Monday, September 30, 2019

Whiskey Acres Artisan Series Rye Whiskey Distilled with Caramel Malted Rye

- $40 (375 ml)
- 87 Proof
- Aged at least 1 year
- Illinois

I recently had the incredible experience of visiting Whiskey Acres in Sycamore, Illinois. This was a long time coming, as I've been living literally down the road (20 miles down the road, but it literally took me one turn to get there), and yet I had never been there to visit. I signed up to attend an event with a local whiskey group, the Fox Valley Whiskey Society, which involved cocktails, hors d'ouevres consisting of local meats and cheeses, a tour of the facility, and an extensive tasting of whiskeys straight from the barrel.

The facility and the grounds are absolutely beautiful! The visitor's center is a brand new gorgeous building, with a great bar and a great selection of delicious cocktails at its center. Outside are sample crops of corn varietals they may use, a solar field that powers the entire operation, and of course warehouses full of whiskey! One of the owners, Nick, not only gave us a thorough history of the distillery and tour of the grounds, but also took us into those stores, at night with flashlights, to taste barrel after barrel, straight from the whiskey thief. It was an incredible experience that anyone in the area, or visiting the area, should definitely check out.

Before I left, of course, I perused their bottles for sale, and I was intrigued by this one. As Nick explained it, each summer they have any number of interns, and at the end of the internship, he allows them to make their own whiskey using various grain and yeast combinations. This is one of those experiments that was so good he decided to bottle it.  I was more than happy to take one home to find out for myself.

On the nose I got lots of caramel and lots of corn. It had that traditional young smell, like something in between baked apples and over-ripe apples. It is worth noting, however, that that "young" smell seemed to disappear after being open for a week or so. I found that at that point, the nose was pretty much what I would describe as a caramel oatmeal cookie, which while very sweet, smelled pretty delicious!

As to flavor, the first thing I noticed was the sweetness. This was a very sweet whiskey, and it seemed to have a minimal amount of spice. In that sense it was more like a bourbon than a rye. Of course, I got a lot of caramel up front. I'm not sure if that's the power of suggestion from the "caramel malted rye" or not, but I feel like I couldn't escape it.

At first it had those young notes, that over-ripe apple again. Much like the nose, though, that flavor receded leaving primarily that sweet caramel note to stick around. At the same time, I felt like some of that more traditional rye spice seemed to come through as well.  I started getting some notes of cinnamon and even some drier, wood notes. In moments it came across as a bit piney. More earthy flavors seemed to be there, suffocating under the sweet caramel, but coming through every now and then, with some nice char notes and even some tobacco leaf flavors poking their heads out from time to time.

Overall, from my own subjective perspective, this was just too sweet for me, particularly if I'm wanting a rye. Granted, that should be expected given the description, so I'm struggling to hold that against this whiskey. For what it's worth, my father-in-law, who loves rum and only recently had taken more of a liking to whiskey, absolutely loved this bottle! While I'm giving it a B, he would most certainly give this an A. So, for anybody out there that likes the sweeter side of things, perhaps this is something for you!  In any event, go check these guys out in person. What they are doing is pretty incredible!!

Grade: B

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Eagle Rare JP Liquors Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $42
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 171
- Kentucky

Social media can be quite a source of great bourbon-related information, assuming you can find your way through the morass of bullshit, bullying and troll jobs that litter Facebook pages.  This particular bottle is such an example.  I play in a volleyball league every Friday in the Summer, and one Friday afternoon someone posted that this small liquor store one town over from where I play happened to get in their barrel of Eagle Rare.

So, being the fan of Eagle Rare that I am, I quick did a Google Maps search and discovered that this small liquor store was only about five minutes of out of my way. So I left fifteen minutes early for my match and made my way to this store which I had known existed but never went out of my way to check out. I immediately wished I had, as they had a great whiskey selection, and right in the middle were all of their Eagle Rare private picks.  I browsed a bit, grabbed my bottle and was on my way.

