Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bulleit 12 Year Straight American Rye

VITALS:
- $50
- 92 Proof
- 12 Years
- Indiana

It's been a while since I've been genuinely excited for a non-allocated release, but when I found out that Bulleit was releasing a 12 year old version of their rye, I was going to make sure I snagged one right away. Bulleit Rye (sourced from MGP) has always been one of my mainstay ryes, and I loved the idea of an older version.

So, the day it hit the shelves I made my way to Binny's and grabbed a bottle, brought it home and put it on my shelf. And for some reason, that's where it sat, unopened, for almost two months. I can't really explain why, I just sort of never got around to it.  Apparently there were other bottles that took priority. But they shouldn't have. I love rye, and in particular I love MGP rye, and once I finally did open this bottle it wasn't long for this world.

One of the first notes that I got on the nose was butterscotch. I can't say that I ever got such a note out of other MGP ryes, so it kind of stuck out to me. I also got the familiar pine and cinnamon notes, though the cinnamon was somewhat faint. I also smelled apple cider, and all of these flavors blended together very well to provide a nice, complex and delicious aroma, yet it didn't come off as pungent. It was light and inviting (perhaps due to the proof).

On the palate I immediately noticed that familiar, sweet pine and cinnamon profile. In fact, these two flavors really dominated. Sweet pine seems like an odd description, even as I type this, but I think anyone familiar with MGP rye might understand what I'm getting at. The cinnamon was prominent and immediately noticeable on the tip of my tongue.

I also got some of the traditional toffee and vanilla notes, which added some richness and sweetness to the flavor. On later pours, these flavors seemed to blend together to just a straight brown sugar flavor, which balanced well with the cinnamon and pine notes.

On the finish, I got a sweet, lingering caramel note that seemed to coat my mouth from front to back. Despite the lower proof, this had a surprisingly long finish, which was capped off by a sweet, cooling mint note that I absolutely loved. In fact, I found I couldn't help but go back for that next sip right way in order to keep replicating that flavor and sensation.

While all of this is good, I did find that there was a light woody note to this rye. More age will do that, certainly.  However, this seemed to impart a tannic bitterness that, while I enjoy wood notes and even a bit of tannin in some whiskeys, simply didn't work in this one. This note stood apart from the other flavors and just detracted from the flavor.

That being said, I think I got what I expected out of this rye. It hit all those notes I love in a rye, with a bit of added complexity. I would have preferred this at a higher proof, especially at barrel strength (a girl can dream!), but for what it is, it met all of my expectations.

Grade: B+

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 93 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

This review is a perfect example of why nobody should put much stock into reviews. After all, they are completely subjected and dependent upon the reviewer's subjective tastes. What I like you may hate, and vice versa. And so it goes with Old Forester 1910.

I loved Old Forester 1920. It was complex, flavorful and a great buy for the price. And when 1910 was released, the response was pretty much equal to that of 1920. People absolutely love this stuff across the board. Since I opened my bottle, I've kept my eye out for any naysayers or dissenters, and to date I haven't seen one in the group.

So now I find myself in the minority here (which is why you should take my review with a grain of salt and try this for yourself), because I really disliked this bourbon. In fact, in my mind it shouldn't even be called bourbon, because to me it just didn't taste like bourbon, but rather some liqueur with a bit of bourbon flavor to it.

To be fair, the nose on this is great. It's full of sweet brown sugar and has a buttery aroma to it that reminded me of french toast. I even got a little bit of peanut on the nose as well as a light maltiness to balance the sweet and buttery flavors. The nose was unique and really good.

Unfortunately, what followed was a bit of a sloppy mess. On my initial sips I got some unsweetened cinnamon and some burnt orange and bitter orange pith flavors. I also got a decent amount of almond.  From time to time a bright note of dried apricot came through. So far so good.

But then the off-putting flavors came through, and they did so in a big way, smacking my mouth with offensive flavors. First it was a weird farmhouse kind of funk. I don't know how best to describe it other than that it was vegetal in quality, almost like hay and green pepper.

And then I got the fake cherry flavor that absolutely put me off. I'm good with cherry notes typically, but the fake cherry is just awful, reminding me of cough syrup. I had hopes that this note would eventually go away, but it never did, and it offended my tongue from the first pour to the last.

I also got a lot of black licorice, and I mean a LOT. I like a good anise note in my whiskey from time to time, but this was simply too much, and it seemed to get progressively worse the more I drank. By the final pours from the bottle, it was as though someone had actually taken Jagermeister or Herbsaint and added it directly to the bottle. As I took notes one evening while trying to enjoy a pour of this, I actually wrote down, "Blech!"

I wanted to enjoy this bottle, I really did. It has great viscosity, is super rich and is full of flavor. For me, however, it's full of the wrong flavors to the point that fit was nearly undrinkable. I don't get it. It's rare that I diverge so greatly from the masses, who have universally loved this product. In fact, my father-in-law, who is relatively new to bourbon, declared this the best bourbon he's ever tasted.  I, however, will never let it touch my tongue again. And so, with that being said, reviews are stupid, please disregard everything you just read and try it for yourself.

Grade: C-

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 042 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $31
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I've come to the conclusion that any time I come across a Buffalo Trace single barrel or even small batch select, just any Buffalo Trace store pick, I'm grabbing it. I always say the Knob Creek store picks are one of the best values out there at $40.  However, at $24-30, Buffalo Trace store picks might be just as good, assuming there's a place in your bourbon world for lower proof stuff.

Warehouse Liquors has always been right in my wheelhouse as well as far as private picks go, and this one was no different.  The nose had that nice, soft caramel that I love in Buffalo Trace products, as well as a ribbon of rich vanilla. These flavors seemed to blend a bit to give it a nice, graham cracker-y, molasses aroma that had me salivating. Additionally, there was a light peppery kick that only added to my excitement to try a sip.  As weird as it may sound, the nose on this is one of the best I've ever sniffed!

The flavors that immediately hit my tongue on first sip were cinnamon layered over vanilla. It had a nice, spicy tingle on the tip of my tongue, that was immediately supplanted by a sweet vanilla bean characteristic. It also had a nice yeasty quality, like a sweet soft bread. As I sipped on it my mind wandered to thoughts of King's Hawaiian dinner rolls.

As I made my way through the bottle, those sweet, decadent flavors persisted. However, other flavors developed that made this one of the more complex Buffalo Traces that I've had, and certainly more complex than most 90 proof bourbons.

What was once a sweet bread note now took on more of a graham cracker note, but like a lightly frosted graham cracker, as that vanilla was always present.  At times, I even caught light hints of a cocoa-gingerbread note that offered just the slightest bit of spice or tang. It wasn't enough to put me off, rather it was just enough to make it interesting.

The same can be said for the finish. In addition to the long, vanilla finish, I also got a cinnamon sugar toast note. The bread notes were still there, as well as this distant butter note in the background. The cinnamon sat in the back of my throat for a while long after each pour, but it still remained on the sweet side.  The black pepper from the nose never made an appearance, but I did get a light anise note on the finish, which for my tastes was enough of an anise note for me.

While the taste didn't quite live up to the nose, this was still a fantastic bourbon. Had I not already finished it, it would be the perfect bottle to keep on hand for when someone not so experienced with bourbon came by and wanted to try something delicious.  Perhaps I'll have to track down another bottle just for that purpose.

Grade: A-

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Eight & Sand Blended Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $28
- 88 Proof
- NAS
- Indiana

MGP is apparently tired of other companies making money off of their product (I say this tongue-in-cheek, as MGP is certainly doing just fine making their money their way).  And so, to compete with other, what I would call "mid-tier" products on the shelf, they've released Eight & Sand, a blended bourbon with at a very approachable proof point and, unlike MGP's previous releases, a very approachable price point.

