Thursday, October 31, 2019

1792 Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 100 Proof
- Kentucky

Barton's 1792 Small Batch has never really done a whole lot for me. It's always just kind of been there, certainly a good bourbon, but with nothing to hate or love. That being said, however, I have really liked nearly every one of their other releases, from the port finish, which was fantastic, to the sweet wheat to the high rye.

When they released the bottled in bond version, I was curious, but not go-out-of-my-way-to-get-a-bottle curious. After all, it seemed to me it would just be regular small batch, just meeting the requirements of the Bottled in Bond Act. However, one of my whiskey dealers informed me that he was able to try a sample at a recent event he attended and that it was outstanding! Though skeptical, my curiosity level certainly went up significantly and I made sure to grab a bottle the next time I found one. I didn't get around to opening it immediately, and when I did, I immediately questioned that decision to wait.

The nose was interesting on this one. The very first thought that came to mind when I sniffed my glass was creamed corn, something that was a staple in my household growing up. Other notes came through as well, however, including notes of wood with cinnamon, as well as a sweeter molasses note. I also got a sort of cooked peach smell too.

The flavor on this, even though it didn't necessarily match the nose, was delicious! The first thing I noticed was an oatmeal cookie note, that sweeter, sugary type of cookie but with that oatmeal undertone. In this sense, it was certainly different, but as someone who loves oatmeal cookies (without raisins, of course) I thought it was great.

In addition to that cookie note, there were a lot of other flavors that all really seemed to play off one another. It had a light note of molasses, which made it lean at times toward a gingerbread type flavor. It also had a light pepper spice that was almost fleeting at times, just around enough to be noticed, but never really stuck around.

The baked peach that I got on the nose seemed to make its way through from time to time as well. I also got an interesting mix of orange peel and cola notes, which flavors really worked well together. I noted that on later pours I got a kind of a pear flavor as well, and all of these flavors were kind of placed on top of a caramel note that was present throughout.

This bourbon had a lot of different flavors, a combination which I don't think I've really ever noticed in other bourbons. Between oatmeal cookie, orange, cola, pear, and molasses, it really had a lot going on. But, here it all worked really well together, making it not only interesting and unique, but really tasty as well. I'm not sure why it's so much different than the regular 1792, but it is, and even though I waited a while to get around to opening this bottle, I had it finished off in a matter of days, because I just kept going back to it.\

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 110.2 Proof

- $45
- 110.2 Proof
- 4 years
- Kentucky

If I can be considered a "Stan" or a homer for any particular brand of whiskey out there, it's this one. I've loved the WFE small batch ryes ever since they started out releasing them at 2 years old. Each new bottle I try simply confirms my fandom, and I have yet to have a batch that I didn't absolutely love.

For some reason, Willett has managed to hit on all the flavors I love in my rye and it has done so consistently. In fact, it's the one bottle that I regularly make sure to grab backups of, something I can't say for any other bottle. So, know going in that this review is going to be full of love and praise, and that because they are based on such personal preference, reviews are stupid.

As expected, this bottle did not disappoint. On the nose I got some of the fruit-forward notes that I've become accustomed to with Willett ryes, including a rich and almost slightly bitter blackberry note. At times I also got a brighter fruity note, like red raspberry. That mixed well with cinnamon and brown sugar notes, and all of it had a rich underlying note of almond and pistachio.

On my first sip the first thing I noticed was the nice, oily texture, moreso than I recall noticing in previous batches. I loved this texture, as it coated my mouth and throat with flavor, really allowing me to savor each sip.

I immediately noticed the forward fruit notes, with plum and raisin taking center stage. It also had a slight bitterness, but it wasn't the kind I'd associate with raspberry or blackberry, but rather was almost a watermelon rind type flavor. In that respect it was unique and actually very good.

That may be due in part to the fact that what bitterness that was there was welcome as it played off the sweet cinnamon note that seemed to dominate from front to finish. That cinnamon mixed with brown sugar provided an almost candied orange peel note.

