wood, or if the spice was a little bit more forward, or if those dark fruits took a more prominent role, I feel like this would have been outstanding.

All in all, this was a very good barrel, it just didn't quite approach greatness for me.

Grade: B

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Driftless Glen Distiller's Select Cask Strength Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $60
- 119.8 Proof
- 4 years, 5 months
- Barrel No. 233
- Wisconsin

For her birthday, my daughter wanted to go to Great Wolf Lodge, but not the one that's only an hour away from where we live. No, she wanted to go to the one that's two and a half hours away in the Wisconsin Dells. Knowing reason was lost on a child who wants what she wants for her birthday, we conceded, and to the Dells we went.

However, all was not lost. I did manage to convince my wife that we should grab lunch before we head out, and, of course, I suggested we go one town over to Driftless Glen. I had never been there before, and, quite frankly, I'd never had anything from that distillery before. I really didn't know what to expect. But the distillery is absolutely beautiful, with a new facility set right on the river, looking across at a bunch of old circus trains that are part of the circus museum (perhaps providing an excuse to go back).  The food was great as well, including my maple old fashioned that came garnished with a piece of bacon. I sampled a few things while I waited for my food, and as I left, much to my chagrin, I grabbed this bottle, hand-picked by "Nate" and only available in their gift shop.

I feel like I've had a bad run of "craft" whiskeys of late, so it took me a while before I actually got around to opening this bottle.  That was a mistake!  This was one of the best, and at the same time most unique, ryes that I've had in a long time, and I'm wishing I had more!

The nose is sweet, giving off chocolate and hazelnut, with that sharp woody bitter note that hazelnut has.  I also got a lot of spice on the nose, like cloves and cinnamon. There was something earthy to it as well, kind of like a hearty rye bread. Quite frankly, the nose didn't clue me in to what I was about to taste.

On the tongue, I immediately noticed the thick, almost syrupy texture to this whiskey. I was floored, given its age, at the incredible viscosity that this rye had. It coated every inch of my mouth and throat and never went away.

The flavor could best be summed up as a pine flavored spice-bomb. I would have thought this was something that came from the northwest it had so much pine flavor to it. It tasted like a walk through the woods. While it may sound like an odd flavor, it was actually really delicious. Not like cleaner or an air freshener. Rather, it tasted like . . . Christmas.

This was even more emphasized by the incredible amount of spice that was in this bottle. Every sip was full of cinnamon and allspice. It also had a light amount of anise and nutmeg. It tasted like a blend of spices to be used in an apple or cherry pie.  Those spices were rounded out by delicious notes of fresh dark cherry and other dark fruit notes. While I couldn't pinpoint any specific fruit, the flavor reminded me of mulled wine. On the finish, all of these flavors lingered, seemingly forever, and a hint of mint seemed to make its way forward, adding a bit of a cooling note.

This whiskey restored my faith in craft whiskey!  It was full, rich and robust. It achieved a texture and flavor that I'd expect from much older whiskeys.  And, it was unique in flavor, like Christmas in a cup, absolutely full of spice and only a trace amount of sweetness -- what I love most in a rye.  I haven't had a spice-bomb like this in a long time, and it absolutely hit the spot. Once it was opened, this bottle went very quickly.  I guess I'll need to make a trip back to Baraboo, Wisconsin very soon.

Grade: A

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch No. B518

VITALS:
- $55
- 133.4 Proof
- 12 Years
- Batch No. B518
- Kentucky

There once was a time that I swear these bottles couldn't be found anywhere. a few years ago I remember feeling like I hit the jackpot when my local guy got three bottles in, and a few more of the following batch. I was buying them, even at his slightly marked up prices, as if they might vanish off the shelves otherwise.

Now, however, it seems as though they're at least somewhat available upon each release. In fact this one I've seen multiple times in multiple shops. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining.  This is a good thing!!  These are consistently one of my favorite bottles, and I will never hesitate to grab one off the shelf.

