Saturday, August 17, 2019

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

- $45
- 125 Proof
- 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

- $24
- 90 Proof
- 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

- $40
- 120 Proof
- 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+

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Old Overholt Bonded Straight Rye Whiskey

- $22
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

I was just on vacation in Oregon, and we spent our first night in Portland city limits.  Actually, we were in a hotel on an island on the river, and there was one liquor store within walking distance. Of course, we arrived on a Sunday, so I had to wait until my second day to make my first liquor store run. Unfortunately, the selection was just meh.

I had actually grabbed a rye from a local distillery, figuring even if it were bad, at least I was trying something local and regional. However, when I chose a bottle and carried it to the counter (I won't name names), the clerk looked at it and immediately informed me that it was terrible, while wearing one of the distillery's shirts, I might add. 

So, I was left with the choice of grabbing something I know will be decent and enjoying it on vacation, or trying something that is local and not available back home, but may not be very good. wanting to make sure I enjoyed every second of my vacation, I went with the Old Overholt BIB Rye.  In retrospect, I feel like I should have gone with a local distillery, but this bottle was gone within a few days in any event, so it couldn't have been all bad.

The nose carried that traditional cinnamon note from the rye. I also got a certain dark fruit note, and the closest I could pinpoint it was to a raisin flavor, though it wasn't quite. Perhaps raisin with plum. I also got a bit of dark chocolate on the nose, which was a welcome surprise. However, I also got a good amount of corn, a smell I've always associated with young bourbons, and that just didn't really do it for me.

On my first sip, my immediate thought was that this rye is a bit rough around the edges. By that I mean that the alcohol came through more than the proof should allow.  It also had sharp, bitter notes of hot corn flavors (again, that young whiskey note) as well as a pine note that was not of the enjoyable variety.

I did get some of the raisin that I got on the nose, and I also got some anise. The cinnamon that was prevalent on the nose was not as strong in the flavor profile. I also got lots of caramel, which was certainly needed in this whiskey, but at times it turned to more of a burnt sugar note. That coincided with a bit of a char note that I noticed from time to time.

The finish was very cereal-like. It wasn't sweet and didn't have any lingering enjoyable flavors. Rather, it was corny and woody and didn't exactly have me yearning for that next sip.

As noted above, after the fact I feel like I probably should have just tried something local, and I regret my decision. But, in the moment, with my vacation just starting out and wanting to get something decent to enjoy over the next few days, I went with this. While, at this price point, I can't say that it disappointed, it also didn't do much for me either

Grade: B-

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Willett Family Estate Binny's Select 5 Year Single Barrel Bourbon - Barrel #4759

- $90
- 128.6 Proof
- 5.5 Years
- Barrel #4759
- Kentucky

It had been a long time since I had seen a Willett Family Estate store pick hit the shelves. In fact, the last one that I saw was an 8-year single barrel rye that I picked up at Binny's back in April 2015--almost a four-year dry spell. So, when word got out that Binny's got in two bourbons (this one and a 6-year) and a rye, I knew I would be doing all I could to get my hands on any of them.

Luckily for me, I was able to get my hands on a bottle of the 6-year rye as well as this 5-year bourbon (which I was told was actually 5 1/2 years), and my buddy managed to get the 6-year bourbon. So I got the chance to try all three!  That was a few months ago that these went on sale, and the demand after such a long hiatus was incredible, and I felt very lucky.

The nose to this one was just soft and pillowy and very inviting in that sense. It had aromas of light baking spices and also a creamy nougat note to it. I also got somewhat of a fruity characteristic to it, like slightly under-ripe strawberries as well as a crisp pear note. Interestingly, I got almost zero alcohol on the nose. It smelled amazing, and the flavor followed suit!

This tasted far older than its 5 1/2 years. I got warm baking spices on the tongue immediately, along with a bit of a bready, yeast quality. The fruit notes were present as well. Although I didn't get the strawberry (I really wanted to find it but it just wasn't there), I still got the pear. However, it was more of a baked pear note, paired with sweet cinnamon. And yet, I still somehow got a refreshing and crisp quality out of this that I associate more with those fresh fruit notes.

The alcohol was certainly more noticeable on the palate than it was on the nose. However, it didn't seem to last long enough to get in the way of any of the other flavors. Along with the baked pear, I also got some earthy notes that I've always seemed to notice in Willett products, something a bit malt-like to them.  Here, it worked very well with everything else that was going on.