While I didn't get the mint that I've found in prior bottles, I did get a decent amount of pine. In fact, this flavor seemed to become increasingly prominent as I worked my way through the bottle. The last pour reminded me of Christmas with its mix of dark fruits, cinnamon and pine. Although recency bias may play a role, this may be the best batch I've had to date.

I make no bones about the fact that, personally, this stuff hits all the right notes for me. I love what Willett does with their ryes. Even at a young age, they've managed to make complex, interesting and, most importantly, delicious rye whiskey, and I won't ever hesitate to grab a bottle when I find one, even if it's just to have another in reserve.

Grade: A

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Knob Creek Cask-N-Cellar Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $40
- 120 Proof
- 13 yrs., 9 mos.
- Kentucky

A couple months ago I was traveling to Indiana, and of course as I made my way I kept an eye out for any liquor stores that might provide a nice little side trip during my travels.  On this particular day, I found myself wandering into a store called Cask-N-Cellar in Schererville, Indiana.  I've never heard of the store, but it's apparently a decent sized chain in Northwest Indiana, and one that I wish I had known about.

The store itself was pretty good sized, but what caught my attention immediately was the display to my left as I walked in -- store pick after store pick, with everything from Knob Creek to Journeyman to Four Roses to 1792. There were at least 12 different selections on display, and I was immediately impressed.  And of course I knew that one of these would have to come home with me. After hemming and hawing over which one to grab, I finally noticed a single Knob Creek Bourbon among a stack of ryes, and when I looked at the age, almost 14 years, the decision was easy!

The nose was heavy with molasses, almost giving off a gingerbread note. It also had some rich vanilla notes to balance it out. It was substantially more complex than that, however, with red wine notes that imparted flavors of raisin and plum. It even had some oak and chocolate on the nose, along with a decent amount of spice, like a Mexican chocolate. There was a lot going on just in the way this smelled.

When I took my first sip I was immediately hit by a rush of brown sugar and sweet caramel. It immediately reminded me of candy. It wasn't cloyingly sweet, though. It just had those flavors. There was also an anise note that came forward pretty quickly, but it was relatively mild, just the way I like it.

I also got the Mexican chocolate notes that I was getting on the nose. It was kind of a rich, dark chocolate and cinnamon note that provided some tempered sweetness up front and some spicy cinnamon on the back end.

Layered underneath all these notes were almond and even walnut notes. There was also a decent amount of wood on the palate. These notes, along with the caramel and chocolate seemed to all combine to a sort of dark chocolate and pecan pie combination, and it was delicious, especially when countered by the spicy cinnamon on the back end.  It was like the dessert I never knew I wanted!

Knob Creek picks are always an easy decision given the price. This one was one of the better ones I've had in quite some time, and I'm very impressed with the palate of whoever at Cask-N-Cellar picked this barrel. I can't wait to get back to try some of their other selections to see just how much or palates align in other products.

Grade: A

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Devils River Small Batch Texas Bourbon

- $25
- 90 Proof
- Texas

My father-in-law has been getting more and more into whiskey lately, and, accordingly, he has been branching out on the whiskey he's been trying. One evening he was telling me about this rye that he sampled at a little store near him, and he liked it so he bought a bottle. As he was telling me the story, though, he couldn't think of the name of the brand. That same evening, he was out running errands, and when he stopped by my house, he literally dropped a bag with two bottles of booze right into my lap as I sat in my recliner.

Curious as to what this brand was he was telling me about, I opened the bag to find two bottles of Devils River whiskey, a rye and a bourbon. I had never heard of Devils River before this, and despite my generally negative experiences with Texas whiskeys, I was still somewhat intrigued. And, in inspecting the label, I couldn't hep but smile when I read the words "Sin Responsibly" right below the Surgeon General's warning.

That intrigue, unfortunately, waned pretty quickly. The nose was harsh. I got primarily young corn and ethanol. These were really sharp notes that seemed to sting the senses. It also had that overripe apple note that I always get with young bourbons. I don't know the age of this whiskey, but it couldn't have been much over two years.