One of the consistent characters I've always gotten in the Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs is a heavier-than-most dose of vanilla.  Here, the nose at least did not let down. The vanilla seemed to pour out of the top of the bottle. It was accompanied but some earthier flavors, however, with some anise and some woodiness mixed in. I also got slightly bitter coffee notes. Along with those scents, however, were some nice dark fruit notes, like plum and even blueberry. This stuff smelled amazing!

In the flavor, the anise was not nearly as strong as it was in the nose, which for me was a good thing.  Rather, it had some pretty strong caramel and amaretto notes.  Unfortunately, the vanilla I got on the nose wasn't nearly as prevalent in the flavor, and almost nonexistent.

What seemed to take its place, though, was a whole lot of brown sugar. That sweetness was cut a bit, though, by that same wood note that I got on the nose. It didn't come across as bitter in any way.  Rather it just made it a bit more dry and mellowed out the sugar a bit. 

On the finish I got almost nothing but caramel, though this is where what little vanilla there was finally came through.  That caramel was long and strong, though, leaving me smacking my gums after each sip.

On the final few pours I got a distinct Coca-Cola flavor. Not just a generic cola flavor, but it actually tasted like Coca-Cola. Once I got that not, I couldn't seem to avoid that note, and it was hard to focus on the other flavors that were there. Luckily, though, it was a delicious flavor that seems to be a late-blooming marriage of everything I had before then.

While I wish some of those dark fruits, and especially that blueberry note that I got on the nose, came through (I think that would have been amazing!), I still really enjoyed what was here. It was a dessert whiskey that packed a punch. Quite frankly, that's what I've loved about all of the different batches of Elijah Craig Barrel proof, and that's why it never lets me down.

Grade: A-

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon Batch No. 23

VITALS:
- $60
- 113.9 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 23
- Tennessee

I've been lucky enough to stumble on two of these bottles, and for some reason I started with this bottle rather than the earlier batch that I have. Belle Meade has been getting a lot of love lately for their single barrels and for their Reserve Cask Strength bourbons, and I've made it a point to grab them when I see them, which is not very often at all.

I haven't tried too much from Belle Meade. In fact, the only other bottle I've had from them was a 10-year Binny's private selection, which I do recall fondly. However, after finishing this bottle within a very short time after first opening it, I feel like I may need to make an effort to go through other bottles in their lineup.

The nose on this bourbon was rich and full and absolutely delicious. I immediately got notes of dark cherry and molasses, reminding me very much of Maraschino cherries. There was also a hint of maple and a slight cinnamon spice. To almost round everything out, it had a distinct vanilla bean smell to it that seemed to complement everything else going on.

As impressed as I was with the nose, the flavor held up as well and did not disappoint. Immediately I noticed the thick, oily texture it had, which coated my entire mouth with flavor. Also, despite the high proof, the alcohol was very well masked, making this dangerously easy to keep dipping back into pour after pour.

Up front I got the sweetness on my tongue, with kind of a salted caramel note. From there, however, what was clear is that this was a vanilla bomb. It was absolutely loaded with vanilla from front to back, and the other flavors that I picked up just seemed to play off that vanilla undercurrent.

The salty note seemed to evaporate almost immediately, but the caramel remained. It was more of a dark caramel note, however, with hints of burnt sugar. I even got some light char notes, though none of the woody bitterness, which was nice.

The Maraschino cherry note was there, but it was lighter on the actual cherry flavor than the nose had me anticipating. Rather, it was more of the flavor of the syrup than the cherries themselves.  I did not get the cinnamon that I got on the nose.  However, I did get a richer orange note. It wasn't a bright, citrusy note but rather like a candied orange note, even chocolate-orange at times.

But, again, it all started with the rich, delicious vanilla and each of the other flavors just acted as a complement to that note, and they each complemented that note very well.  This bourbon was rich, full of flavor, and it all worked really well! I couldn't help but keep going back to this bottle, even when I was trying to make an effort to try other things. It was delicious, and I have a feeling I'm going to be opening that other batch I have in my closet very soon!!