This had a super buttery texture to it, and that coating left behind a lingering pepper and cinnamon spice that seemed to last forever. It wasn't all spice, though, as there was also a distinct sweet note that lingered for a long time on the finish as well, kind of a hard candy quality that carried that pear and pepper.

I absolutely loved this bottle! And, I liked it significantly more than I did the 6-year that my friend picked up. As said above, it seemed like a much older whiskey, with a lot of complexity and an incredible mouthfeel that really emphasized all the delicious notes going on.  I'm sure most of these bottles are long gone at this point, but I'm very glad I was able to scoop this one up.  I miss it already!

Grade: A

Friday, July 26, 2019

Maker's Mark Private Select Binny's Beverage Depot - RW Kentucky Bourbon

- $70
- 109.4 Proof
- Finish: 2 Baked American Pure 2; 5 Seared French Cuvee; 1 Maker's 46; 2 Roasted French Mocha
- Kentucky

First, let me start off by saying that I tend to love the Maker's Mark Private Selects. Even at $70 a bottle, I consider it a great buy, because I've always gotten very good bottles, and sometimes I end up getting an absolutely great bottle! So, when my local liquor store guy told me that he had and a few other guys had picked four bottles for Binny's, I knew I'd have to grab the one he chose (designated by the "RW").

Mr. RW and I don't always see eye to eye on flavor. We don't always like the same thing, especially when it comes to anise notes in our bourbon. He's a huge fan while to me it's a complete turnoff. But, if I was going to try one of these four picks, there was no question I was going to give his a go.

The nose was pungent and full of rich caramel and spicy cinnamon notes. It was a great combo that made me salivate every time, like one of Pavlov's dogs. I also got some light cherry notes, and even a light chocolate note that I loved.

As for flavor, it was a lot more cinnamon forward. It also had a bit of dark chocolate, providing some sweetness as well as some bitterness to offset the sweet cinnamon. What I got as cherry on the nose seemed to come through as more of an amaretto note on the palate, and some coffee notes came through as well.

There's no question this was a sweeter whiskey, as at times it almost had a maple syrup flavor and sweetness to it. However, it was kept from being overly sweet by the slight bitterness that I attributed to the dark chocolate flavors, as well as the nice heat from the proof and the cinnamon spice. This was one bourbon where everything balanced really well and worked perfectly together to create a rich, bold and absolutely delicious bourbon.

The finish was likewise full of delicious cinnamon, a nice combination of sweet and heat. This bourbon had a nice, oily texture that really coated the mouth and throat, causing these flavors to linger for ever. I even got this buttery chocolate note that seemed to stick at the back of my throat, just out of reach of my taste buds but still back there adding another layer of flavor.

I feel like I may come across as a bit of a shill for this bourbon just because my guy picked it, but I assure you he's recommended multiple whiskeys that simply haven't done it for me, and I'm more than happy to let him know when my palate disagrees. However, with this pick, he hit it out of the park!

Grade: A

Monday, July 22, 2019

Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Rye

- $45 (1 Liter)
- 101 Proof
- Kentucky

I've always felt I've owed it to myself to give Wild Turkey 101 Rye a try. Being the rye lover that I am, and given that I really like other Turkey Ryes, not to mention that I'm a fan of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, it just seemed like a glaring gap in the whiskeys I've tried.  So, I added it to my list and was going to make it a point to pick up a bottle.

And I could have sworn that this stuff was always on the shelf, that it'd be easy to find. But, that provided not to be the case.  My usual haunts did not seem to ever carry it. Places were I know I had seen it before were suddenly out. It was as though I made the conscious decision to finally pick up a bottle at the beginning of a WT 101 Rye drought.  The regular Wild Turkey rye was more than available, but by this point my mind was set.  Luckily for me, it made its way back, and this time I didn't hesitate to grab my bottle.

On the nose I got a heavy dose of cinnamon, which was not altogether unexpected.  I figured given that Wild Turkey bourbon is generally on the spicier side, I could expect no less, if not a whole bunch more, from their rye. So far it was not disappointing. I also got some light wood notes, kind of a saw dust quality. That woody quality was well balanced by a sweet caramel note, however. Finally, I noticed a bit of pine, which on later pours seemed to be even more pronounced.

As far as the flavor goes, this one really hit all the right notes for me in a rye. It had the nice spicy cinnamon layered over rich vanilla.  The pine from the nose also came through in the flavor, but not in any obtrusive fashion, rather just enough to notice it's there.

