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