Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Jeppson's Blended Straight Bourbon


- $24
- 100 Proof
- 4 yrs.
- Illinois

Okay, so it took me a while to actually pull the trigger on buying this one.  And there's really no reason for it.  It's a locally distilled bourbon. It's aged at least 4 years.  It's 100 proof.  And it's only $24.  Under any other circumstance, I would have had this in my cart the first time I saw it. But every time I looked at that label, I just had a hard time making the decision to take a bottle home.

For those not in the know, Jeppson's is notorious in the Chicago area. Jeppson's Malort is sort of a gag drink, that shot that you buy your unsuspecting friend just so you can see the strained look on their face as they choke down the bitter liqueur.  And the label looks just like the label on the Jeppson's bourbon, conjuring up horrible memories every time I'd see it. But, in the end, it's not bask liquor, but actually bourbon. And it's not bourbon aged for 2 years and rushed into the bottle, but it actually got four years in the bottle.  And it's only $24. So I knew I eventually had to try it.

I screwed off the top and took a sniff straight from the bottle. Surprisingly, I found a lot I liked about the smell. It had a soft, nougat-like nose to it, along with some milk chocolate and brown sugar. There were also some bright notes as well, like fresh orange or even orange zest. Something citrusy, bitter and sweet all at once. However, at times those citrus notes leaned a little bit towards a cleaning solvent scent, which wasn't so great. 

As to flavor, it certainly had a touch of that young, corny taste. I got a hint of that overripe apple flavor that I always find in young, not-quite-ready whiskeys.  However, those young notes actually seemed to dissipate pretty quickly, making way for some pretty flavorful whiskey.

The first thing I noted was a graham cracker taste. It was crackery but also with a honey sweetness.  I did get that nougat note that I was getting from the nose, but the milk chocolate didn't seem to follow.  Instead what I got was a bready note, like white bread--sweet and yeasty.  

On the back end, it did have a somewhat spicy finish. It was almost like a milder version of cinnamon candy, like red hots. I wished it had a bit more heat. I also wished some of the flavor carried forward more through the finish. But, all I was left with was that sweet, mild cinnamon heat that left a bit more to be desired.

In the end, this is right where I'd expect a $24 whiskey from a small distillery to land. Actually, it was quite a bit better than I was expecting, even removing my bias due to the similarity of the label to that of the aforementioned Malort. I don't know that I'll be running out for another bottle any time soon, but this was well worth a try.

Grade: C+

Monday, September 28, 2020

High West Woodman's Barrel Select Double Rye! Finished in Bourbon Barrels


- $45
- 102.2 Proof
- Barrel No. 10900
- Finished 1 yr, 4 mos.
- Utah

I feel like it's been quite some time since I've seen the High West Barrel Selects on the shelves. There once was a time that it was a somewhat regular occurrence and shops would get multiple barrels with a variety of finishes. But I feel like it's been well over a year since the last time I saw one on a shelf, maybe longer.

In fact, I didn't even see this one on the shelf. Rather, a buddy of mine found it for me when he was in Wisconsin and he graciously agreed to mule it back for me. Since then I've noticed on social media that some stores have gotten in new picks, and they now have a fancy new black label that really does look awesome. But I haven't seen any of those either. So, I was thrilled to get my hands on this one, and popped it open at the first opportunity.

When I sniffed my glass, my first impression was pecan pie. It was nutty, though perhaps a bit more peanut than pecan. But it also had notes of maple syrup and burnt sugar.  There was even a bit of graham cracker pie crust on the nose to create the full effect.  There was also a tangy side to it as well, with a slightly bitter but bright orange peel note and even a hit of anise.

The flavor wasn't nearly as sweet as the nose was, though. I didn't get the sweet pecan pie flavor that I was expecting. The orange peel actually came through more in the flavor than it did on the nose, with a light brown sugar sweetness to offer any of the bitter notes. The anise also seemed to come through more, as well as a distinct cloves note to add a bit of spice.

The finish was probably my favorite thing about this whiskey. It came across as buttery, both in flavor and texture, but it also had quite a bit of oak to it. With that oak was a light, bitter tannic note, but all of it was kind of balanced out by a cinnamon bread-type baked goods note. The finish was really interesting, full of flavors, and very complex  

From the nose, to the palate to the finish, this was almost three different whiskeys. Luckily, though, when it's the finish that I like best, it's really easy to keep diving right back in for that next sip. Plus, this really had minimal alcohol burn given the proof, also making it very easy to enjoy pour after pour. 

Grade: B

Monday, September 21, 2020

Cadee Distillery Cascadia Rye Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels

- $50
- 87 Proof
- 22 mos.
- Indiana/Washington

Over the years I've found myself trying out various different whiskey podcasts. It gives me something to do on my long commutes to and from work, or when I have to travel to such exotic places as central Michigan or Fort Wayne, Indiana. At one point I listened to a podcast (I can't think for the life of me which one) that featured the owner of Cadee Distillery.  He was (and I'm sure still is) a Scott who transplanted to Washington where he is now making American whiskey. While I can't recall too many specifics from the interview (it was quite some time ago), I recall really enjoying listening to this guy talk and his passion for distilling, so I made a note of a couple of Cadee's brands in my phone in case I ever came across them.