On the back end, a bit of mint seemed to make its way through, along with a Big Red type cinnamon note that lingered for a long while at the back of my throat.  The spicy character really lead the way from beginning to end with this one.

What really drove it home for me on this one, though, was the strong, underlying caramel note throughout each sip from front to back. It was the kind of smooth, creamy caramel note that I usually associate with a really good bourbon and that I don't always get in a rye. But here, that caramel note was prevalent from the tip of my tongue to the back of my throat, and it was delicious, working well wit the cinnamon, the pine, and even the mint in a weird way.

Now don't get me wrong, I realize this review was full of nothing but love, and this is not the greatest rye I've ever put to my lips. However, this review can be distilled down to this -- this is a really good rye that is well worth the price (particularly for a liter), will deliver on spice, and will remain consistent. While I don't repeat bottles too often, this is one that I will most certainly buy again to keep on hand.

Grade: B+

Saturday, July 13, 2019

New Riff Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Rye

- $45
- 100 Proof
- 4 years
- Bottled Spring 2019
- Kentucky

I could not have been more excited when New Riff finally made it into our market here in Illinois. In fact, I grabbed the Single Barrel Bourbon at the same time I grabbed this rye, and I ended up plowing through that bottle.  I had heard only great things about their bottled in bond rye, and so I held off on opening that one, saving it for a time when I was in the mood for a good rye (which, quite honestly, was only a few days after I finished the Single Barrel).

This is a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted rye, so 100% rye, which already differentiates it from pretty much every other rye out of Kentucky. New Riff is certainly aware of what's trending as well, as they state right on the front of their bottle that this is "without chill filtration." Just what us whiskey geeks want to see!

The nose was everything I've come to expect from younger ryes.  It had the usual cinnamon, but it also had a light sweetness to it, a sort of essence of caramel that was really nice. I did get a light pine note, which at times just came across as more of a woody or oak note. At times I got something floral off of it, but I had a hard time narrowing it down beyond that. It just came across as a light whiskey.

The palate was pretty consistent with the nose. It did not have any sort of viscosity to it, which lended to it coming across as a lighter whiskey on the palate as well.  Up front the light sweetness was there, somewhere between caramel and toffee--a bit more rich than what came across on the nose. There was also a fleeting but distinct mint note that came across the tip of my tongue.

Pine notes seemed to come through now and then, but other than that caramel note, none of the flavors seemed to linger very long. It had the nice cinnamon and peppery spice that I love in rye, and those flavors were in sufficient abundance to keep me going back for that next pour.

The finish was short, but it did have that nice balance of sweet and heat, with caramel and vanilla blending with cinnamon on the back end. I did find a bit of a dill flavor lingered after each sip, however, which, while certainly not offensive, just seemed to be out of place with everything else going on with this whiskey.

Ultimately, this is a very solid rye, and if you're a rye guy (or gal), by all means give this a go. While it may not have knocked my socks off, it fits solidly in the rye category and perhaps it'll do something more for you!

Grade: B

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Oppidan Cane + Rye Straight Malted Rye Whiskey Finished in Caribbean Rum Barrels

- $45
- 101 Proof
- 1 Year, 9 mos.; Finished for 1 1/2 years
- Batch No. 1
- Illinois

This is a bottle that came highly recommended to me. My local liquor store guy had tried Oppidan's products at a whiskey festival and he couldn't say enough great things about this local distillery from Wheeling, Illinois. While my guy's palate doesn't always coincide with mine, given his insistence, I had to give this a try.

This is a straight 100% malted rye whiskey that was then finished in Caribbean Rum casks for a year and a half. That's more than enough time to allow those barrels to impart the flavors of the rum they previously held. And in some respects, perhaps too much time.

The nose is incredibly sweet, which was not expected, with a health dose of cooked sugar. However, it also had vibrant notes of apricot and banana, which worked particularly well with the burnt caramel notes. It also had a certain bready quality to it, as well as hints of tobacco leaf, but those sweet fruits remained front and center. It also had a slight overripe apple note that I've always noticed in young whiskeys, showing its age (or lack thereof).

As soon as it hit my tongue all I could think was how sweet and sugary this was. It was, quite frankly too much. While I felt like I enjoyed it a bit more than the Angel's Envy rye, I nonetheless found it to be cloyingly sweet, to the point that it seemed to overshadow anything else that was going on in this whiskey.