Grade: A-

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $80
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

This is one of those use-to-be-on-the-shelf-all-the-time bottles. Yet, in the past year or so, it seems to have nearly disappeared (a not uncommon experience when it comes to Buffalo Trace products).  It was always one of those bottles that I eventually wanted to try, but, figuring it'd always be there, was never a priority. After having not seen in on the shelves in quite some time, though, I took the opportunity to buy one when it came, even over some more desirable Buffalo Trace products that were available that day.

So far, I've only had the rye and the barrel proof from the E.H. Taylor line up, and while I've enjoyed what I've had, I've never fawned over these bottles like I see so many others do. But, I went into this one with an open mind.

The nose on this one was fantastic. It had a nice buttery cinnamon and caramel smell to it, like some rich and delicious dessert. I also got some almond as well as some beer-y yeast and even a bit of a nutty note as well.  All in all it gave of this sweet and familiar caramel apple note, with the apple note adding a bit of crispness to the nose.  Overall it was incredibly inviting.

The first thing that I noticed about this whiskey is that it was very smooth (yes, I know . . . but in this context I mean that despite being at 100 proof, the alcohol burn seemed nonexistent) and easy to drink. Perhaps dangerously so. 

As for flavor, I got a decent amount of amaretto and caramel, along with some light vanilla.  It was full of these rich, bakery-esque flavors. It even had that bready quality, kind of a yeast note similar to what I got on the nose.

This was all offset by a spiciness that was kind of a blend of cinnamon and white pepper. It had the sweeter and woody spice of the cinnamon, along with the bight of the white pepper that seemed to stick in the back of my throat for a bit.  The finish seemed relatively short, but that spicy tickle really lingered.

I also got a decent amount of wood notes on this bourbon, more than I expected really. It added a bit of dryness to a bourbon that was otherwise on the sweeter end.

All in all, I would like this as a standard go-to pour. But, for the price, it just can't be that.  I really wanted more out of this bottle, but it really was more good than great, and it didn't do much at all to separate itself from the crowd.

Grade: B

Friday, August 23, 2019

Three Rivers Distilling Franklin B. Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 95 Proof
- 6 Months
- Batch 6
- Indiana

Occasionally my work causes me to travel to far away and exotic places. Well, not really, but lately I've had to travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana quite a bit, to the extent that I've managed to identify all the decent shops in the area. On one of my scouting expeditions one night, I stopped into one shop that had a really good selection of Indiana whiskeys, and I figured it was about time to take a shot at something local.

Having no familiarity with any of the brands I was seeing on the shelf, I took to reading the bottles and the backstories. This particular bottle intrigued me. Not only is Three Rivers Distilling local to Fort Wayne, and not just Indiana in general, but it is also veteran owned. While the whiskey was notably young, I figured my money could certainly go to worse places, so I grabbed a bottle hoping for the best.

I popped open the cork and the first thing I noticed was that this smelled super young, which was certainly to be expected.  I got far more corn notes on the nose than I should in a rye. I also got that over-ripe apple note that I seem to find in young bourbons, as well as a weird sort of vegetal quality, almost a bell pepper smell. At times I seemed to get black pepper, and at other times I noted a sort of sugar cookie smell, but both of these notes were fleeting and inconsistent.

I will say that the flavor was certainly more enjoyable than the nose, but that was a pretty low bar. It was very sweet up front, and had some traditional notes of cinnamon and light pine, with even a slight mint note on the back end. However, what actual flavor there was to this whiskey was overwhelmed by that up front sweetness. This was almost cloyingly sweet, with almost a corn syrup quality to it.

On the finish, the light peppery spice did manage to find its way through. I also got a bit of a cinnamon applesauce flavor, which I again associated with the fact that this is a very young whiskey.

