Thursday, January 31, 2019

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

- $60
- 110 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $23
- 100 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $26
- 90 Proof
- 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+