Eventually some of the rye spice slowly made its way in, but too slowly for my taste. I like rye because it tends to smack you in the mouth with flavor and spice. This was almost afraid of being a rye. In addition to that subtle cinnamon spice that slowly made its way forward, I got a light pine note which seemed to only come through on the back end.

As I worked my way through the bottle, though, those pine and cinnamon flavors seemed to meld together, leaving this to be nothing more than sugar wood. That's all I got was oak and burnt sugar, and the fruit notes from the nose, which were so bright and delicious, never made their way into the flavor. And so, it was just sugar wood.

In retrospect, it's probably unfair to Oppidan that I chose this as my first foray into their whiskey. I have yet to get on board with rum finished whiskeys. I was really not a fan of the Angel's Envy rye, and I knew going in that that the odds of my enjoying this were slim.  This is, however, yet another reason to ignore whiskey reviews and try it out for yourself, because while I was not a fan, my local guy, who is a huge whiskey lover, couldn't get enough of this stuff. It's all a matter of preference

Grade: B-

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Barrell Dovetail Whiskey Finished in Rum, Port and Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Barrels

- $100
- 124.34 Proof
- Indiana and Tennessee

Certainly finished whiskeys have been done before. And certainly finishing combos have been done before, such as Jos. A Magnus.  However, this one had a bit more draw to me than others. For one, it's barrel strength, something you don't see a whole lot of with finished American whiskeys, for whatever reason. Plus, this particular finished whiskey has been particularly well-received and regarded in online reviews--again, something you don't see a whole lot of with finished American whiskeys.

I tend to be a fan of finished whiskeys, particularly port-finished, and so I took the gamble on a pricey bottle to find out for myself. I will say up front, I was not disappointed nor did I have buyer's remorse, despite the hefty price tag.

The nose seemed to really favor the Cabernet over any of the other notes or finishes. I got a lot of that earthy and dry dark fruit and berry. This was a pleasant surprise. Given the rum and port finishes, I was half expecting something almost syrupy sweet. Instead, I got a nice mix of raisin and blackberry that had this sort of jammy note to it, but again, without being sweet (which I realize make little to no sense, but I don't know how else to explain it).

It was, however, very sweet in flavor. On the palate I immediately got a lot of dark fruits--plum and raisin, and again the jammy blackberry. Only this time it was very much a sweet jam. It is very dessert-like, and if you're not in the mood for something sweet, it may not hit you quite right. I thought it was delicious for what it is, though.

It also had a certain amount of bread or cracker-like quality that, along with the blackberry, reminded me of blackberry pie. It even had a nice, warming spice on the end, kind of an allspice note.  My initial impression was that this was similar to Magnus, but done much better, which is certainly attributable to far more than the proof.

Everything seemed to work very well together. The heat from the high alcohol content added a warmth and depth that seemed to make the flavors from the various finishes really lay heavy on my tongue. I'm not a huge fan of rum finished whiskey, and I actually didn't really notice the rum finish very much, which I particularly appreciated. Towards the end, though, the rum notes seemed to come forward, as I started to get notes of anise and molasses, and the blackberry seemed to fade.

While those last couple pours weren't as enjoyable as the first, this was nonetheless a great overall bottle that I really enjoyed. I would say that you'd have to be in the mood for this, as it may not necessarily scratch that bourbon itch, but yet I found myself going right back to this one regardless of my mood, simply because it was really good!

Grade: B+/A-

Saturday, June 22, 2019

J.T.S. Brown Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $18
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

While I feel as though I've been enjoying some really good whiskey lately, including store picks and some harder to find bottles, I keep reminding myself to try some of those standards that I've never gotten around to. I feel like I'd be doing myself a disservice if I simply ignored those affordable and readily available bottles because I'm too busy chasing down the allocated stuff.

After trying Heaven Hill's J.W. Dant, the next logical choice for a bottle that fits this bill was J.T.S. Brown. This is one of the uglier labels on the market, and perhaps that's the reason that I've taken this long to get around to trying it. But, that being said, it's Heaven Hill bourbon, it's bottled in bond, and it's a mere $18. This is one of those purchases where I knew that, even if it's not great, for the price and what I'm getting, I knew I couldn't go wrong.

