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

Friday, March 8, 2019

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whisky

- $23
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Benromach 30 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $450.00
- 86 Proof
- 30 Years
- Speyside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A

Friday, March 1, 2019

Joseph Magnus Triple Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $100
- 100 Proof
- Batch No. 54
- Indiana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-