The name Eight & Sand comes from a railroad term representing a safe and swift journey or smooth sailing. The name hints at what MGP was likely going for here with a smooth, not to high proofed blended bourbon that will be an easy drinker and also easy to grab off the shelf.

Upon opening the bottle, I was immediately impressed by the nose.  It was heavy on toffee notes, but also had a light kick of cinnamon and even some raisin notes. I also got a yeasty, bready flavor that gave this a distinct raisin bread nose. On later pours I found the vanilla that was light to start really came forward after a bit, which only added to the experience.  I loved the way this bourbon smelled.

On the tongue, it was not nearly as watery as I expected it to be given its proof Rather, I got a nice, good oily texture that coated my mouth with cinnamon and caramel right up front. There also was a light milk chocolate note to it as well. Unfortunately, these flavors at the front just didn't seem to stick around very long.  In fact, despite its more oily texture, all of the flavors seemed to be almost fleeting--there for me to notice them but gone before I could really enjoy them.

On the back end I got a slight banana note and a nutmeg-like woodiness came through as well, giving it a nice balance of sweet and savory. Meanwhile, those cinnamon and caramel notes seemed to bounce in and out throughout. It was kind of a weird experience in that way. Additionally, on more than one occasion I couldn't help but notice a light smokiness, which I almost wished was a tad more prevalent, because it added a nice twist.

What I liked most about this whiskey was its finish, though. Despite the fleeting flavors up to that point, this left a nice, lingering note that was a mix of butterscotch and toffee. It was absolutely delicious and seemed to stick right at the back of my throat for quite some time.

When it's all said and done, I think this is a bourbon that is very good for its price point. For a whiskey in the $25-30 range, I'd have this among my top recommendations, as it's very well done and offers something interesting and flavorful.

Grade: B

Friday, April 26, 2019

Drinking With a Legend - A Night With Al Young at Warehouse Liquors

The other night I got to be a "lucky duck" -- at least that's what we were called in our confirmation e-mails.  I was one of only about 30 or so people who managed to score a ticket for a private tasting with Al Young at Warehouse Liquors in Chicago.  As many in the bourbon world are aware, Gene, the owner of Warehouse Liquors, is well-known and has a sort of cult following for his store picks. In conjunction with his most recent Four Roses selections, he put on this tasting with the one and only Al Young!

As my buddy and I walked into the room, a sort of bowling alley of a tasting room with place settings lined up on both sides, we immediately went straight to the front and parked ourselves right next to where Al was standing in hopes that that's where he'd remain throughout the night.

As people trickled into the room over the next twenty minutes or so, aside from the people who came up to introduce themselves, take pictures and shake his hand, we had pretty much a good ten minutes of one-on-one time with Al to just shoot the shit, talking with him about the charity event he attended the day before, his time in Lexington the past few days, and even a little bit about the bourbon he drinks.

Throughout the evening, we got to taste four different store picks that Gene had recently selected for Warehouse Liquors, in the following order:
  • OESV - 9 yrs., 7 mos. - 121.2 Proof
  • OBSV - 9 yrs., 10 mos. - 114.2 Proof
  • OESK - 10 yrs., 8 mos - 106.6 Proof
  • OBSQ - 9 yrs., 10 mos. - 112.4 Proof
Interestingly, we started with the highest proof one first -- the OESV.  I'm not sure if the order was arbitrary or not, but ultimately, of the four, this is the one that we went back to to try again, and it ended up being  my favorite. 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.

The OBSV was a short-barrel. I'm not sure how many bottles came from it, but it's my understanding it was very limited. While this was the one that sold out first, it ended up being my least favorite, as it had a significant astringent quality to it, making me reach for my bottle of water immediately. I really liked the OESK and the OBSQ as well, and both were tied for a close second for me.  The OESK was the most unique of the barrels, as I got a white wine, almost a pinot grigio note out of it. It sounds weird, and it's the first time that I've ever gotten such a note off a bourbon, but it worked really well with the vanilla and light anise flavors. The OBSQ leaned more towards softer wood and caramel notes, with a light orange zest to it. The fact of the matter is, if you get the opportunity to purchase any of these bottles, do so!

In addition to these store picks, we also got to taste the 130th Anniversary Small Batch, which was absolutely amazing (and my buddy and I may or may not have snuck a couple extra pours when people weren't looking) as well as the Small Batch Select, which isn't yet available in our market. While Al was there, at least in part, to talk up the new Four Roses product, he legitimately seemed very proud, touting the higher proof (104 proof) and that it is non-chill filtered. He seemed genuinely eager to get feedback from everyone in the room about their thoughts. While everyone really enjoyed it (myself included--it drinks much lower than its proof), the consensus was that he did it a disservice by having it follow the 130th.

Even despite getting to taste all this great bourbon, however, what made the night was Al himself.. I had never met Al before, and my immediate impression was that he is truly a man of the people. He was not there just on another stop to hawk his products. He genuinely enjoyed meeting people, answering their questions, discussing bourbon, telling stories (both personal and industry-related), signing copies of his book and giving his time to anyone that wanted it.

The highlight for me (other than his mention of a desire to eventually produce a Four Roses Rye--yay!) was hearing him tell stories about his home life, particularly about how proud his wife was when Four Roses released a bourbon named after him.  It was that or his double-take when asked, when doing tastings, whether he spits or swallows. Al is a great storyteller and has a wonderful (and even at times crass) sense of humor.

I had never met Al Young before, and within minutes of meeting him, I wished I had met him sooner. As I told him at the end of the night, I've met a handful of industry icons, leaders and what have you, and meeting Jimmy Russel always stuck with me, because he was genuine. He truly loved interacting with his customers and meeting people, and it came through. Al Young is right there as well. He is as friendly and inviting, and more importantly, as genuine as they come! This was easily one of the best tastings I've ever been a part of.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

1792 Full Proof Binny's Single Barrel Select Barrel #2482 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $55
- 125 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #2482
- Kentucky

The more I have of these 1792 Full Proofs, the harder they are to pass up. Each and every one that I've had has been very good, if not great. They are always rich and bold in flavor and are, at the very least, well worth the price tag.  What's interesting about it is that, while people seem to be chasing certain store picks such that stores are running out of them in a matter of hours, these tend to remain pretty available. People make runs on Buffalo Trace single barrel selections, yet seem to ignore its cousin Barton.

But it's bottles such as this and the various Knob Creek private selections that I've had over the years that always bring back that necessary perspective for me. While I, too, love finding a new store pick of Eagle Rare or Blanton's, when those aren't available (which is pretty much all the time), there are still plenty of good store picks to whet my whistle.  This particular barrel proved to be no exception to the rule!

When I first cracked into this bottle, I got a TON of alcohol on the nose. I realize this is a high proof bourbon, but it was still more than I expected. However, after having the bottle open for only a couple days, that alcohol note faded away almost entirely.

Even on that first whiff, however, behind the strong alcohol note, was a nice combination of peanuts and caramel, reminding me of a turtle with a little less chocolate. I got slight bitter wood notes as well. Throughout there was also this odd, musty smell to it, like a damp basement. All in all, this had kind of a weird nose which at first really put me off.

I say at first, though, because as soon as I took a sip, I forgot all about the weird nose. I immediately noticed a delicious, rich and creamy caramel up front. This creaminess was supported by the nice, buttery texture of the bourbon. For something that had a lot of alcohol on the nose and a weird, musty smell to it, the flavor was completely opposite in as good of a was as possible. This was one of the smoothest 125 proof bourbons I've ever had.

The prominent caramel flavor was there on each and every pour from this bottle, and it probably earned the moniker "caramel bomb." While that caramel dominated, though, other flavors came through to complement that flavor, including some dark fruit flavors and a bready, pastry note which, combined with the sweetness from the caramel, reminded me of cinnamon raisin bread.