It wasn't until a few weeks later that I finally got around to opening the bottle, and I found myself immediately questioning why I had never gone into JP Liquors before this. On the nose I got the healthy layer of caramel that I love in Eagle Rare. However, and I don't think I've ever said this about a whiskey's aroma before, it also had a creamy quality to it, almost like a sweet cream. There was also this sweet bread yeast note to it, which, along with a rich raisin note, smelled like some amazing raisin bread/cinnamon roll hybrid. The nose on this whiskey was rich and delicious!!!

The flavor, for the most part, lived up to the nose, too!  That classic caramel base was certainly there, along with a nice, long cinnamon spice that was immediately noticeable up front and stuck around long after each sip.  It also had a light peppery spice that tingled a bit in the back of my throat.

Aside from these traditional flavors, though, this particular bottle had some unique characteristics that set it apart from the standard Eagle Rare, and the combination of flavors, though a bit odd on their own, really worked to provide for a tangy, sweet bourbon. I got a hint of dill, not unlike what a lot of people, myself included, find in MGP ryes.  That was accompanied by a note of nutmeg as well as a distinct root beer flavor.

As if these flavors weren't enough, mixed in among there as a red berry note, similar to raspberry I guess, though not exactly.  All of these flavors, while on their own might not hold up, mixed together  to create a sort of marriage of flavors that worked really well, and it was all complemented by the nice spicy finish.

Toward the end, on my last few pours, those nutmeg, dill and root beer notes took a bit of a back seat, and I was getting a little more citric acidity to it, kind of like burnt orange peel. However, the sweetness of the bourbon kept that flavor from being off-putting.

All in all, I flew through this bottle. Once I opened it, I just kept going back. It had the two hallmarks that I love about store picks -- it was delicious, and it had a really unique flavor profile that I won't find anywhere else. I will certainly be frequenting JP Liquors in Naperville, Illinois going forward, not only for their bourbon selection, but for their ability to pick a delicious single barrel as well!

Grade: A-

Friday, September 20, 2019

Russell's Reserve Binny's Private Selecting Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel #19-0035

- $54
- 110 Proof
- Barrel #19-0035
- Kentucky

I do love Russel's Reserve bourbon, and lately I've managed to get some fantastic private picks, including a couple recent picks by Warehouse Liquors in Chicago and one from the last go-round at Binny's. This time around Binny's managed to get a bunch in, and I, once again, felt compelled to at least try one of them.

I got a few recommendations, and I read through the tasting notes on the approximately eight or so different barrels, that seemed to offer everything from woody to robust to sweet to spicy to fruity. It was nearly impossible to choose, so I just picked one in the middle, and Barrel #19-0035, heralding from the fourth floor of Rickhouse CN A, is what I got.

The nose was delicious and traditional. It gave off warm aromas of cinnamon and caramel, as well as a light chocolate flavor. It had a lot of wood on the nose, and even a bit of tobacco leaf, something I find more in Irish whiskeys than American whiskeys.  Also noticeable, however, was the health dose of alcohol on the nose. Frequently that will dissipate after the first pour or two, but with this one it remained pretty consistent through to the bottom of the bottle.

As to flavor, the very first thing that I noticed on the tip of my tongue was this great, salty-sweet combination that was like salted caramel. In fact, that salted caramel flavor seemed to dominate throughout this bottle.  All other flavors were really only playing second fiddle.

I never got the wood from the nose, or really anything else to balance out the sweetness. I got a bit of a raisin note, making it taste almost like a raisin cookie. However, that sweet caramel really overshadowed any of the more fruity, earthy or savory notes that might have been there.

On the finish, it had a little bit of spice to cut through the sweetness, with some nice, warm cinnamon at the end and a good, long Kentucky hug.  Even with that, however, I found myself smacking my lips after every sip, with that sticky caramel flavor just lingering.

As I'm writing this out, I'm realizing that for some palates, this might be exactly what people want in a bourbon. It actually sounds delicious! However, it was a bit too sweet and unbalanced for me, and it just seemed to get sweeter as it went. If it had a bit more influence from the wood, or if the spice was a little bit more forward, or if those dark fruits took a more prominent role, I feel like this would have been outstanding.