The palate was a little bit more forgiving than the nose. I was surprised at how smooth it was, having expected to get harsh notes and burning sensations based on what I was getting on the nose.

Of course it had lots of corn notes, like canned corn. It had a certain amount of bitterness, almost a tannic quality. Yet it didn't have the wood notes that seem to go with it. It seems weird to have one without the other, but it had that astringent quality to it.

It also had a black pepper quality at the end which, if this bourbon had the traditional sweet and rich caramel, toffee and vanilla notes, would have worked really well. Without those notes, however, it just came across as hot without the flavor.

I wish I had more to say about this bourbon, but it was just hard to drink. It needs significantly more time in the barrel. It's young and undeveloped, and the flavors that are there are a bit rough.  My father-in-law agreed. He found it unpalatable, and yet he still speaks fondly of the rye.  I'll have to give that one a try soon, as young ryes seem to hold up better than young bourbons do.

Grade: D+

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Great King St. by Compass Box Glasgow Blend Blended Scotch

- $35
- 86 Proof
- Scotland

I know I've asked this question before to start off a post, but I'll ask it again -- who loves free whiskey?? I do! This bottle was a Christmas gift from last year that I've been (very) slowly working my way through. I haven't exactly been reviewing a lot of Scotches lately (or anything non-American for that matter), so eventually I got to where I made it a point to go in this direction so that I can finally make this post.

I've loved most everything that I've tried from Compass Box, including the Great King St. blends. This one is a blend of an Islay peated whiskey with a sherry-cask matured Speyside Scotch and a lowland whiskey. I've enjoyed the peat and sherry combination in other Scotches, so I was pretty excited to have this bottle placed into my hands.

Of course the peat is the first thing to hit the olfactory senses, with a nice campfire note. However, behind the smoke I got some floral notes as well as a bright berry note, like fresh raspberry. The smoke note is pervasive, however, and it all came together in a kind of sweet barbecue note.

When I took my first sip, I was surprised that the peat smoke was not nearly as strong as the nose had me expecting. It was certainly there, but it did not come anywhere close to overpowering the other delicious flavors in this whiskey.

It had a smooth and rich undercurrent of vanilla that was present from front to back, and seemed to be the flavor that stuck around the longest. I also got some fresh strawberry notes along with a honey note to add a significant amount of sweetness to contrast the smoke.

I found myself smacking my lips after nearly every sip, but thanks to the peat the sweetness was never cloying or overdone. The fact that this only clocked in at 86 proof probably helped avoid a syrupy quality that might otherwise have been there.

That being said, after having had this bottle open, even for a few months, it seemed to develop a more oily body, and the flavors seemed to transform a little bit, just enough to develop some added complexity. What was previously a honey note seemed to come across as more of a butterscotch note. The fruit notes seemed to come across as more of a raspberry-almond note, with just a little bit of amaretto tang to it. And even though the vanilla seemed to lighten up, I instead got notes of chocolate and coffee, which still worked very well with the peat.

Although this isn't my favorite peated Scotch, this blend offered a lot of complexity that had me pondering nearly every sip I took, trying to pinpoint each different note that I was getting. And, for the most part, each flavor seemed to complement all of the others--exactly what a blend is supposed to accomplish.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Blanton's Gold Edition Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $60 (700 ml)
- 103 Proof
- Barrel No. 259
- Kentucky

A while back I managed to get my hands on a Blanton's Gold and a Blanton's Straight from the Barrel. My guess is the guy I bought them off of simply made the trip to Canada to get a few of eacch and then made a few bucks off them. I was happy to pay what I did (certainly more than the $60 suggested retail price), figuring I had no other real way of getting my hands on such bottles.

After also acquiring two different store picks of the regular Blanton's, I then had my eyes set on setting up a Blanton's tasting for my whiskey club. I searched and ultimately landed a Black and a Red, both Japanese imports only, and I finally had my 6-bottle Blanton's tasting!  Everyone in the group was pumped to try this tasting, and one of the guys even brought an additional bottle of Straight from the Barrel.