As I worked my way through this bottle, I just didn't find anything to change my impression of this whiskey. It remained cloyingly sweet throughout and always had that weird, over-ripe apple flavor to it. It did develop a slight smokey note which I thought was interesting, but as I had my last few pours of this bottle, my sole impression was that this was simply way to sweet, and it was incredibly harsh. I really struggled to finish it, unfortunately. 

As much as I wanted to like this, and there were a few hints of goodness from time to time, I just couldn't find much to enjoy.

Grade: C-

Saturday, August 17, 2019

1792 Full Proof Bruno's Liquors Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $45
- 125 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I recently took a trip to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with my wife, just an evening with just the two of us. Beforehand, however, I just happened to see some Facebook recommendations for good bourbon stores and restaurants in Lake Geneva, and one of the recommendations was Bruno's Liquors.

So, romance be damned, I made it a point to get over to Bruno's to see what they had to offer. For the most part, their whiskey selection was pretty decent, though it was a lot of stuff that I can find on the shelves by me. However, right up front they showcased two store picks they had recently gotten in--a Buffalo Trace single barrel and this one. Of course I grabbed them both, much to the chagrin of my wife.

I've been a big fan of pretty much every bottle of 1792 Full Proof I've picked up to date, so I cracked into this one first. Upon opening the bottle, I was immediately hit with strong scents of brown sugar and orange peel. It almost had an Old Fashioned smell to it. It also had a nice cinnamon spice on the nose that tickled just a bit, and some wood tones carried through as well. This was all seemingly layered over a subtle but ever-present caramel note.

The flavor was a bit different from the nose. Rather than getting that brown sugar and orange peel up front, the cinnamon was probably the most forward flavor, along with a distinct chocolate flavor. I've encountered this combination before, and while I do love finding both flavors in my whiskeys, together they tend to make a bit of an odd combination.

However, there was a lot more going on with this as well. I got a distinct candied cherry note, not the cough syrup kind of flavor, but also not the fresh cherry flavor. Perhaps more along the lines of a maraschino cherry flavor.

There was a bit of an oak flavor which, along with the heat from the high ABV, added a touch of harshness to this bourbon. I found that it had this sort of weird tongue-numbing quality, something that I've found before in foods where too much liquid smoke was used. I realize that's probably not very relatable to anyone reading this, but that's where my mind when as I was tasting this.

There was also this anise or licorice flavor to it, which, along with the wood notes, left a bit of an odd flavor behind after each sip. The orange peel bitterness seemed to linger for a bit, and between all that and that weird numbing quality, I had a hard time enjoying the finish.

And yet, on the last few pours, the sweet brown sugar and pleasant cinnamon spice was all I really noticed, with the bitterness and weird numbing thing having gone by the wayside.  I really wish the rest of the bottle were like those last two or three pours, because I found them to be asbolutely delicious.  This was a bit of a schizophrenic bottle, so I'm finding it hard to attribute a grade to it, because different pours could have been anything from a C- to an A, so I've got to park this one somewhere right in the middle.  Now to open that Buffalo Trace!

Grade: B

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Buffalo Trace Jewel-Osco Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel No. 528

VITALS:
- $24
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 528

If there is one thing that Jewel-Osco is known for, it's their incredible private picks . . . no, that's not right. It's their incredibly refined palate . . . no, that's not right either. In the bourbon world, at least around me, Jewel is primarily known for occasionally having Blanton's in stock at retail, and that's just about it.

Yet, despite not being actively in the market for Blanton's, and knowing that I'm not going to find much else, I nonetheless wandered into the whiskey aisle during a shopping trip, and I saw all the usual suspects sitting on the shelf.  Then something caught my eye.  Was that a sticker?!?  I quickly pulled a bottle of Buffalo Trace off the shelf, figured I must have seen something, turned the bottle in my hands, and sure enough, it was a Jewel-Osco Single Barrel Select! I had no clue such a thing existed.  So, of course, at only $24 a bottle, I picked one up, because what the hell, why not?!?