And that note sat on my phone for probably a couple years with no sign of Cadee whiskeys showing up on my shelf. But, one day on a local Facebook group somebody advertised this service that delivered craft whiskeys from all over the country to your doorstep--but only if you live in Illinois. With my interest piqued, I checked out the site through its app - SpiritHub - and sure enough they had the very Cadee whiskeys that had sat as a forgotten-about note in my phone.  While their bourbon finished in port barrels, Deceptivus, was sold out, I was able to place an order for Cascadia, along with a couple other spirits I've so far only been able to get in the Northwest. And for only $8 shipping, I had my bottle in my hand within two days.

So, it's interesting. I wouldn't exactly say this bottle was hyped in my mind. It was just something that I've wanted to try. So I popped the cork right away, even if it was only early evening, and I immediately got hit with sweet and rich notes, almost like a plum sauce. It surprisingly came across initially as a bit hot, and even bitter. It had some woody notes and even a slight astringent note. 

As to flavor, given the nose, it was certainly smoother than expected.  I got notes of honey and vanilla mixed with raspberry. There was also that dark fruit element, like plum, that I was getting on the nose. It had some earthy tones to it as well, almost like raisin and walnut.

I did get a bit of pipe tobacco, sweet and a bit earthy. Unfortunately, though, I also got notes of young whiskey that so often turns me off of young, craft whiskeys. I got that all too familiar flavor of overripe or overcooked apples. That being said, that note was not as much of a turnoff with this bottle as it usually is. I'm guessing that the flavor was masked to some extent by the barrel finish.

It had a decent, sticky sweet finish to it, like apple and cherry hard candy mixed together. Alone that might have been awful, but the sweetness of that note was tempered by a malty note that also lingered. Unfortunately, there was also this chalky note that seemed to accompany it, and that was what I didn't like about the finish. 

I was thrilled to have gotten my hands on a bottle and thrilled to have tried it. While I was a bit underwhelmed, I'm still intrigued by their port finished bourbon, and I'm sure I'd give that a try as well if given a chance.

Grade: C+

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Maker's Mark Binny's Private Select Kentucky Bourbon - NP


- $70
- 110.6 Proof
- Staves: 4 Seared French Cuvee; 2 Maker's 46; 3 Roasted French Mocha; 1 Toasted French Spice
- Kentucky

The last couple times that Binny's has selected barrels from the Maker's Mark Private Select program, they've had employees go along for the tasting and to make their own stave selection to be bottled. I previously reviewed one picked by the former spirits manager at my local Binny's (he's since moved to another location).  

So, when another friend of mine, who is also a Binny's employee, got to slap his initials on the label of one of these Private Selects, I was more than obliged to grab one. Mr. NP has become one of my favorite drinking buddies, as I've found that our palates seem to line up pretty closely. In fact, as I'm sitting here writing this, I'm struggling to think of anything he's recommended that I've disliked. He's even turned me on to Armagnac.  So, take this review for what it is -- a review of a whiskey selected by a good friend that I know going in I'm probably going to like. There's bias across the board here!  

On the nose I got a peppery caramel--a bit different from salted caramel but just as good. It had a nice mix of sweet and spicy. It also had notes of creamy vanilla and even a sweet grain-forward note, like graham cracker. I also got a light pickle note from time to time, which I can't say I've ever gotten from a Maker's Mark bottle before.

The flavor was all toffee forward. It was kind of that creamy caramel but with an added richness and depth. It was very sweet up front, but not cloyingly so. It had a light pastry note to it that was somewhat hard to place my finger on, but it was like a not-as-sweet honey bun. 

While the toffee and caramel notes dominated up front, they gave way to other flavors, most notable of which was a distinct chocolate flavor. I'm not a big dark chocolate fan, but here it worked really well to temper the sweet caramel notes. This was like a dessert whiskey, but the kind of dessert you might get at a nicer restaurant where the dessert is rich and delectable and a play on flavors, as opposed to some sugary treat in a bowl--the kind of restaurant you don't take your kids to. 

I think what I liked most about this whiskey, though, was the finish. It had a nice, viscous texture that coated the mouth and the back of the throat, allowing for these flavors of toffee and dark chocolate to linger for an incredibly long time. This is also where the black pepper spice that I was getting on the nose finally made its appearance. If there was anything at all lacking on the front end of the palate it was a bit of spice, and it showed up on the finish in a way that seemed to perfectly balance everything out.

Again, take this review for what it is. Perhaps I'm a shill, but I think Mr. NP did a fantastic job with this pick and his combination of staves. When it first hit the shelves, I tried some from a friend's bottle and loved it then. I was afraid that when I finally got around to opening my bottle, months later, it wouldn't be the same experience. But that was not the case, and this was a bottle that I absolutely flew through once opened.

Grade: A

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lux Row Distiller's Collection Binny's Private Select Rebel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $35
- 113 Proof
- Barrel No. 6819639
- Kentucky

Binny's got quite a run of Lux Row single barrel store picks a while back, having gotten multiple barrels from Rebel, Ezra Brooks and Yellowstone. The best part about it was that they were at pretty good prices (a 113 proof single barrel pick for $35 is pretty impossible to pass up), and there were plenty of bottles to go around, so seemingly nobody missed out.