Quick spoiler -- to the extent the tasting was a competition, the Gold was the winner. It wasn't everyone's favorite (some liked the Red), but it definitely had the most votes.  And there was plenty of reason for it. The nose on this one was soft and sweet. It was full of caramel with a light spice to it that was kind of a blend between cinnamon and black pepper. I also got a healthy dose of brown sugar as well as what I swore at times was the distinct note of chocolate-orange.

It smelled delicious and it had a palate to match. This was what some might describe as a toffee bomb.  It was full of those butter and molasses notes that made this just taste like candy. In addition, to go with the sweet and buttery flavors, this had a nice, oily texture to it that coated the mouth in flavors of brown sugar and butter. At 103 proof, it had some added kick that you don't get out of the standard Blanton's, and it worked so well with everything else.

On the back end I got a little bit of that heat, paired perfectly with a light cinnamon spice to tickle the back of my throat. It also had a nice, long finish which, along with that light cinnamon spice, had some rich notes of vanilla bean that seemed to stick around forever.

As I made my way through the last pours, there was a sort of yeasty quality, which turned into this dessert-like pastry, almost like a caramel coffee cake with vanilla icing on top. Those last few sips were some of the best tastes of whiskey I can recall in quite some time.  If only this were a regular offering, or, at the very least, actually able to be purchased here in the states.

Grade: A 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Clyde May's Special Reserve Alabama Style Whiskey

- $60
- 110 Proof
- Kentucky

This is one of those whiskeys that I've decided to give a second chance.  I've had the regular Clyde May's before, and from what I recall, I got a lot of cinnamon red hots and green apple Jolly Rancher notes out of it. My main takeaway from back then was that it had a certain artificial taste to it that was a bit off-putting. My research tells me that this is a Kentucky whiskey that is bottled in Florida, but finished "Alabama Style," which I gather means finished on apples. The flavor back then did not come across as fresh apple to me.

However, that was a number of years ago, and my palate and experiences have changed, and in some ways the whiskey has changed. After all, this particular bottling, the Special Reserve, is bottled at a much higher proof at 110 proof, which in an of itself can make a significant difference. After reading others' approval of the Special Reserve in various online media, I decided to give this another chance. Plus I feel like it's been a while since I've reviewed something that's not a store pick or a limited release.

On the nose I immediately noticed the scent of apple. However, despite my expectations and, dare I say, bias, it wasn't the artificial or Jolly Rancher-esque aroma I had anticipated. Rather it came across as natural, with a sweet yet bitter quality that reminded me of Granny Smith apples (my favorite kind of apple, for what it's worth). I also got a lot of caramel that made this really seem like a sweet fall treat, like I was at the pumpkin patch with the kids getting ready for Halloween.

As for the taste, and while it's not much of a tasting note, it's worth starting with the fact that I thought it had really good flavor, and that the proof helped a lot. Rather than the prominent caramel, it had more of a vanilla-based flavor profile. It was only later that the apple really came forward, and again it came across as more of fresh apple rather than artificial apple.

I also never really got the cinnamon that seemed to jump out at me when I had the regular Clyde May's. Rather it was just a whole lot of vanilla with that sweet but bitter Granny Smith apple mixed in.  On later pours I seemed to get a certain breadiness, kind of a sweet white bread flavor that developed, and while it may initially seem odd, it really kind of worked.

It came across as a touch syrupy in texture, though it wasn't overly sweet. I did find that I enjoyed it more over ice than neat, and it made for a great front porch drink on a sunny day, particularly after mowing the lawn.  In that respect, while this isn't the next Pappy Van Winkle, and I don't expect that Alabama Style will be something offered by the likes of Beam or Wild Turkey any time soon, I think this whiskey was very tasty, certainly hit the right chords in certain situations, and would absolutely have a place on my shelf.

Grade: B

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Elijah Craig Warehouse Liquors Private Select Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $37
- 94 Proof
- Ser. No. 5589830
- Kentucky

I stopped into Warehouse Liquors bright and early in the morning a few weeks back while on my way into work. I was heading there for the sole purpose of grabbing their newest Buffalo Trace single barrel, which I did snag. But, while I was waiting for the guy to grab one from the back, I noticed he was in the process of unpacking their latest Elijah Craig pick.