That cinnamon note carried over to provide a nice, spicy finish that worked really well with the sweetness up front to provide some nice balance. The finish seemed to linger for days and seemed to be even more rich than the front end. Some dark fruit notes seemed to come out of nowhere, with flavors of black cherry and blackberry, which added to the complexity and played so well with all the other flavors.

Again, the nose on this one was incredibly misleading. I've yet to get a dud from these Full Proof private selections, and when I opened it I wondered if this would be my first. But, from that first sip I knew I had something delicious and that the nose was just a big, fat liar.

Grade: A-

Sunday, April 21, 2019

High West Double Rye! Official Whiskey of 2018 Sundance Film Festival Rye Finished Blended Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $40
- 101.4 Proof
- Barrel #5212
- Finish Time: 1 yr., 9 mos. - Rye
- Utah

Every so often I come into a bottle that I know I'm just never going to see again. Usually they're some private select single barrel where it's limited to whatever one barrel might have yielded. And even then, I usually know there's going to be another store pick, albeit a different barrel, somewhere in my future.

This bottle is a bit different, though. This was held back for me by a good friend who gave it to me on my last ski trip to Park City, which happened to be a week after the Sundance Film Festival. As far as I know, this was a gift shop only release, hand-selected by the powers that be at High West, and it was, as indicated by its name, released to commemorate the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Even a week later, it was gone.

This particular bottling was aged and blended in its normal course, then that blended whiskey was put into another rye whiskey barrel for finishing, which would theoretically impart more of the rye characters, such as cinnamon spice, mint, perhaps even pine and caramel.

On the nose I definitely got the pine. However, I also got a very distinct anise flavor. The cinnamon was there as well, but it came across more as buttered cinnamon toast. It was sort of spicy and sweet, all with this underlying maltiness that for fleeting moments was almost cocoa powder. Altogether it sounds like a really weird combination of aromas, but yet it really worked!

On my first sip, the first thing I noticed was the nice, oily texture. That texture delivered a great, buttery quality, which could be why the first tasting note I got was butterscotch. Immediately after that upfront, sweet butterscotch flavor, though, I got cherry (like fresh-picked cherries, not that fake cherry flavor) and pine. Again, as I write this it seems like a weird combination in my head, but it really did work.

This rye was complex and bold. Each of these flavors wasn't just sitting in the background, mixing with the others, but was bold and stood on its own. The cherry note, in particular, really stood out, even through the finish. I also got brown sugar and a light mint flavor that lingered for quite some time on the back end.  Throughout each sip was that spicy cinnamon note that, consistent with the nose, was balanced out by the malt character.

This rye had much more going on than any rye I've had in recent memory. Though the flavor profile is different, the closest comparison I have for sheer complexity and boldness is Thomas H. Handy. It packed a punch with flavor, and although on paper they don't look like they'd go together, in the bottle it all worked really well. From fruity to spicy to sweet to malty, this was an incredibly complex yet incredibly well-balanced and delicious rye . . . and I'm never going to get it again!

Grade: A

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Getting Vertical With Weller


Bourbon Facebook groups have become quite a thing. All over Facebook you can find pages where people can discuss bourbon, share bottles they've find (with the ever-present crotch-shots!), swap samples, sell and trade bottles, and even run lotteries. While I enjoy lurking in these groups (my participation is pretty minimal), I find my personal version to be so much better. After all, I've got my own close group of friends that are also whiskey enthusiasts with whom I make frequent liquor store runs, share my successes and shortcomings in tracking down elusive bottles, texting tasting notes, and, of course, otherwise engaging in various levels of debauchery.

What's great about this group, though, is that it's all about sharing the wealth. A success for one person in the group is a success for all. The relationship that one of us builds with a store owner or manager inures to the benefit of all of us. And as a result, collectively we tend to have really good whiskey at our fingertips. In fact, one day at lunch, we realized the backlog of various Weller products we had among the group of us, and we realized that we had the makings of an almost-perfect Weller vertical. Being ones to share the wealth, we decided we'd give back to some of those aforementioned liquor store relationships. A relationship is, after all, a two-way street!

And so, it came to be that on a Tuesday evening, at Monk's Pub in downtown Chicago, one of our favorite lunch spots, we were able to host a nice vertical tasting of Weller (unfortunately everything but William Larue Weller, as none of us wanted to shell out the secondary coin necessary to make that happen--we were far from feeling shorted, though). Our line-up was:
  • Weller Special Reserve
  • Weller Antique Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel #399
  • Weller Antique Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #4 NCF
  • Weller 12 Year
  • Weller C.Y.P.B.
Needless to say, even without the BTAC, it was a lineup we would never replicate again. We invited the guys from our local store, guys with whom we've come to appreciate just shooting the shit far more than their willingness to give us the head's up on new products or to hold back something we're after (though that is, obviously, incredibly appreciated!). It was the users and the dealers, all coming together to share an appreciation of good whiskey, and perhaps get a bit tipsy in the process, and we did it all without a single crotch-shot.

While I think we all enjoyed each pour, the overall consensus favorite was the Weller 12 Year.  Personally I preferred the Antique 107 Binny's Small Batch, but I was in the minority as far as picking a favorite. What was the most interesting, however, was that to a man everybody ranked the C.Y.P.B. last, behind not only the Antiques and the 12 Year, but even the Weller Special Reserve.  For all the hype that surrounds it, when put up against its brethren, it came across watery in texture, thin and fleeting in flavor, and overall unremarkable.

And so, towards the end of the evening, after the "official" tasting was completed, we found ourselves pouring the Weller 12 and the Antique Binny's Small Batch Select now that the pours were strictly for the purpose of enjoying ourselves and drinking what we wanted to drink while we continued to enjoy good food and good company.

By the end of it all, regardless of votes, regardless of hype and regardless of value or cost, what we all had was a great time of bullshitting, ball-busting and some of that good, old-fashioned debauchery, all while enjoying some really good whiskey. And that's what it's all about!!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wilderness Trail Settlers Select Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye

VITALS:
- $65
- 113 Proof
- Approx. 4 years old
- Barrel No. 15D17
- Kentucky

When a buddy of mine planned a trip to Cincinnati that would involve a side-trip across the river to Liquor City Uncorked in Kentucky, he asked what, if anything, I'd like him to bring back. The simple, generic response is always, "Whatever I can't get here in Illinois." This time, however, my request was specific. I wanted to give Wilderness Trail a try.

From the information I've gleaned, Wilderness Trail appears to be an up-and-coming craft distillery out of Kentucky, and the initial reviews are that, while their whiskey is still a bit young, it is nonetheless very good. In a way, the reviews I've been seeing reminded me of the kind of reception New Riff has been getting on their own distillate, so I was certainly intrigued.  I was given the option of the bourbon or the rye, and I had to go with the rye to start. I am a sucker for barrel strength rye, after all.

The nose gave some traditional rye whiskey notes immediately, making me like it from the start. At the forefront were notes of soft cinnamon, with only a mild bite to it, but the flavor of cinnamon was there. I also got that distinct pine note that I seem to only get in ryes.  I did get some alcohol burn, but that's to be expected given the proof. Surprisingly, I also got a light woodiness, adding just a touch of bitterness to the nose. That bitterness was overwhelmed by the heavy dose of brown sugar, however, making this more sweet than spice, at least on the nose.

The palate mostly followed suite. That brown sugar note was there and was heavy, seeming to dominate any other flavors that I was getting. It wasn't cloyingly sweet, but it had that distinct brown sugar sweetness to it throughout.