All in all, this was a very good barrel, it just didn't quite approach greatness for me.

Grade: B

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Driftless Glen Distiller's Select Cask Strength Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

- $60
- 119.8 Proof
- 4 years, 5 months
- Barrel No. 233
- Wisconsin

For her birthday, my daughter wanted to go to Great Wolf Lodge, but not the one that's only an hour away from where we live. No, she wanted to go to the one that's two and a half hours away in the Wisconsin Dells. Knowing reason was lost on a child who wants what she wants for her birthday, we conceded, and to the Dells we went.

However, all was not lost. I did manage to convince my wife that we should grab lunch before we head out, and, of course, I suggested we go one town over to Driftless Glen. I had never been there before, and, quite frankly, I'd never had anything from that distillery before. I really didn't know what to expect. But the distillery is absolutely beautiful, with a new facility set right on the river, looking across at a bunch of old circus trains that are part of the circus museum (perhaps providing an excuse to go back).  The food was great as well, including my maple old fashioned that came garnished with a piece of bacon. I sampled a few things while I waited for my food, and as I left, much to my chagrin, I grabbed this bottle, hand-picked by "Nate" and only available in their gift shop.

I feel like I've had a bad run of "craft" whiskeys of late, so it took me a while before I actually got around to opening this bottle.  That was a mistake!  This was one of the best, and at the same time most unique, ryes that I've had in a long time, and I'm wishing I had more!

The nose is sweet, giving off chocolate and hazelnut, with that sharp woody bitter note that hazelnut has.  I also got a lot of spice on the nose, like cloves and cinnamon. There was something earthy to it as well, kind of like a hearty rye bread. Quite frankly, the nose didn't clue me in to what I was about to taste.

On the tongue, I immediately noticed the thick, almost syrupy texture to this whiskey. I was floored, given its age, at the incredible viscosity that this rye had. It coated every inch of my mouth and throat and never went away.

The flavor could best be summed up as a pine flavored spice-bomb. I would have thought this was something that came from the northwest it had so much pine flavor to it. It tasted like a walk through the woods. While it may sound like an odd flavor, it was actually really delicious. Not like cleaner or an air freshener. Rather, it tasted like . . . Christmas.

This was even more emphasized by the incredible amount of spice that was in this bottle. Every sip was full of cinnamon and allspice. It also had a light amount of anise and nutmeg. It tasted like a blend of spices to be used in an apple or cherry pie.  Those spices were rounded out by delicious notes of fresh dark cherry and other dark fruit notes. While I couldn't pinpoint any specific fruit, the flavor reminded me of mulled wine. On the finish, all of these flavors lingered, seemingly forever, and a hint of mint seemed to make its way forward, adding a bit of a cooling note.

This whiskey restored my faith in craft whiskey!  It was full, rich and robust. It achieved a texture and flavor that I'd expect from much older whiskeys.  And, it was unique in flavor, like Christmas in a cup, absolutely full of spice and only a trace amount of sweetness -- what I love most in a rye.  I haven't had a spice-bomb like this in a long time, and it absolutely hit the spot. Once it was opened, this bottle went very quickly.  I guess I'll need to make a trip back to Baraboo, Wisconsin very soon.

Grade: A

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch No. B518

- $55
- 133.4 Proof
- 12 Years
- Batch No. B518
- Kentucky

There once was a time that I swear these bottles couldn't be found anywhere. a few years ago I remember feeling like I hit the jackpot when my local guy got three bottles in, and a few more of the following batch. I was buying them, even at his slightly marked up prices, as if they might vanish off the shelves otherwise.

Now, however, it seems as though they're at least somewhat available upon each release. In fact this one I've seen multiple times in multiple shops. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining.  This is a good thing!!  These are consistently one of my favorite bottles, and I will never hesitate to grab one off the shelf.