Despite that I'm not a wheated bourbon junkie as some people are, when I saw the row of these picks lining the shelf, I immediately grabbed one. Looking back on this and on the Ezra Brooks pick that I previously enjoyed, I really should have grabbed a few more of these. All single barrels means each one is going to be unique, and have I mentioned the price?!?  For that price, my feeling was that even if I get something good but not great, still a value.

On the nose I got a soft, pillowy nougat note, like the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar. I also got a certain sweet but nutty note, like honey roasted peanuts. It had traditional toffee and brown sugar notes as well, along with a bit of burnt sugar to it. It smelled good, but nothing that really stood out to me.

On my first sip, it was immediately clear that this was a very toffee-forward bourbon, with a pronounced sweetness to it. However, kind of like the nose, it had a certain salt element to it as well that provided a bit of balance. It came across a bit like salted caramel, but with some of that burnt sugar that I was getting from the nose.

Part way through it developed a little bit of spice, but it was sort of a tangy spice, like a light anise note along with some amaretto flavors. That nuttiness still stuck around, but any peanut notes came more in the form of rich almond flavors. It even had a bit of an old fashioned flavor to it, with a nice mix of that cherry and muddled orange peel to it.

The finish on this was pretty long and flavorful, and honestly my favorite part of this whiskey. I got that almond flavor, but it came across as more of a toasted almond, and that was all in a layer of toffee that just refused to go away.

This was a really good bourbon. I prefer a spicier versus a sweeter bourbon, but nonetheless I really liked this, especially for the price! Wheated bourbon lovers should be jumping all over these when they see them, because it has a good mix of sweet and heat.

Grade: B+

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Willett Family Estate 10 Year Small Batch Rye

- $200
- 115 Proof
- 10 Years
- Indiana

This bottle really needs no introduction by me. After all, Willett has been releasing ryes under their Willett Family Estate label for some time, now, and their older single barrel ryes fetch a lot of money on the secondary market. Relatively recently Willett started releasing younger, small batch ryes under their Willett Family Estate Ryes, starting with a two year old and most recently four year old batches. I have absolutely fallen in love with their small batch ryes and I grab them any chance I get.

But, in the middle of their periodic releases of their small batch ryes, which is their own distillate, Willett released a 10-year small batch rye. This was not their own distillate, as it's clearly labeled it was distilled in Indiana. Apparently Willett was still sitting on some aged MGP rye, the same rye they frequently used in their single barrel releases, and they chose to release it as a limited and very pricey small batch. Of course, I, being a sucker for all things WFE rye, had to get my hands on a bottle, and so here we are.

On the nose I got a lot of mint and vanilla, almost like a vanilla/spearmint chewing gum type note. I also got some oak notes as well as a light note of sawdust. It had a little bit of cinnamon spice as well. At times the flavors all mixed to make a sort of mint tea note, and at other times I got more of a root beer note. Either way, it always smelled delicious.

On the palate I got a lot of the traditional rye notes, particularly MGP rye. I got pine and an herbal dill note. I also got a some of the mint that I was getting on the nose. The vanilla was present as well, which really seemed to compliment that mint note. It reminded me a bit of spearmint lifesavers (are those the ones that would spark when you ate them in the dark as a kid?).

It also had some richer and more non-traditional notes to it. I got a bit of a dark cocoa note to it to add some richness and a teaser of some sweetness. However, additional sweetness came along in the form of a maple syrup flavor that seemed to come into play after having the bottle open for a bit. A bit of a toffee note also came through.

On the finish I got a lot of that spearmint and vanilla, and it was also the toffee note that really seemed to stick around. I also got the cinnamon spice in the back of my throat after each swallow. Surprisingly, despite being 115 proof, I got almost no alcohol burn from this rye. It really seemed to drink less than its proof.  Sometimes that would be a good thing and other times a bad thing. Here it was good, because I felt like added heat would have taken away from the otherwise great mix of flavors going on here. 

This one certainly hurt the wallet a bit, but I'm nonetheless glad to have had the chance to enjoy this bottle, as I loved every sip of it.

Grade: A

Monday, September 7, 2020

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 94 Proof
- Kentucky

I love getting my hands on new products from the big guys. It seems that with the big distillers like Heaven Hill it's getting harder and harder to release creative new products that are not allocated or limited releases. That's why we're seeing traditionally bourbon brands releasing rye whiskeys (Old Forester and Rare Breed) as well as expansions of existing lines (such as Weller and Benchmark).

That being said, when it's a solid, well-loved brand like Elijah Craig, and when the creativity doesn't stray too far from what's been working, I'm all for it! Toasted barrel finishes certainly aren't anything new, but it is new to Heaven Hill. I think Elijah Craig was a good product to use for it, too, being on the lighter side of pricing which helps keep more limited releases such as this (I honestly have no idea just how limited this will be) at a reasonable price.  The same can be said for the Barrel Strength as well.