Other notes were present, however, adding a touch of complexity to this rye.  I got a little bit of the pine that I noticed on the nose, thought the flavor seemed to blend with an anise flavor as well, commingling into a sort of combination of the two. That combo flavor was layered over a vanilla cream flavor. All of these flavors combined went really well with the dominant brown sugar note.

It also had an interesting twist in there somewhere. I got dark cherry notes, that added a bit of a fruity quality as well as a certain tartness. At times I would also get this warming amaretto flavor, reminding me of times spent drinking Disaronno in high school, but with a bit more subtlety and finesse, and a bit less regret the next morning.

That brown sugar note at times was almost of a maple syrup quality. It added a certain "stickiness" to this rye. Perhaps that's why, despite the high ABV, I got very little alcohol hitting my tongue, making this a very drinkable yet relatively complex and heavy-duty rye.  I really enjoyed this and was glad to have had the chance to try it. I hope that I start seeing it on shelves in my area in the very near future.

Grade: B

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Wathen's Barrel Proof Binny's Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 117.36 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #43
- Kentucky

It seems quite some time now since Wathen's first released their barrel proof bourbon. I'm not exactly sure when that initially occurred, but I do remember there being an mild bit of hype around them and that they were somewhat sought-after bottles at the time. Beyond that initial hype, though, I heard very little about them.

However, a few months ago when Binny's got a couple different picks in, my curiosity finally got the best of me. The hype (what little of it there was) had certainly died down, but I still wondered what I had missed out on that first time around. Plus, I feel like I haven't really given the Charles Medley Distillery much attention, it having been over three years since I last tried their Single Barrel.

The nose on this one was soft and, surprisingly, fruity. I got a light raspberry note that went very nicely with a nutty, walnut like flavor.  It was a great initial aroma.  However, I also got a lot of corn on the nose, which made it smell hot. I also thought it smelled "young." I noticed that distinct, overripe apple note that I associate with young, craft whiskeys that have been bottled before they're ready. It really had me hoping that the flavor did not match the nose.

On my first sip, the first thing I noticed was the viscosity of this bourbon.  This was super buttery and oily, with a nice thick, coating mouthfeel to it, made even more noticeable by the lack of alcohol on the tongue. I also noticed right away the corn note that I was getting on the nose, but it seemed to be paired with a certain char flavor, giving the initial impression of buttered street corn.

Those initial pours also had some very strange notes that just did not go with everything else, making it kind of . . . weird. I got an odd menthol flavor, not mint but menthol, that reminded me a bit of the green NyQuil.  That was followed by an orange bitters note, kind of like what I'd imagine grilled orange peel would taste like.

Luckily, as I got towards the end of the bottle, those odd flavors seemed to transform a bit, resulting in a sweet, cinnamon and vanilla Coke flavor, which was different but good.  I also got a nice peppery spice that would linger on the tip of my tongue for quite a long time. There was also one constant from beginning to end -- a distinct tannin or bitter wood note. It wasn't strong enough to be off-putting, but it was certainly noticeable throughout.

I found I enjoyed this one more with a little ice than I did neat. It muted any bitter notes and seemed to blend the flavors together a little bit, removing some of the rough edges. Overall, however, this was just a "good" whiskey, one that I wouldn't turn away but one I'm not going to go seeking.

Grade: B

Friday, March 29, 2019

Legent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Partially Finished in Wine and Sherry Casks

VITALS:
- $35
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

When Beam Suntory announced their newest product, Legent, I was skeptical. After all, it was really being hyped as something new in the market, something that hadn't been done before. Essentially, Beam took bourbon distilled by Master Distiller Fred Noe and placed it in the hands of Suntory's Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo, who then finished the bourbon in wine and sherry casks and blended those finished bourbons with the original bourbon to produce this final product.

So, what I was reading was that Beam Suntory was producing something never done before . . . a finished bourbon. Not to sound overly cynical, though, the process behind the final product was actually pretty cool, and I wanted to give it a try nonetheless, particularly as I've enjoyed finished bourbons when they are well done.

I remained skeptical, however, as I expected this to be a limited release, highly allocated and, of course, very expensive. However, as more news about this product came out, I learned that it would actually be very accessible and would carry a price tag of only $35! And so, I made it a point to track down a bottle to give it a go.

I expected far more fruit on the nose than I got. In fact, to me it just smelled like good bourbon. It had soft caramel vanilla notes with a light pepper spice at the end. I also got a slight note of some dark fruits, or perhaps closer to a raisin note. That was the only indication on the nose of this being a wine barrel finished bourbon.

The flavor certainly gave that away, but not in the in-your-face way that so many finished bourbons do. Rather it was simply very sweet up front, with vanilla bean and blackberry notes leading the charge. It also had some brighter flavors too, like raspberry and a slight citrus quality. While sweet, it wasn't overly sweet.

There was also the underlying bourbon-esque toffee note layered underneath the berry flavors, though perhaps not as prominent as I'd have liked them to be. It also had an interesting, sharp peppery spice at the end that seemed to come out of nowhere and in the end was one of my favorite characteristics of this bottle. It gave it that peppered sweet red wine quality, but again, not in any overwhelming way.

Overall, this was a very well-balanced whiskey, not allowing the finishes to take over but rather allowing the qualities of both finishes as well as the bourbon itself to come through. Additionally, for a 94 proof whiskey, this was surprisingly viscous and buttery in texture, and, aside from that peppery bite at the end, was very smooth and approachable. For the price, this is an excellent, very well-made whiskey that beginners and connoisseurs alike can certainly appreciate.

Grade: B+

Friday, March 22, 2019

New Riff Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $55
- 112.1 Proof
- 4 years
- Barrel No. 15-1960
- Kentucky

I first heard of New Riff Distillery on some whiskey/bourbon podcast a few years back. I honestly don't remember which podcast it was—I wish I could recall. I remember that they interviewed a woman from New Riff and they discussed New Riff's business plan at that time – that being to source bourbon and brand it as O.K.I. Bourbon while they await the maturation of their own distillate. Seems to be a relatively common business plan for craft bourbon startups.

Shortly after hearing that podcast, I took a trip to Kentucky and I made it a point to grab a bottle of O.K.I. off the shelf (it wasn't available in Illinois at the time). It was a 10-year bourbon and I really enjoyed it! At the time, however, I didn't know that New Riff intended to create a line in the sand, discontinuing O.K.I. altogether when their own distillate was ready for bottling and distribution.

Fast forward a couple years, and I started seeing positive review after positive review of New Riff Bourbon and Rye, their own distillate, in Facebook groups, on Twitter and nearly everywhere else I turned. Given how much I appreciated their ability to source good whiskey, I really wanted to get my hands on some of their own make. But it wasn't distributed in Illinois.

A couple weeks ago, however, in making my usual Binny's perusal, I was immediately drawn to the top shelf, where there sat the Bottled-in-Bond and the Single Barrel New Riff Bourbons—no announcements or advertising or hoopla regarding greater distribution, it just one day appeared!

As soon as I got home I cracked the top, and the very first thing I noticed was the heavy corn content, the kind you get from most young, craft whiskeys. I also got a heavy dose of ethanol, and I was immediately preparing myself for disappointment. Aside from some redeeming notes of cinnamon and orange peel, the bitterness and otherwise noxious aromas were difficult to get past.

And yet, the flavor was a far cry from those young, "crafty" flavors that I was expecting to have to choke down. This hit like a caramel-cinnamon bomb. It unquestionably tastes older than it is. The sweet caramel really takes center stage, coating the mouth front to back in rich sweetness, while at the same time providing a decent amount of cinnamon spice to balance.

There were still some signs of this bourbon's "youngness." I did get a hint of that apple flavor that I tend to get in younger bourbons, and it still had some rough edges that would certainly mellow out with more time in the barrel. However, these flaws are slight and are out-shined by an otherwise delicious bourbon.