And so, at 7:30 in the morning in the middle of the week, I found myself walking out of a liquor store with two new private picks in hand!  Certainly the earliest I've bought a bottle of whiskey, but it did help set the mood for the rest of my day.  It also had me eager to finish up for the day to get home and try both of them.

I popped the cork on this one that evening, and the first thing I noticed on the nose was the odd combination of caramel and black pepper.  I've certainly gotten such notes in other whiskeys, but for some reason the interplay between the two on this one really stuck out.  I also got some vanilla as well as a light woodiness.  On later pours, I noticed a kind of tangy quality, like an amaretto note. I kind of wished this note was a bit more prominent.

As to flavor, the caramel was again the most prevalent. However, it also had notes of cherry as well as the black pepper. Again, however, this created a kind of odd combination that made the cherry note come off as a bit medicinal.  I also got a bit of a maple syrup flavor to it as well, that certainly sweetened things up just a touch.

Similar to the nose, I did get a touch of woodiness in the flavor. It came across as more of a sawdust note, though, like the flavor of the air when cutting two-by-fours with a circular saw. That's very specific, I know, but that's where my mind went. I also got a lot of unsweetened, almost raw vanilla, and at times I noticed some raisin flavor coming through.

Overall, this bourbon had a lot of flavor to it, a lot going on. However, it seemed to be somewhat all over the place, with bitterness, sweetness and earthiness, and even a bit of a medicinal quality. None of the flavors seemed to really work with one another but rather stood on their own, in contrast to one another. It had complexity but lacked cohesiveness.

Despite the various syrup notes I was getting, the texture was anything but syrupy. It was actually really watery. Certainly the proof has something to do with that, but even at this proof it seemed more watery than most. I don't know if that had anything to do with the kind of lack of cohesiveness among the flavors or not.

Grade: B

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Buffalo Trace Binny's Small Batch Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch #24

- $24
- 90 Proof
- Batch #24
- Kentucky

These are bottles that no bourbon drinker should pass up when he or she sees one. Regular Buffalo Trace on its own is worth every penny of the $24 it usually costs. The private picks are, for the most part, anywhere from just as good as the regular stuff to, quite frequently, much better. So, for a mere $24 off the shelf for a private pick of an already decent bottle, it's really a no-brainer.

This is the most recent offering from Binny's, not a single barrel, but a small batch select.  The nose has everything I love about bourbon. It's full of caramel and vanilla, but with a healthy dose of baking spices and brown sugar to round it out. I got a bit of baked cinnamon apples mixed with a sort of cinnamon pastry, which reminded me of elephant ears you'd get at the fair. I could have sat there sniffing this all night and been completely content.

The palate matched the nose in nearly every way. Up front I got a nice blend of caramel and brown sugar, providing a nice but balanced sweetness that I loved! This is one bourbon that, for me, hit that perfect note of sweetness. It also had a touch of spice that I likened to a sweet cinnamon, kind of like a cinnamon sugar.

The more I drank this the more I liked it. At times it came across as more caramel heavy. Also, at times, the cinnamon spice came across more as a light black pepper spice. Throughout, though, the brown sugar was prevalent, giving it almost a root beer note.

It almost had a cookie quality to it. The heavy brown sugar had me thinking of chocolate chip-less chocolate chip cookies--something I actually love and have requested specifically from my wife, much to her chagrin (she doesn't understand the point of not having chocolate in the cookies).  

The flavors in this one were more bold than regular Buffalo Trace. Everything I like about the regular offering seemed to be underscored, italicized and set off in bold-face in this particular bottling. It is honestly one of the best private picks I've had, if not the best.

I took this bottle with me on a recent canoe trip I did with my oldest son up to the U.P.  I found myself really looking forward to each night, when I would get to sit by the fire, staring off into the pitch black forest and sipping on this bourbon. It was absolutely delicious, and I only wish I had more.

Grade: A