As expected based on my experience with other toasted barrel finish whiskeys, this immediately came off sweeter than normal Elijah Craig on the nose. I got some light burnt orange or orange peel, as well as some salted peanuts.  However, I also got some rich toffee as well as kind of a white sugar note. It was almost like light corn syrup, and I got a bit of sugar cookie from it.

As to flavor, one of the first notes I got was a light oak flavor. It wasn't strong, and I was surprised that it was what hit me first. Immediately behind that, though, were the flavors I was getting from the nose. I got a lot of toffee from front to back, including on the finish. I also got that orange peel or burnt orange note. This combo was pretty consistent throughout.

I also got some dark cherry, with a little bit of anise bite to it. There were some notes of almond extract as well to add a bit of richness and complexity to the flavor.  I'm not sure exactly which notes may have been added by the finishing in the toasted barrel, whether it was the toffee notes or the anise spice--perhaps both.

Overall, though, this came across as a bit sweeter than Elijah Craig, but also spicier. However, the added spice wasn't peppery or even cinnamon, as so many bourbons tend to lean.  Rather, it was that anise note, even a bit of a ginger bite, that seemed to amp this bourbon up a bit. Additionally, there was an added rich layer of dark cherry and dark chocolate, particularly towards the end, that added to the richness and complexity.  While this isn't necessarily in my wheelhouse (anise and dark chocolate aren't really my thing), I know many bourbon drinkers that would love this profile. So take my grade with a grain of salt.  There are those out there that will love this for sure.

Grade: B

Friday, September 4, 2020

Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau de Laubade Straight Bourbon finished in Armagnac Barrels

- $125
- 118.4 Proof
- 12 yrs.
- Indiana

Thanks to a good friend of mine who introduced me to the spirit, I've found a love for well-aged (or even moderately aged) Armagnacs. I've come to love the nutty and fruity tones I find in them, not to mention their general availability and reasonable prices given that Armagnac just hasn't seen the boom that bourbon has.

As a result, I've been gravitating towards Armagnac and even Cognac finished whiskeys. In fact, I had a High West Double Rye! finished in Armagnac barrels that was delicious!!  So, when the Bardstown Chateau de Laubade finished bourbon came out, I was certainly intrigued. When I finally got the chance to check out the label, and I was able to immediately learn that this was 12 year barrel strength MGP that was then finished in Armagnac barrels, I knew I was buying one. And, as odd as it may seem, given the market, that price for a 12-year barrel strength MGP bourbon is probably right in line with where it should be. 

Even starting with the nose, this was an incredibly interesting, complex and even fun bourbon. The nose was full of dark fruits, and I got a lot of plum and even sweet raisin. It had a graham cracker pie crust note to it as well, along with some anise to spice it up a bit. This was all over a layer of vanilla and brown sugar that only added to the rich sweetness. It smelled like a fresh baked pie!

As to the flavor, it's worth noting that to things came on strong right away -- the heat and the Armagnac influence.  Both were quite alright with me, though! The rich sweetness from the nose was certainly front and center, as I was immediately hit with strong notes of molasses and raisin. It had that healthy dose of vanilla right up front as well, which lasted from the beginning through to the finish.

The fruit notes were absolutely prevalent. I was getting dark cherry notes, as well as some baked pear and even baked apple cinnamon notes. That cinnamon provided a nice spice to counter the sweetness from the fruit notes and the molasses flavor. 

It had a brighter note to it as well, kind of like apricot. That apricot note seemed to be tempered a bit, however, by a rich nutty note, somewhere between an almond and a cashew. The more I made my way through this bottle, the more that nutty note came through. 

All in all, this was an absolutely fantastic pour. It was interesting, full of flavor, not too sweet with a light amount of spice, and full bodied. It packed a punch with the heat, but that didn't get in the way for too long, and the later pours were significantly less hot. Despite the price, this was an amazing finished bourbon and well worth it!  I hope Bardstown keeps playing around with finishes the way they've been doing, because this was one the more "fun" whiskeys I've had in a long time.

Grade: A

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Russell's Reserve Warehouse Liquors Private Barrel Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - No. 20-0007

- $68
- 110 Proof
- 8 yrs., 8 mos.
- Barrel No. 20-0007
- Kentucky

Gene over at Warehouse Liquors in Chicago has a great palate. At least, for the most part, he has tastes and preferences that seem to closely align with mine (which is what makes his palate great, of course!).  While there have been private picks here and there that weren't necessarily my favorite, for the most part I have come to trust his picks knowing that I'm getting something pretty damn good.

And such was the case when I decided to grab this bottle. The price was a little steeper than I'm used to for Russell's Reserve picks. However, it had been a while since Warehouse last got a Russell's pick in. And the past picks that Gene has done have been amazing, so I still didn't hesitate to grab it off the shelf. Quite frankly, I'm so glad I did.

The nose has the hallmarks of what I love in a bourbon, with cinnamon and vanilla dominating. There was a bit of a graham crackery note as well as a cherry pie filling note to it as well to round out that cherry pie note. At times that graham cracker note came across a bit more bready or yeasty, but it didn't really detract from the nose. It just made it smell a bit more like a bakery.