The last few pours really sweetened up, and all that seemed to remain was that caramel-cinnamon bomb that I got on my initial impression. I never was a fan of the nose, but the flavor was absolutely delicious, and New Riff is definitely doing something right!

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Cooper's Craft Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $23
- 82.2 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

This bottle is an interesting one to me, and one that I made it a point to seek out the last time I was in Kentucky. Cooper's Craft is a Brown-Forman release that is available only in Kentucky. That limited distribution itself was enough to make me want it, despite the mixed reviews I had seen online.

Cooper's Craft is a tribute to the coopers that make the barrels for Brown-Forman. Apparently, and I didn't know this until Cooper's Craft was initially released, Brown-Forman is the only major distillery with its own cooperage. So, to honor its coopers and the work they do and did, Brown-Forman released this whiskey, using a "proprietary toasting process" and "Beech and Birch Charcoal-filter finishing" as a nod to their craft.

This bottle was one of a handful of Kentucky-only releases that I muled back from my last trip and was one of the offerings in my "Kentucky only" whiskey tasting for my unofficial whiskey club. There it received middle-of-the-road reviews, but overall it was deemed to be inoffensive and drinkable. For $30, that's a good place to start. I then didn't revisit this whiskey for quite some time, until finally I decided I needed to go back to it for a fresh tasting.

The nose was subtle and light, forcing me to work a bit to pick up flavors. What I was able to get off of it was pretty good, however. Right away I got some spicy cinnamon and char notes (is burnt cinnamon a thing?), with a hint of sweet butterscotch. All of this seemed to be surrounded by a healthy dose of brown sugar to lend a full sweetness to the nose.

The first thing I noticed on my first sip was the watery texture. This does not immediately come across as a premium brand, but rather a mid-shelfer, readily-available-at-any-bar type bourbon. It reminded me a lot of Jim Beam white label in this respect.

Probably due at least in part to the watery texture, and not unlike White Label, there was nothing bold or complex about this bourbon's flavor. The predominant note is an unsweetened vanilla, and at times I would get a pleasant milk chocolate note.

Towards the back end I got some black pepper to spice up the finish, which I appreciated. In between, however, was this lingering flat cola note, like taking a sip out of a can of Coke that you forgot was the one you opened 6 hours earlier. Along with that flat cola note was a weird cardboard flavor that, while not offensive, wasn't necessarily enjoyable either. Aside from that, from time to time I would pick up flavors that I did enjoy, including burnt orange notes that seemed to go well with the char flavors. Those provided a nice amount of bitterness to go with the sweetness of the bourbon.

Overall, this was . . . interesting? But, I don’t consider myself a fan. While it wasn't bad, it didn't do enough for me to label it as "good" either. It was mostly just a forgettable bourbon.

Grade: C

Friday, March 8, 2019

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whisky

VITALS:
- $23
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

There seems to have been quite a bit of fanfare over this particular release from Brown-Forman. While Old Forester has had its Distillery Row series providing new bourbon releases, for the first time, Old Forester has put out a rye. Not only did they release a new product, but they released it at an incredibly affordable price, which made it very easy for a lot of people to justify taking a chance on it.

The Old Forester Rye is a higher barley mashbill than most ryes (65% rye, 20% malted barley and 15% corn). This has proven to be successful with other releases, Kentucky Owl, for example. It tends to be a slightly less spice, smoother and sweeter rye than the high rye counterparts. Perhaps that was part of the draw as well. Of course, Fred Minnick's feature in Forbes dubbing this "America's Best Value Whiskey" certainly sent a lot of people to the store to see what the hype was about. I was just excited to have a new product from one of of the big boys at an incredibly affordable price--and a rye at that!

The nose was interesting, and not quite what I was expecting in a rye. Right up front I got this burnt cherry smell (a bit weird, I know), along with a healthy dose of cinnamon and a light woody note. However, I also got a lot of bright orange, like orange blossom.  It reminded me of the Epcot ride that simulates a plane flying over the orange grove and you can smell the oranges in the air. I also got a light tobacco leaf note (likely from the barley), and later I picked up notes of pine and anise. Overall, the nose was bright and rich all at the same time.

As for flavor, the predominant flavors were vanilla and mint. In that way it comes across as very mellow, with light spice, and it certainly has a cooling note to it.  At times I also got a peppery spice at the tip of my tongue as the whiskey hit my mouth.

Mid-way through I started to get orange and brown sugar notes. Those seemed to couple with a dark chocolate bitterness, and it all worked really well together. The brown sugar seemed to temper the bitterness, while the orange added a nice splash of flavor that made this rye a bit unique. It was definitely sweet, but not without its spiciness.

This rye was a bit watery in texture, but it still carried a big punch of flavor. While it didn't last long on the finish, it was nonetheless easy to dive right back in for that next sip. As I finished my bottle, I also started to get some notes of black tea, and the light spiciness from earlier seemed to carry forward a bit more, turning into a sweet cinnamon.

By the time I finished the last sip, I was thinking I needed to grab a back-up. Luckily, though, this rye is supposed to be here for a while, and I hope that's the case. This was an excellent pour at an excellent price. Although it's been hyped, at least it's also very accessible (both in supply and in price).

Grade: B+

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Benromach 30 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

VITALS:
- $450.00
- 86 Proof
- 30 Years
- Speyside

It's been a long time since I've done a Scotch review on here. For one reason or another, I've found myself focusing more on rye and bourbon--a matter of personal preference, really. But, thanks to a ridiculously generous gift, this amazing, 30 year old single malt landed in my lap!! I have never had a whisky this old before, so that in and of itself is a first. Plus, I've never (nor do I anticipate ever) spent this much on a single bottle of whiskey. The price is nuts to me, but with Scotch you certainly pay for age.

This was absolutely a special occasion pour. I only went to this bottle when friends were over--fellow whisky drinkers that I haven't seen in a while, or my good drinking buddies who just had to try this. It was also a Christmas and New Year's pour, and last night, it was my early Fat Tuesday (Fat-urday?) pour to finish off the bottle. I didn't want to see it go, but I felt the occasion justified the kill.

The nose was malty and sweet. I got a lot of bread and yeast notes along with some light milk chocolate. It had just a slight amount of baking spices to give it a little bit of kick, which was rounded out by a hint of plum or some other stone fruit, perhaps a mild cherry flavor. All of this seemed to roll over a constant sweet tobacco leaf aroma that was absolutely delicious smelling.

My first impressions of this Scotch were that it was very bready. I don't know what I expected from such a well-aged Scotch, but I thought I was going to get a lot of complexity and perhaps more wood influence. At first all I really got were those sweet bread notes. It also had a distinct tea flavor to it that I thought was interesting--something I haven't really noticed elsewhere. Perhaps this is where the wood influence came in.

After those initial pours, however, this really developed into a complex, delicate, and incredibly delicious whisky.  A nice floral note (yes, I have eaten a flower before) seemed to develop on the front end of each sip before giving way to the other flavors. I also started to get sweeter notes of honey and vanilla. Although it's entirely unrelatable to anyone reading this, it reminded me of my grandma's house, where with every meal we had homemade bread with honey-butter made with homemade honey. It's a simple yet indelible memory, and this whisky brought me back to it.'

It came across as very oily and buttery, and it really coated the mouth well, leaving those bread and honey notes to linger for a long time after each sip. The tea notes eventually faded away, but at times I got a certain earthy note, kind of like a sweeter mushroom flavor. That sounds weird, but that was as best as I could put my finger on the note. It gave it a bit of an "old" taste, and if I'm looking for flaws, I guess this would be it.

