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