The first thing I noticed when I tasted it was the long, drawn out cinnamon flavor. It seemed to be layered on top of a light anise note. I also got some darker fruit flavors, like raising and fig. It came across immediately as rich and full of flavor, with a lot of complexity.

From the first pour, this bottle seemed to only get better with each sip. That bready yeast note from the nose came through, rounding out that baked goods type flavor. It even had some light oak notes, just enough to counter some of the sweetness and add a bit more complexity and character to the flavor. 

The vanilla from the nose was there, but it wasn't a sweet vanilla. It was more like straight vanilla extract. While the sweetness didn't come from the vanilla, it worked because it found its way in other ways. It had a honey and graham cracker note that provided all the light sweetness the whiskey needed without letting it come across as a categorically "sweet" bourbon. In fact, it had kind of a butter cookie flavor to it on the last few pours that I absolutely loved.

The finish kept that honey and graham cracker note, but it was followed very quickly by a nice black pepper spice that didn't seem to show up until after I finished each sip. This was almost perfect, because it had me immediately diving back into my glass for that next sip.  

Again, while the price was a little steep, this was still worth every penny. Great flavor, great complexity and overall just a great bourbon.  I honestly wish I had another.

Grade: A

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Remus Repeal Reserve Batch III Straight Bourbon

- $75
- 100 Proof
- Blend of 12 yrs. and 11 yrs.
- Indiana

You know what I love?  Discount whiskey! Now don't get me wrong, this wasn't a huge discount. It was only a mere $5 off the regular price. But, I've been reading a lot of good reviews of the Repeal Reserve bottlings lately, and I have been wanting to give it a try. After all, it's a blend of well-aged MGP whiskey, in a limited release, and at a price that's actually under most of the other big distillers' limited releases.

So, the $5 discount was simply all I needed to tip the scales here. To get a little more specific on the blend (which is put right on the front label, which I love), this is a "medley" that is 12% 12-year bourbon with a 21% rye mashbill; 78% 11-year bourbon with a 21% rye mashbill; and 10% 11-year bourbon with a 36% rye mashbill.  It sounds like a magical mix of rye mashbills to me, and this was one of those bottles that I pretty much cracked open as soon as I got home. 

Before I even started taking notes on the smell or taste, I felt compelled to take note of the color (something I don't typically do). While bourbons tend to be darker anyway, certainly in comparison to single malts, this one was particularly dark in color, almost chocolate-like, and was certainly darker than any bourbons I've had recently.

The smell immediately from the pop of the cork was rich, with dark fruits like plum and raisin. It was also full of brown sugar, and it even had that tang or spice from just a bit of anise. There were light oak tones, but overall it had a rich sweetness to it. Towards the end I started noticing an underlying cereal note, like Cheerios.

The first note that I got when I took my first sip was a sweet but rich nutty note, kind of like a mix between cashew and pecan. It also had notes of dark chocolate to it, adding a little sweetness and a little bitterness. However, that bitterness was certainly welcome to help offset the sweet notes of caramel and vanilla that quickly made their way to the forefront.

I got a bit of maple syrup as well, which mixed with the nutty notes to create a sort of candied pecan flavor that I thought was incredible. There were also light cinnamon notes, and even a bit of a buttery vanilla note as well.

This bourbon was rich and complex, and it really hit all the right notes for me. It was dessert-like in flavor without being dessert-like in sweetness. It had the earmarks of a well-aged whiskey, with just a touch of char and just enough oak to balance out all the sweeter flavors. And it hit on a lot of the more traditional caramel and vanilla notes. 

A good indicator of just how much I like a bourbon is how much of the bottle I end up drinking when I first crack it open, and between my father-in-law and myself, this bottle was half emptied just in the first night. I loved this whiskey, and I'm kicking myself for not having tried it sooner. I don't believe I'll be waiting for a sale before I try Batch IV.

Grade: A

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 25 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon


- $130
- 91 Proof
- 25 Years
- Kentucky

A while back my wife had the nerve to make a wine run and, while there, pick up two really nice bottles of whiskey for me. I can't remember what the occasion was, whether it was that I had a really good day at work or perhaps I had had a really bad day at work. I just can't recall. Quite frankly, I can't recall as I sit here typing this what the other bottle was. But I do recall her bringing this one home for me.

It's not that hard to recall. After all, having had mixed experiences with Orphan Barrel products, the odds of me dropping $140 on another bottle were pretty slim, even if it were for a 25 year old bourbon. Based on my prior experiences with Old Blowhard, Barterhouse and Lost Prophet, all Orphan Barrel Bourbons at least 20 years of age or older, I figured this would be just as woody flavored as those bottles were. But, I was nonetheless thrilled to get one as a gift (even if it was still my money that bought the bottle)!  It's the gesture that counts, and she did a great job of picking up something I hadn't already had.

Despite my concerns, the nose was not nearly as expected. It packed a decent cinnamon punch, and yes, it was more like cinnamon sticks, but it didn't come across as woody, just Christmas-y.  I also got an earthy type of nougat flavor, like not so sugary sweet but almost leathery. There were also some caramelized or burnt sugar notes, and, despite all this, there seemed to be a sweet honey note in the background to brighten it up a bit.