The nose was very good, giving off all the traditional notes, but with a little kick. It was primarily toffee with some clove spice added. I also got some black pepper as well as vanilla, an odd but good combination. It also had an earthiness to it, a bit of a tobacco and leather smell that I just wasn't quite sure I liked. It was interesting, but I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it was enjoyable.

The flavor was very spice forward. I got a healthy dose of clove mixed with anise. I tend not to be a fan of anise-forward whiskeys, but in this case, the anise was light enough that it did not put me off in any way. Rather, it just added a bit of tang to the spicy clove notes.

I did get the traditional notes of caramel and toffee throughout. They provided a nice baseline. However, I also got a decent amount of orange. At first it was a brighter, citrusy orange flavor. At some point, though, it seemed to turn into more of a bitter orange note, like orange peel.

While this bourbon surprisingly had a nice, oily texture to it, unfortunately I found that it coated my mouth with the flavors that I didn't particularly enjoy. The bitter orange and the anise were the two flavors that seemed to stick around, while the caramel and clove notes seemed to fade quickly. This left an odd flavor lingering in my mouth and at the back of my throat, and I found it caused me to reach for a different bottle whenever I was ready for that next pour.

Ultimately, this to me was just a slightly above average bourbon. Even at this price point there are certainly better ones to be had. In fact, given that they're both from the same distillery, both bottled in bond, both in the same price range, and often times both found next to each other on the shelf, I'd easily take J.W. Dant over this bottle. It just didn't do a whole lot for me.

Grade: C+

Saturday, June 15, 2019

George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2017)

- $90.00 MSRP
- 129.2 proof
- 15 years, 3 months
- Kentucky

The one problem with the theme of this blog--waiting until I finish a bottle before posting a review--is that when it comes to "special" bottles, by the time I finish them off, they're a bit outdated. Here it is now June, only a few months away from the 2019 BTAC releases, and I'm just now getting around to reviewing the 2017 George T. Stagg.

And, quite frankly, what can I say about this that hasn't already been said at this point? Because reviews are completely subjective, and therefore stupid, I'm just going to front the fact that Stagg has always been right in my wheelhouse.  It's my measuring stick for great bourbons. Don't get me wrong, I've had others that I've enjoyed more (maybe two), but they're always measured against Stagg.  Something about it just hits me right, and the 2017 release was certainly no exception.

The nose is full of vanilla and cinnamon, with the cinnamon leaning more towards a cloves kind of scent. I certainly got a decent amount of alcohol, which is to be expected at this proof, but nothing offensive by any stretch. There was a light oak on the nose, along with a rich toffee note to offset that slightest bitter note. Towards the end of the bottle I was also getting some anise notes. The nose was pretty much everything you'd expect from a high quality, 15 year old, barrel strength bourbon.

When I took my first sip, the first thing I noticed was the rich, coating, oily mouthfeel.  I hate using the word "mouthfeel," but the point is that this is a nice, creamy and oily bourbon that just coated my mouth and throat with flavor right up front.

The most noticeable of these flavors were the vanilla and wood flavors. I did not get any bitter tannins, though, as I had somewhat expected, even just a little. Rather, it was a nice, rich vanilla bean flavor that was absolutely delicious.

There was also a burnt sugar note that made for a sweet bourbon but kept it from coming close to being too sweet (did I mention this is in my wheelhouse?).  It seemed to balance that sweetness very well, perhaps due to the age, and also perhaps due to the nice cinnamon note that seemed to linger at the back of my throat forever, begging me to take another sip.

In addition to these traditional vanilla, caramel and cinnamon notes, however, I got hints of dark cherry (natural dark cherry, not that fake flavor that I sometimes get in whiskeys). I also got a coffee note which was pleasant and unexpected. I can't recall ever having such a tasting note in the past.

To be clear, however, this was a vanilla, caramel, cinnamon bomb. I know that phrase is used often, and usually it's used to demonstrate the dominance of one particular flavor (i.e. a "vanilla bomb").  Here, however, all of these flavors are bold, independent and absolutely delicious, culminating in one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth.

Aside from the fact that I have a particular sentimental attachment to this bourbon for reasons that I don't need to get into here, this is a bourbon that I will forever chase, buy and drink at every opportunity.

Grade: A+

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 109.8 Proof

- $50
- 109.8 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

So, to start this post off with a spoiler, I really liked this one. I knew I was going to like this one when I bought it (so, take this completely biased review with a grain of salt). That, of course, is why I bought it.  My local liquor store knows of my love for Willett ryes, and when this new batch came in, he didn't even bother asking if I wanted it. He just put it in my hands and said, "Here, I know you want this."