That being said, that "old" note was fleeting, and it hardly took away from the honey forward notes that I got, particularly on the last few pours. As mentioned above, this is a complex and delicate whisky, and one I never would have tried but for a very generous gift. While it may not be the best Scotch I've ever head, it certainly was incredible, and I'm sure I'll shed a brief tear as I toss this one into the recycling bin.

Grade: A

Friday, March 1, 2019

Joseph Magnus Triple Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $100
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 54
- Indiana

I can't say for sure that I ever would have gotten around to purchasing a bottle of Joseph Magnus myself. I've had pours in the past, and while I liked it then, it just didn't do enough for me to justify the hefty price tag. It just didn't move the needle enough.

However, following a great outcome at work, a happy client sent me a bottle, which I was more than happy to accept and enjoy. After all, the fact that it's MGP bourbon finished in two different sherry casks and cognac casks alone piqued my interest, and I was very excited to give this whiskey full consideration.

The nose was full of aromas, probably more than I was even able to pick out. This really had a lot going on before I even took my first sip. It had bold and rich notes of plum and almond which hit the olfactory senses like a brick. I also got some raspberry notes, which I usually get from any sherry finished whiskeys. These dark fruit and bright berry notes were delicious smelling and were layered over an underlying vanilla note that made this come across as very dessert-like.

The palate was a bit different than expected given the nose, however.  Rather than the raspberry notes that I expected, I got orange peel and dark fruits. The plum came through but also some blackberry or even dark cherry. Those fruit flavors had a bit more tartness to them than I expected.

It also had some savory notes as well. I got some dark chocolate, that worked really well with the orange peel flavors. It also had a certain nutty quality to it. At first I had pinned it as a cashew note. However, the more of this I had, the more that note seemed to turn into an almond flavor, and it really took over the flavor profile. It was almost as though someone had taken a bit of amaretto liqueur and added it directly to my bottle. It was that strong of a note, and, unfortunately, it pushed the other good chocolate, vanilla and dark fruit notes to the background.

Throughout this bottle, with each pour, I got a slight but off-putting flavor that seemed to not belong in this whiskey (or any other whiskey for that matter). It took me some time at first to figure out what I was tasting, because it wasn't strong. As soon as I placed it as a burnt rubber note, however, I found that I just couldn't get past it. I don't want to say that it ruined it for me, but I certainly feel that I would have enjoyed this whiskey much more had I been able to get past that. It was a really bad note, even if it were subtle.

And that was really the only thing subtle about this whiskey. This is a bold, in-your-face-with-flavor whiskey, which I'm guessing is what they were aiming for. However, certain notes, like the strong amaretto flavor, were just too strong, and I think in the end it had too much going on. I'm guessing this is probably what resulted in what I was tasting as an off-note. For the price, it just didn't live up.

Grade: B-

Friday, February 22, 2019

Old Fitzgerald 9 Year Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $90
- 100 Proof
- 9 Years
- Kentucky

This was one of those pure-dumb-luck pick-ups for me. I've had the regular Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, and while it was a good pour, it just didn't strike me as something to chase down in the event there's ever a premium offering. However, being the opportunist that I am, I wasn't about to let one get away when I found it in the wild, and at retail, this despite it sitting next to an 11-year version at a significant markup.

While I typically don't comment on packaging or labels, in this case I will, because this is one beautiful bottle. Replace the cork stopper with a glass stopper and this would make an excellent, permanent decanter. As I'm writing this I'm trying to figure out something to do with it to keep from throwing it away. Perhaps now is the time to start an infinity bottle!

 The nose was soft, but very sweet. It was heavy on the caramel and brown sugar, but it also had a certain level of char to it as well. All in all it came across as a delicious creme brulee! It also had some light pepper balanced by a bit of sweet vanilla.  Although it may sound like a balanced and delicious dessert, it did have some rough edges on the aroma, just something sharp to it, perhaps from that pepper spice.

On the first couple pours, I really liked this bourbon. I found it to be soft and subtle, but what flavors were there were very enjoyable. I got an initial dose of caramel and vanilla, with even a bit of chocolate flavor to go with. There was a mild cinnamon undertone that I found to be enjoyable as well, even if I wished it were more prominent.

However, I found myself liking this one less and less as I worked my way through the bottle. It seemed to take on a certain dryness that wasn't there initially, creating a tannic, bitter note on the back of my tongue. I also found that I got a lot more corn up front the more of it that I had. This made it hot without being spicy. 

It did develop a nice amaretto flavor that I really enjoyed, only I wish there were more of it. That flavor seemed to disappear pretty quickly, turning into more of a cardboard note. And yet, it still remained sweet, which just didn't jive.

I really wanted to like this one, and at first I thought I was going to. It drank like an easy sipper with good, albeit subtle notes of caramel and vanilla. However, I eventually started to notice flavors that just either weren't as enjoyable or did not seem to work with the other flavors. I heard good things about these releases, and the 9-year in particular, but this one just didn't do it for me. It was good, but certainly did not live up to expectations.

Grade: B-

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Old Ezra 7 Year Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $35
- 117 Proof
- 7 Years
- Kentucky

Old Ezra has been on the shelves for quite a long time now, without very much fanfare at all. At most, all I had heard was that their 7 year, 101 proof bourbon is a "solid pour," something I've heard said about many otherwise sub-par bourbons. So, I've never given it a whole lot of thought. However, seemingly out of nowhere, Luxco released a barrel strength bourbon, and suddenly there was this Old Ezra product out there that became a must-have.

In this case, I'm sure price had played a significant role. After all, how many other barrel proof bourbons at this age (or younger for that matter) can you find on the shelves for $35-40?  With that price and with reviewers consistently giving it high marks, I had to track it down. Best of all, that didn't prove to be a very difficult task, merely involving walking into my local store and asking for it.

The nose came across as a mix of vanilla, cloves and cinnamon. It had that spicy baking aroma that reminds me of Christmas time. Complementing the vanilla and cinnamon was this unsweetened apple note that really put the exclamation point on it.  It smelled rich and sweet, but also had that balance of oak to temper that sweetness. Most noticeably, however, was how pungent was. These aromas weren't merely "there," but are strong and up front. The alcohol was strong as well, giving a nice burn, but that seemed to fade away pretty quickly.

Right up front I was hit with a heavy dose of cinnamon which sat on the tip of my tongue. Slowly, however, other notes seemed to overcome that cinnamon note. I got a nice, sweet maple syrup note, along with a bright cherry. Those flavors blended into a delicious combination. This bourbon had a nice, oily texture to it, that allowed the flavors to stick around for quite a while and kind of meld together.

On the back end, I got a lot of brown sugar and sweet cinnamon, like red hots candies. That was balanced, however, by a mild vanilla bean flavor. I also still got that cherry note, although on the back end it reminded me more of cooked cherries. That cooked cherry note lingered for a long time on the finish, which is quite frankly what I think made me decide that I love this bourbon.

The only minor quibble was on the finish, though, where I got a slight tannic bitterness that, along with the heat from the high proof, seemed to distract from all the other good flavors that were going on.

I recently had a discussion with a good friend of mine about my reviews, and he was of hte mind that reviews should be done in a vacuum, with no consideration of price. While I understand his viewpoint, this is one of those bottles that reminds me why I take price into consideration when I'm giving my grade. Because, if this were a $55 bottle, like Booker's or Stagg Jr., it would probably be right on par, perhaps even receiving a slightly lower grade. But at the $35-40 range, this is an incredible bourbon for the price, one worth stocking up on.

Grade: B+/A-

Saturday, February 9, 2019

J.W. Dant Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $23/1 Liter
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I feel like it's been some time since I've visited a regular shelfie. Lately I've had various limited releases or store picks, and I'm certainly not complaining. However, there are still so many standard offerings at great prices lining the shelves that I have yet to give a try. So, with this bottle, I'm making a conscious effort to get back to trying more of these "everyday" whiskeys.