On the tongue it was thinner than I expected. I get that this is a lower proof bourbon, but the older stuff frequently carries a bit more texture than this one did.  Nonetheless, it did still pack a lot of flavor, which I'm sure was due to the amount of time spent in the barrel.

The prominent flavor is what I would describe as dark cherry and walnut (like drinking well-made furniture).  It didn't come across as over-oaked, at least not with respect to the tannic qualities I often get from more wood-forward bourbons. The wood was there, though, and it certainly made for a dryer bourbon, removing much of the sweetness from the cherry. 

I also had a layer of cinnamon throughout, which at times seemed to be accompanied by chocolate and cherry notes. The chocolate was the most welcome flavor here, but it primarily lingered in the background. Rather, it was that walnut note that seemed to dominate each pour, with that kind of woody-nutty flavor and a touch of bitterness to go with.

What I really didn't like about this bourbon, though, is that I got this odd, tongue-numbing sensation.  But not like the kind that I would have gotten when I was 21 years old and not used to brown spirits. Rather, and this is going to be completely unrelatable to just about anyone that reads this, it was like the sensation of when you eat barbecue that has too much liquid smoke in it. Obviously this is coming from my own personal experience, but it's a sensation I've only had a couple times, and that's what it brought me back to.  It was really weird and quite off-putting.

Looking past that weird liquid smoke experience, this is a woody, well-aged bourbon that gives you many of the flavors you'd expect from such. Sometimes I find myself in the mood for that flavor profile, and this certainly fit the bill. But the weird liquid smoke experience was, ultimately, pretty hard to get past. 

Grade: B-

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Devils River Rye Whiskey

- $27
- 90 Proof
- Texas

So, in a previous post I told the story of how my father-in-law had tried this rye whiskey and he wanted me to try some, so rather than bring his bottle over to share, he stopped by his store and bought both the Devils River Bourbon and the Rye Whiskey.  As I was lying on my recliner, he walked in the door and unceremoniously dropped both bottles right into my lap. Once I got over the pain, I looked inside the bag to find both bottles, and I thanked him profusely, because, after all, who doesn't like free bourbon?!?

That being said, I was a bit gun shy going into this bottle. I started with the bourbon, and it really did not do a whole lot for me at all. In fact, I quite hated it. But, ryes tend to hold up better at a younger age, and I've always found that trying a rye from a small, craft distiller tends to be a less riskier proposition than trying a young bourbon. And so, with that in mind, I tried my best to keep the bad experience from the bourbon out of mind and tried to enjoy this rye with no prejudice.

From the pop of the cork I noticed that this whiskey actually had a really nice aroma.  Yes, I was still gun shy despite my best efforts, and I was expecting that over-ripe apple that I get from young whiskeys. However, what I got was a healthy amount of cinnamon, like red hots candy, mixed with vanilla.  I also got some black pepper spice that tickled my nostrils (that seems weird just typing it, but you get what I mean). There was some sweet corn notes, showing its youth, but also a light orange peel scent. All in all, it worked pretty well together and I found my self nosing my glass quite a bit.

The flavor lacked some of the sharp or rough edges that I was expecting to get. Granted, that could be due in part to the lower proof, but it came across as soft and inoffensive. It certainly had some typical notes of a young whiskey. I got a slight note of overripe apple that I associate with young whiskeys, but it wasn't a very strong note, and it really didn't detract from the other flavors that were going on.

I got a lot of warm cinnamon and brown sugar notes, like some sort of cookie -- perhaps a chocolate chip cookie, but with cinnamon chips instead of chocolate chips (I may have to try this!).  It also had a light cocoa powder note to it as well, making this somewhat dessert-like, but like a less sweet dessert.

I did get the orange peel, and it actually came across stronger on the palate than on the nose. Along with that I got some nutty notes, like nutmeg and even at times that bitter walnut shell flavor. Perhaps it was kind of a peanut skins note.

Overall, this was actually a pretty decent whiskey, and a far cry better than its bourbon brother. With so many craft whiskeys, they come with a hefty price tag to cover the cost of producing and bottling whiskey, and to turn a profit. I'm not sure how Devils River gets away with it, but the price tag on this bottle is great! At only $27 a bottle, this is well-worth taking a flyer on. It's not the best rye I've ever had, and I don't think anybody would expect that it would be. But, for that price, it's a really good product.

Grade: B

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Daviess County Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in French Oak Casks


- $45
- 96 Proof
- Kentucky

With the recent Binny's barrel picks from Rebel and Ezra Brooks, I feel like I've been picking up a lot of Lux Row products lately. This was the first in that trend. I had seen these on the shelves for a while, but I frequently looked right past them. Then a friend recommended this French Oak Cask finished bourbon from Daviess County, giving it incredibly high praise. 

At that point I was left with no choice, really, but to make sure to pick one up the next time I was at the store. A glowing review paired with a moderate price made it an easy decision. He was not the only one, though. I bottled a sample for another friend, along with a bunch of other samples, and he made it a point to text me to tell me how much he liked this sample specifically.  And so, the stage is set. 