I got home and cracked it right away, because quite frankly my curiosity was getting the best of me. On the nose I immediately got caramel and almond, almost a hint of amaretto. I also detected a certain amount of Maraschino cherry as well. Later on, after making my way through a good portion of the bottle, I got hints of dark chocolate, and it also seemed to sweeten up quite a bit, providing a rich, dark molasses note.

Flavor-wise, it seemed to follow suit with the nose. On the first few pours, I got primarily burnt sugar and oak. It was more char and wood than I expected from a Buffalo Trace. The sugars were there, but they were buried. It was as thought it wanted to be sweet but just wasn't quite there. I also got a bit of a cherry cough syrup note, which is always a bit of a turn off for me.

However, as with the nose, after a number of pours from this bottle, it sweetened up significantly. Rather than char and sugar on top of wood, it turned into something far more delicious ad interesting. I got more of a brown sugar tone to it, and a certain amount of cinnamon also came through.

I also got a certain bread quality, which together with these "developed" other flavors gave it a sort of cinnamon french toast quality that I really liked.  Unfortunately, though, that fake cherry flavor still seemed to linger as well, and it just didn't fit. While the flavor softened, it still retained a bit of that medicinal quality that I do find off-putting, and it was really weird with that bready, yeasty flavor that developed.

All in all, if Jewel-Osco released another private selection of Buffalo Trace, I assure you I'd grab that as well.  While it has some off notes for me, overall it was still a tasty bourbon at a great price, and it was fun to see what I was going to get with such a pick.

Grade: B-

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Sav-Way Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel #7387

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

Sav-Way is a small little liquor store near me that has three different locations. They usually have a pretty decent whiskey selection, and I make it a point to pop in from time to time to see what's new. I've been able to find some decent bottles at their shops from time to time at decent prices, although they do have a tenancy to significantly mark up their more allocated stuff.

One day while perusing their shelves looking for something to drink for the night, I settled on a private selection of Knob Creek they had. I feel like I've been drinking a lot of these lately (not necessarily a bad thing), and this particular one didn't have any information, such as age, entry proof, warehouse, etc.  Unfortunately, the person working there that night didn't have that information either. Nonetheless, given my overwhelmingly positive experiences with Knob Creek private selections, I decided to give this one a spin.

On the nose I immediately noticed the alcohol. It was really hard to escape, and it was considerably more noticeable than I recall from other Knob Creek private selections. Certainly after being open a bit that alcohol burn died down some, but it remained stronger than any others I've had.

That being said, behind the alcohol I got the more traditional notes of rich caramel and toffee. I also got a decent amount of oak on the nose, and I could even detect the tannins. Finally, there was a healthy dose of cinnamon, and that note seemed to get heavier with each sniff.  All in all, while it may seem otherwise as I describe it, I actually really enjoyed this nose. It all worked well to create a rich, complex and spicy aroma.

The flavor was also heavy on the tannins, which really gave this bourbon a decent amount of bite. It made me wonder just how old this bourbon was. I got significantly more oak than I'm used to getting in the 10-12 year range. There was also a decent amount of vanilla and cinnamon to lend to some of the more traditional bourbon notes.

However, with each pour I kept getting this flavor that I just couldn't put my finger on. It was kind of earthy, kind of spicy and kind of vegetal  About half way through I had my a-ha moment, and was able to identify that odd flavor as pumpkin spice. I can't say that I've ever had such a note in any of my previous reviews, and perhaps that's why I had such a hard time placing it. 

The wood and spice were balanced out by a sweet brown sugar that was present from front to back.  On the finish I got a light cooling mint note as well, something I find far more often in ryes. Though it was light, it was definitely there and it seemed to stick around for a while.

Overall, this was a very good bourbon (further cementing my belief that Knob Creek picks are always worth the gamble).  It's not the best thing that I've ever put in my mouth, but it was rich complex and interesting, and I really enjoyed each pour.

Grade: B+