J.W. Dant intrigued me because it checks so many boxes for me: (1) it's bottled in bond, which means it's higher proof, but not high proof; (2) it's a Heaven Hill product, who does bottled in bond bourbons so well; (3) it's at a great price point; and (4) you get a little bit more whiskey given that it comes in a liter bottle.  On top of all that, of the mentions or reviews I've seen around the web and on social media, it's regarded pretty favorably.

The nose on this whiskey is absolutely delicious. If I graded the nose only, it'd be an A+.  It had a nice, chocolate and salted caramel smell, almost like the smell of a sweets shop. There was also a very light smokey quality that I didn't expect but certainly loved. I don't know if it came from the grain or not, but I also got a distinct caramel corn note. The nose absolutely had me salivating and diving in for that first sip.

Although this bourbon was a bit thin in texture, it still had some pretty bold flavors. Most noticeable was a woody, walnut flavor. It had that earthy walnut quality with the slightest bit of bitterness. At times the bitterness seemed to come from an orange peel note, but I didn't seem to get that consistently. This was all rounded out by a light note of sweet vanilla, like vanilla bean, and even a light milk chocolate flavor. The sweetness and the earthy bitterness all seemed to work really well together, as I found neither one to come anywhere close to being off-putting.

Throughout my enjoyment of this bottle, it was generally sweet with a light, spicy finish. That caramel corn note that I got on the nose even appeared once in a while, and I really wished that flavor had suck around a bit longer on the finish. However, after each sip I had a rich toffee flavor lingering on my lips that I really enjoyed. It was almost surprising, as I didn't get a strong toffee note on the palate. 

That toffee note also made for an interesting mix with the clove spice that stuck at the back of my throat, and lingered there for far longer than I expected given the thin texture. Again, it wasn't strong, but it was still a nice contrast. Not much more than that was happening on the finish, but it was nonetheless very enjoyable.

Although I didn't find this whiskey to be too complex (its nose was far more complex than its taste), it was still delicious and easily a regular drinker.  Its easy to find and can be had for a great price, it's got enough heat without too much heat, and though the flavors aren't complex, they're still very tasty and very up front. I absolutely could (and did) drink this day after day.

Grade: B

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Russel's Reserve Binny's Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 110 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #18-0137
- Kentucky

I haven't ever had a private selection of Russel's Reserve before. I've had a private selection of Kentucky Spirit, but for whatever reason I never grabbed one of these. Even this one was a Christmas gift from my wife. I don't know why, but I just never grabbed one off the shelf whenever I saw one.  That has likely changed going forward, though.

First of all, as I've said repeatedly in this blog, I love free whiskey! This is no exception. However, I always do my best to not let that skew my reviews.

The nose was certainly sweeter than other Wild Turkey products I've had. It almost had a maple syrup and vanilla quality to it, but without being cloyingly sweet if that makes sense. Perhaps it's because that sweet quality on the nose was balanced out a bit by some dark cherry tartness. Also, I've always found Wild Turkey products to have a certain funk to them, something I've always noticed on the nose. Not the case here.

The flavor had a sweetness to match the nose. It wasn't so maple syrup flavored, but rather a cinnamon and brown sugar flavor. It also had a slight chocolate flavor that seemed to add a bit of smoothness to round out that dessert-like profile.

This was one of those whiskeys where I noticed something different with nearly every pour. A couple times I poured a glass and I got a distinct sugar cookie flavor. As I thought about it more, I decided that it was more accurately a snicker-doodle flavor, like a sugar cookie but with some cinnamon and a slight bit of tang to it.

I also felt at points that it had a spiced baked apple pie note going on. The flavor was fleeting, but it was distinct and unavoidable. Even the final pours of this had a bit of a maraschino cherry flavor to them. They were sweet, but always had that bite to them to again balance out that flavor.

While this bottle didn't exactly blow me away, what it did provide was a lot of character, complexity, and a veritable cornucopia of flavors that seemed to change with each pour. In that sense, this was one of the more fun bottles I've enjoyed in quite some time. I can't tell you the last time I got snicker-doodle, that specific flavor, in a whiskey, but here it was. This was a very good bottle, and I will certainly make it a point to try other private select Russel's Reserve going forward. After all, I've never really had any good reason not to in the first place.

Grade: B+

Friday, January 25, 2019

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Selection Barrel #7674 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 14 Years, 1 Month
- Kentucky

I'm starting to feel like a broken record about this, but these Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve private selections are possibly the best thing going in the bourbon industry right now. They're very affordable, pretty readily available, always good, and sometimes great!!  I keep buying them over and over for this very reason. This one, however, was a Christmas gift from a friend who is fully aware of my love for these bottlings, though, and I couldn't have been more thrilled, as I had not grabbed one for myself when Binny's got them in.

This particular barrel for me falls in the "great" category.  From the first pop of the cork, my nose was filled with pungent and rich notes of dark chocolate and caramel. I got surprisingly little wood on the nose, but it did have an undercurrent of darker fruits, like figs or raisins. The alcohol was almost not noticeable, perhaps masked by the other rich aromas.

The burn that was missing from the nose hit me right up front on my tongue on the first sip. However, it dissipated very quickly, turning to a rich mixture of brown sugar, butter and dark chocolate. This first pour was really the only time that I noticed the alcohol burn, and it was completely absent from later pours. It took on a very dessert-like quality, but not a cloyingly sweet dessert. Rather it was more of a decadent and rich dessert, like a dark chocolate mousse.

There was just the right amount of cinnamon spice that lingered on the back end, along with something a bit sweet and grainy, like graham crackers. The result was a great, lingering flavor with a nice mix of sweet and spice where neither one was overdone. And, though I couldn't find it in the nose or on the tongue, this bourbon offered a nice, long, lingering "Kentucky hug," which was perfect on these cold Chicago nights we've had lately.

Interestingly, while I didn't get any wood on the nose (and I was searching for it given the age of this barrel), in later pours those wood notes really seemed to come through. I've always favored bourbons that provided that nice, balanced wood note (something that seems to be so easily overdone) This one was right in my wheel-house. It had just enough dry, woody notes to add that much more character without taking away from the other incredible flavors that were happening. The sweeter lingering finished likely helped with that as well.

The past few Binny's Knob Creek private barrels I've grabbed have fallen in the "very good" category. This one reminded me, however, of why I keep going back to this well, because this one is solidly within the "great" category. Binny's scored an absolute winner here!

Grade: A

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Early Times Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $23
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

For some reason I was under the impression that this was a Kentucky-only release. At the very least, I thought it was released only in certain states, none of which were Illinois. Turns out I was simply wrong, and for some reason it just never crossed my path. However, on a random stop at a new liquor store while taking a detour on my way home from work, I saw it for the first time sitting on the bottom shelf, plenty in stock and a great-looking price (especially for a 1 liter bottle)!

I had hear really good things about this new (at the time) Brown-Forman product, and it seemed to be getting the kind of love that the Rebel Yell 10-Year received, a variant on a bottom-shelf expression deserving of a promotion. Even when I was in the check-out line a random employee commented on this being a great bourbon.

The nose is soft and subtle. Although the notes didn't smack me in the face, they were well worth taking the time. I got a nice mix of light wood notes mixed with cinnamon and cooked cherry notes. I was surprised at the wood tones, as this isn't a very old whiskey. The cherry and cinnamon offered just the right amount of sweetness to make for a really pleasant blend. All mixed together, it seemed to take on a bit of a cocoa powder note as well.