The nose had a light wood note to it. I don't know if that was just a placebo effect of knowing that this is a secondary wood-finished bourbon or not. But it was there, albeit light and inoffensive. I also got notes of cherry and vanilla, as well as a sweet popcorn note, kind of like kettle corn. It wasn't bold or pungent, but the aromas did mix very well together.

The texture was surprisingly viscous and buttery, given the proof. However, I didn't get that popcorn flavor I got off the nose. Rather, I found that this was very vanilla forward, and if that's your jam, then this is definitely worth trying.

On top of the vanilla I got a certain honey note along with a sweet wood note. In fact, at times it came across almost like a granola bar, with that sweet honey mixed with a nutty, cereal like note. In that sense the wood notes were on the sweeter side, as far as wood notes go.  I guess that's a way of saying it lacked that bitter bite or tannic quality that I sometimes get from a more oaky bourbon.

The sweetness carried throughout, and it was most noticeable on the finish. Due to the oily quality of the whiskey, the finish was nice and long, and it left my mouth with a nice, thick coating of sweet caramel, and more towards the end, a maple syrup note. This is where I would have liked it to be a bit more balanced, though. The syrupy sweetness, whether honey, maple syrup or just sweet vanilla, needed something earthy or even a touch of that wood note as a counter.

That being said, while this may not have been my favorite whiskey, others certainly have loved this. If you like your bourbon on the sweeter side, definitely give this a go!

Grade: B

Friday, August 21, 2020

Jim Beam Old Tub Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $23
- 100 Proof
- NAS (Min. 4 years)
- Kentucky

I've known about the Jim Beam brand Old Tub for some time now, but only as a result of doing some research a few years back when I was planning my first trip to Kentucky. I was researching whiskeys that I could either only get in Kentucky or that were available in Kentucky but not in Illinois.  Old Tub was one that made that list, as it was only available at the stillhouse. Unfortunately, there was none to be found on the shelves when I got there.

So when Beam announced the release of Old Tub on wide distribution, I was actually pretty excited, even if it didn't come with any huge amount of love or hype over the distillery-only release. Then I heard the price and I knew I'd be getting one. It was nuts to me that there was a limited release bourbon coming out that was only going to be $23!  I guess, however, that it is consistent with other very affordable "limited" releases from Beam such as Distiller's Cut and Repeal Batch (both of which I was also a fan). And the best part of it was that when it did finally hit the shelves, it actually hit the shelves, meaning there was no asking for it from the back or finding it at jacked up prices. It was just literally sitting on the shelf waiting for me!

Upon opening the bottle and taking that first whiff, I immediately noticed a soft, nutty nose, kind of like cashew. I also got a soft grainy note, like oatmeal, but with honey added, or even a not-so-strong maple syrup.  There was a light cinnamon spice to it, and also a delicious vanilla scent that also reminded me of marshmallow a bit. The nose on this was really good while avoiding slapping me in the face with strong notes or a bunch of alcohol.

On the palate I first notice the texture. It came across as pretty watery and thin, particularly for its proof. However, the flavor seemed to go right in line with the nose. I first noticed the soft vanilla notes, again at times coming across as a marshmallow flavor. I also got a heavy dose of creamy caramel, like the kind of caramel you'd drizzle over ice cream. In this respect, the flavors worked really well together.

I also got hints of milk chocolate as well as a light, salty peanut note. Again, these are all flavors that have worked well together as long as man has known that each of these things are edible. Interestingly, though, about halfway through my bottle I made a note that over all this whiskey lacked in complexity and was "simple."  Looking back at that note, I'm fairly certain that what I meant by that is there was nothing that really stuck out or separated it from the pack.

This was a really good bourbon, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last few pours. In fact, I had quite a few in my last sitting with this bottle, as I just found myself pouring just a bit more, and then just a bit more. This is a classic bourbon with all the right sweet and dessert-like notes that you want to pull from a barrel. While it may have been "simple" to me, it was nonetheless very tasty, full of vanilla and caramel, and at an incredible price!

Grade: B+

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Kentucky Straight Rye


- $60
- 112.2 Proof
- Kentucky

It's been a while since I've been really excited for a new release, but when Wild Turkey announced the release of Rare Breed as a new regular in its line-up, I was practically giddy.  I've made no effort to hide my love for Wild Turkey ryes, and a barrel proof Turkey Rye under the Rare Breed label would have been on my wishlist of whiskeys I want to see produced.  

When it got near the anticipated release date, and when I started seeing people in other parts of the country start posting pictures, that's when I began hounding my local liquor store manager. I'm sure I couldn't have been more annoying, but each time I went in I simply asked, "Did the Rare Breed come in?"  "Not yet" was all I was ever told . . . until I wasn't.  When I finally got a bottle in my hands it was all I could do to wait until I got home to crack it open. I only hoped it would live up to all the hype I had built up in my head.

On the nose I got that familiar cinnamon spice. However, there were also softer notes as well. I also got a sort of buttered toast note, which reminded me of cinnamon sugar toast (a very underrated snack, by the way).  I also got a root beer note that I really liked. The vanilla undertones gave it hints of a root beer float. 

While the vanilla wasn't strong on the nose, it was very present in the flavor. This was one of the more vanilla forward ryes I've had in a long time. The cinnamon spice was also present, and it seemed to hit from front to back. It hit the tip of my tongue immediately with each sip, and it seemed to linger on the long finish.