Whatever it is that Willett is doing with their ryes really nails everything I love about a rye. I get that fruity characteristic that seems to balance so well with the spiciness of the rye as well as the underlying sweeter caramel and toffee flavors. I have yet to find one that I haven't been thoroughly impressed with, and this one is no different.

On the nose, I immediately got orange peel and brown sugar -- a bit of an unexpected note, but nonetheless delicious. I also got a creamy vanilla scent that was incredibly inviting. It also had a light pine scent as well as a certain nutty quality to it. On later pours I swore I got hints of dark cherry, but those notes seemed to be fleeting.

When I took my first sip, the first thing I noticed was that this batch was sweeter than previous batches. It had a certain frosted sugar cookie note to it. Not quite that sweet, but that's the direction it was leaning. 

It had a nice dose of the typical cinnamon spice to balance out the sweet, as well as a little bit of orange peel bitterness. Nothing seemed overdone, and it all seemed to balance really well. Throughout I got hints of dill and pine, but those flavors weren't nearly as prominent as I've found them in other ryes. I also got a light hint of mint on the back end.

This was, in the end, a sweeter rye. In addition to the vanilla and sugar cookie notes, I also got this sort of tangy molasses note, which worked really well with the light cinnamon spice and the nice warm hug on the end  to create a long-lasting, complex and rich rye, with a bit more sweetness than usual, but still hitting all those notes that I love.

Again, I was thoroughly impressed with this one, so much so that I easily made my way through this bottle within a week. It was just so easy to keep going back to pour after pour. This is one of those bottles that I'll just keep purchasing as I see them on the shelf, whether it's a batch I've had before or not. I'll be making it a point to always have a bottle on hand.

Grade: A

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Weller Antique 107 Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #4 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $35
- 107 Proof
- Kentucky

A short while back a good friend of mine picked this bottle up for me. During this time I had a lot going on, and it was a really nice positive amongst a see of negative at the time. Did I mention he's a really good friend?

Weller Antique, which was once a regular shelfie, is now locked away in back rooms or displayed on shelves behind counters in nearly every store, either saved for their best customers or marked up beyond reason. The store picks seem to be even more sought after at this point, and so, as far as free bourbon goes, this is about as good as it gets!

While I've always preferred bourbon with rye as the tertiary grain, as far as wheated bourbons go, Weller Antique and Maker's Mark Cask Strength have always been my preference. This one had a nose that was a bit different from any previous Weller Antique I've had before. It had a very bready quality to it. It smelled sweet and reminded me a lot of graham cracker at first. At times I also got raisin notes, giving it a nice cinnamon raisin aroma as well. The nose was absolutely delicious on this one.

The flavor tended to match the nose, with cinnamon and raisin being the first to flavors I picked up. However, it wasn't quite as sweet as the nose. Rather, it had a spicier cinnamon note to it, as well as a distinct wood note that helped offset the sweetness. I still got that sweet, graham-crackery note to it as well.

As wheaters tend to be, though, this was still a sweeter bourbon. The sweetness really kicked in towards the middle of the palate, with a sugary and vanilla-like note, almost like cake frosting (which I love on graham crackers, by the way). It all seemed to work together for a sort of Frosted Flakes flavor.

The finish was very short-lived. It was sweet vanilla and corn notes, again taking me back to Frosted Flakes. But it was gone in an instant. I was actually surprised at the watery texture of this one, particularly given the proof and the fact that it's non-chill filtered. I guess those two things don't automatically mean you'll get an oily or buttery texture, as this one certainly came across a bit thin. This is about the only criticism I have for this pick, however.

Some buddies and I had this bottle among others for a whiskey tasting, including Weller Special Reserve, Weller 12 Year, Weller C.Y.P.B. and another private select single barrel. While the consensus favorite was the Weller 12 Year, this one got the nod from me. This was an excellent pick, and as I type this I sit here wishing I only had more.

Grade: A-

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bulleit 12 Year Straight American Rye

- $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

- $50
- 93 Proof
- 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

- $31
- 90 Proof
- 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

- $28
- 88 Proof
- 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

- $55
- 125 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $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

- $70
- 117.36 Proof
- 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

- $35
- 94 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $23
- 82.2 Proof
- 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