One of the consistent characters I've always gotten in the Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs is a heavier-than-most dose of vanilla.  Here, the nose at least did not let down. The vanilla seemed to pour out of the top of the bottle. It was accompanied but some earthier flavors, however, with some anise and some woodiness mixed in. I also got slightly bitter coffee notes. Along with those scents, however, were some nice dark fruit notes, like plum and even blueberry. This stuff smelled amazing!

In the flavor, the anise was not nearly as strong as it was in the nose, which for me was a good thing.  Rather, it had some pretty strong caramel and amaretto notes.  Unfortunately, the vanilla I got on the nose wasn't nearly as prevalent in the flavor, and almost nonexistent.

What seemed to take its place, though, was a whole lot of brown sugar. That sweetness was cut a bit, though, by that same wood note that I got on the nose. It didn't come across as bitter in any way.  Rather it just made it a bit more dry and mellowed out the sugar a bit. 

On the finish I got almost nothing but caramel, though this is where what little vanilla there was finally came through.  That caramel was long and strong, though, leaving me smacking my gums after each sip.

On the final few pours I got a distinct Coca-Cola flavor. Not just a generic cola flavor, but it actually tasted like Coca-Cola. Once I got that not, I couldn't seem to avoid that note, and it was hard to focus on the other flavors that were there. Luckily, though, it was a delicious flavor that seems to be a late-blooming marriage of everything I had before then.

While I wish some of those dark fruits, and especially that blueberry note that I got on the nose, came through (I think that would have been amazing!), I still really enjoyed what was here. It was a dessert whiskey that packed a punch. Quite frankly, that's what I've loved about all of the different batches of Elijah Craig Barrel proof, and that's why it never lets me down.

Grade: A-

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon Batch No. 23

- $60
- 113.9 Proof
- Batch No. 23
- Tennessee

I've been lucky enough to stumble on two of these bottles, and for some reason I started with this bottle rather than the earlier batch that I have. Belle Meade has been getting a lot of love lately for their single barrels and for their Reserve Cask Strength bourbons, and I've made it a point to grab them when I see them, which is not very often at all.

I haven't tried too much from Belle Meade. In fact, the only other bottle I've had from them was a 10-year Binny's private selection, which I do recall fondly. However, after finishing this bottle within a very short time after first opening it, I feel like I may need to make an effort to go through other bottles in their lineup.

The nose on this bourbon was rich and full and absolutely delicious. I immediately got notes of dark cherry and molasses, reminding me very much of Maraschino cherries. There was also a hint of maple and a slight cinnamon spice. To almost round everything out, it had a distinct vanilla bean smell to it that seemed to complement everything else going on.

As impressed as I was with the nose, the flavor held up as well and did not disappoint. Immediately I noticed the thick, oily texture it had, which coated my entire mouth with flavor. Also, despite the high proof, the alcohol was very well masked, making this dangerously easy to keep dipping back into pour after pour.

Up front I got the sweetness on my tongue, with kind of a salted caramel note. From there, however, what was clear is that this was a vanilla bomb. It was absolutely loaded with vanilla from front to back, and the other flavors that I picked up just seemed to play off that vanilla undercurrent.

The salty note seemed to evaporate almost immediately, but the caramel remained. It was more of a dark caramel note, however, with hints of burnt sugar. I even got some light char notes, though none of the woody bitterness, which was nice.

The Maraschino cherry note was there, but it was lighter on the actual cherry flavor than the nose had me anticipating. Rather, it was more of the flavor of the syrup than the cherries themselves.  I did not get the cinnamon that I got on the nose.  However, I did get a richer orange note. It wasn't a bright, citrusy note but rather like a candied orange note, even chocolate-orange at times.

But, again, it all started with the rich, delicious vanilla and each of the other flavors just acted as a complement to that note, and they each complemented that note very well.  This bourbon was rich, full of flavor, and it all worked really well! I couldn't help but keep going back to this bottle, even when I was trying to make an effort to try other things. It was delicious, and I have a feeling I'm going to be opening that other batch I have in my closet very soon!!

Grade: A-