On my first sip, the first thing I noticed is that, while this is not a thick, oily, complex whiskey, the flavors that are there are not only very noticeable, but they all seem to work really well with one another. Right away I got notes of almond, cinnamon and brown sugar, giving the whiskey certain dessert-like qualities, while at the same time maintaining a certain amount of savoriness to give it balance.

Despite the sweetness up front, the cinnamon heat seemed to linger for quite a while, providing a nice warmth from the middle to the back that seemed to last for quite a while. It also coated the mouth quite nicely, and certainly more than I would have expected given the texture and the lack of any really noticeable "legs" on my glass.

I really loved the balance of this whiskey, as it had just the right amount of sweet with heat to give me the best of everything I love in bourbon. It even had a nice, light wood note, not enough to dry it out, but just enough to add another interesting twist to the profile.

On later pours I found myself noticing a lingering caramel note that stuck around in the back of my throat along with the cinnamon spice.  I also had a couple pours where the flavors up front melded together to provide a sweet amaretto flavor that I really enjoyed.

Regardless of what I noticed and what I didn't, what it comes down to is that this bourbon was surprisingly complex in flavor, and everything was incredibly well-balanced. This is one that, if I come across it again in the future, I'm going to be sure to grab to keep a bottle on hand. If it weren't for the fact that I can't seem to find it, this would probably be my every day pour!

Grade: A-

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Starlight Distillery Binny's Private Selection Single Barrel Straight Rye Barrel #1372

VITALS:
- $55
- 119.2 Proof
- 3 years
- Barrel No. 1372
- Indiana

I was wondering through Benny's the other day, making my usual perusal through the bourbon and rye section, and I managed to strike up a conversation with a very friendly gentleman who happened to be one of the guys who picks barrels for Binny's. During our conversation, I expressed my love for the Willett Family Estate ryes, specifically the recent four-year rye that was released. Not much more came of the conversation, I made my purchases, and I went on my way.

The next day, while making a wine run for my wife, I was tracked down once again by the very same gentleman. He informed me of this distillery down in Indiana called Starlight Distillery. He explained that this is a family-run farm in southern Indiana that has been distilling spirits for approximately 10 years. However, for the first five years they only had an experimental license. So, while their whiskey being bottled is somewhat young, they've been distilling for quite a while and know what they're doing. I haven't verified any of this information, just passing along what I was told.

He explained how he had the pleasure of going to this barrel tasting where they selected this particular bottling of the Starlight Rye. The reason he was telling me all this is that he believed it to be fairly comparable to the Willett Family Estate rye, and also a decent value at $55. I'm sure he had a certain amount of bias towards this whiskey as well, given that he was involved in the selection process. Nonetheless, I was sold.

Of course once home I immediately cracked this open and poured myself a glass (and a glass of wine for my wife as well). Right away I noticed that the nose does have many of the same characteristics that I found and the Willett Family Estate 4-year Rye. It had a fruity, yet spicy character to it. It was almost as though it were raisins soaked in a red wine, like a Cabernet, and then hit with a bunch of cinnamon. The aroma was pungent, and at the same time earthy, fruity and spicy.

On the first sip, up front I immediately got hit with those dark fruit notes. It had certain wine characteristics to it that I really loved, even with a bit of tannin. Those notes weren't strong or overpowering, as you get with some wine barrel finished whiskeys. However, those notes of dark fruit, such as cherry and raisin, certainly were at the forefront.

As I made my way into the bottle, other more dessert-like notes began to come through. Certainly the cinnamon was present, offering a decent amount of spice from beginning to the end. It also had a hint of a butterscotch note on the tongue that seemed to play well with the wine notes that I was getting. Additionally, there was a hint of pine to add a little bit of a unique characteristic to this Rye. All in all, it came off as bold and rich, and fairly complex in flavor. Even the mouth feel was nice and oily, likely due to the fact that it was bottled that barrel proof. While it did have hints of being a young whiskey, I wasn't smacked in the face with those typical qualities of a young whiskey as I so often am. Rather, this came across as a young rye that stands up very well.

My only disappointment with this bottle was the finish. While everything was great up front and in the middle, on the end I found it to be very bitter and tannic. It was the kind of bitter that I notice on the sides of my tongue long after each poor. Unfortunately, the cinnamon flavors, the sweet butterscotch notes and those wine notes didn't really seem to linger. Rather, I was left with this lingering bitter note, which was a bit off-putting. Luckily, the front end of this poor was good enough that I found myself nonetheless going back for that next sip relatively quickly.

I really loved the recommendation from the Binny's employee here. I like the fact that he gave me a recommendation based on my stated preferences, and I also like the fact that he referred me to something unique, something that he was fairly certain I had never tried. In fact, this is one of the most nondescript bottles and labels that I have ever seen. I had probably looked at this bottle numerous times and never given it a second thought, which is quite frankly a shame. The label design certainly leaves much to be desired. However, the whiskey inside the bottle was absolutely delicious, and it certainly will have me looking out for other offerings from Starlight Distillery.

Grade: B

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Buffalo Trace Cap n' Cork & Catablu Grille Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $26
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 13
- Kentucky

As I travel, whether by plane or car, and whether for work or pleasure, I can't help but scan every sign and every strip mall I pass looking for liquor stores. This is especially true when I'm out of state, figuring that, while for the most part I'll see the same stuff on the shelves, sometimes there are things distributed in Indiana, for example, that just aren't available in Illinois.  Plus, you never know when you may come across a store or chain that surprises you with available store picks to try, something I certainly can't get anywhere else.

My job has required me to take somewhat frequent trips to Fort Wayne lately, and on each drive I pass Cap n' Cork, which I could tell just from the road was a decent-sized store that would likely have a pretty good selection.  So naturally, I took a brief side trip and stopped in. Much to my pleasure, not only did they have a good selection of bourbons, but they had multiple store picks on their shelves, including Knob Creek, Maker's Mark and this bottle of Buffalo Trace.  At $26, it was a no-brainer to pick this up and give it a try. That's about as "low-risk" as you can get.

Though I had only just learned of Cap n' Cork, and I have not heard of, yet been to, Catablu Grille, I was excited to pop this open and give it a try. The nose provided quite the bouquet of aromas, with brown sugar right up front, along with some anise notes to give it a twist and a solid layer of vanilla. I also got a hint of sweet pipe tobacco, kind of what I'm used to getting from an Irish whiskey. The nose had a nice balance of sweet and earthy notes that was really enjoyable.

Although thin in texture, this bottle offered a lot of complexity in flavor. There's no question that this bourbon is on the sweeter side, but it's a kind of subtle sweetness, with soft notes of caramel and vanilla (certainly nothing slapping me in my face with flavor). I even got a bit of flavor that reminded me of chocolate milk.

On the back end I got some nice but subtle warm cinnamon, which carried with it a bit of a pine note. This was all layered on top of a consistent caramel flavor that persisted from front to back.

The finish on this one was interesting. Despite being sweet but not overly sweet on the palate, it had a finish that was very sweet. It left my mouth with flavors of brown sugar and cotton candy. It seems an odd mix, but in the end it resulted in a sort of candy corn flavor. Of course, this was accompanied by that same caramel flavor that was always around. While enjoyable, this was one of the sweetest finishes I can recall having in a whiskey in a very long time.

All in all, given the low proof and thin texture, this bourbon had a lot going on. It provided for a fun and interesting pour every time, and one that I couldn't help but contemplate about how much I enjoyed it with each sip. In fact, it served very well as my New Year's Eve drink! While the finish was overly sweet for my tastes, this was still an excellent pour, and easily a recommended buy at this price. So, if you're ever in the Fort Wayne area, be sure to stop in to Cap n' Cork and grab a bottle (or try it at Catablu Grille--though I haven't confirmed, I'd imagine they've got some to serve up)!

Grade: B+