That cinnamon paired with a honey and graham cracker note to provide a sweet, crackery flavor. There was also a healthy dose of caramel to add to the sweetness and give it a little bit more richness in flavor. This was certainly a sweeter rye, but it never got anywhere near being too sweet. As far as sweeter ryes go, this was right in my wheelhouse.

The vanilla that lingered throughout also stuck around for a long time on the finish, and on later pours seemed to pair with a sweet spearmint note that I couldn't get enough of. It added a light crispness to the whiskey that seemed to round it out.

Overall, I thought Wild Turkey hit this one out of the park. This rye is full of rich and complex flavors but is completely balanced. The high proof is almost not noticeable, and it provides the right balance of sweet and spicy. What's great is that it's not some super rare limited release, and we should be seeing this on shelves semi-regularly.  This is my whiskey of the year so far for 2020, and I need to go get more . . . like now!

Grade: A

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Baker's 13 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $115
- 107 Proof
- 13 Years
- Barrel No. 222056
- Kentucky

If you ask me, the Baker's re-branding is one of the best things that Beam has done in recent years. I've always been a fan of the Baker's small batch. Something about it has always hit the right notes for me, not to mention that I've got some fond memories of enjoying a nice tall pour of the stuff. That being said, the old labeling left much to be desired, and I think it was a bit reason why it was frequently the forgotten bourbon in Beam's small batch series.

I was excited for the re-branding, and just as excited for the switch from small batch to single barrel, even if for no other reason than that I anticipated it would generate more love for one of my favorite brands. The release of a 13 year limited edition only added to that excitement, and when one was offered to me, that was an incredibly easy yes. I only hoped it'd be as good as it was in my head before I plopped down that kind of cash.

The nose was hot, not only on the first pop of the cork, but even on the last few pours after the bottle had sat on my shelf for a while. Behind that alcohol burn, though, I was getting a lot of cinnamon and peanuts, a combination which initially seems alright, but then, when I thought about it, I could not recall ever having that combination of flavors before. I also got some hazelnut and chocolate, making this smell a lot like a cinnamon spiced Nutella. 

The flavor profile was not nearly as sweet as the nose led me to believe. There was a certain burnt sugar flavor, as well as a dark caramel sauce, like the sauce that's on flan.  There was also a soft, nougat flavor along with some milk chocolate.

However, there was something behind those flavors on each pour. I couldn't quite pin down a particular flavor, but it was an earthy and musty note. There was a certain amount of wood in the flavor, but that was coupled with a certain funk, like wood that had been out in the rain all night (and no, I've never eaten a log off the ground after a hard night's rain, but you get my point). There was just this constant musty note that seemed really odd.

Luckily there was a decent spice on the finish to keep me going back. The finish was probably the best part, with cinnamon and black pepper spice lingering for a long time, along with the peanut and nougat notes. It's only because of this long, tasty finish that the musty note didn't drive me away.

I really wanted to love this whiskey. In fact, when I initially tried a pour from my buddy's bottle (don't know if it was the same barrel or not), I thought it was great. My bottle, though, just had something funky and earthy to it that really distracted from everything else going on, which is a shame, because everything else that was going on was really delicious.

Grade: B-

Friday, August 14, 2020

Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon


- $30
- 108 Proof
- Barrel No. 000027100
- Kentucky

I do love it when the big distillers come out with a new line. Whether it's Four Roses releasing Small Batch Select, or Old Forester releasing a rye, or Heaven Hill releasing an Elijah Craig Rye, or Wild Turkey releasing a Rare Breed Rye (I'm seeing a trend here), it's always nice to see what will be a mainstay hit the shelves. I think this is so for two reasons.  First, what if it's really good?  How great is it to have really good whiskey available all the time!?! Second, the price is usually pretty decent as well.

So, without any advance notice (at least none that I saw anyway), Jim Beam released a single barrel, 108 proof whiskey. I've heard its whiskey aged 5-7 years (though I've confirmed nothing), and at 108 proof, it's going to pack a decent punch. It was a no-brainer to grab one off the shelf at $30 and give it a try. I was really hoping to find another regular for the rotation, but ultimately, that's probably not going to be the case.

The first thing I got on the nose was peanuts.  Not only that nutty flavor, but also a light saltiness to go with. I also got some sweet, candy-like notes of toffee and caramel. It also had some notes that had a little bite to them, like a dark cherry note as well as the smell of unsweetened tea.  There was even a light chocolate note to it. All in all, I really enjoyed everything together, even it it did seem a bit all over the place.

The palate was somewhat different, though. The primary flavor I got, both in earlier pours and the later pours, was a cherry cola flavor. It had that cherry note and even tartness, as well as a good level of sweetness in the caramel/cola flavor. 

It also had some wood notes to it that carried a bit of a tannic quality, which I found surprising given what I was told the range of the ages of the barrels. It was certainly more woody than expected. To balance that out, though, there was not only the sweet cola flavor, but also a nice, soft butterscotch note, which to me was the best part of this whiskey.

There was certainly a nutty quality to it, kind of like a black walnut but with a touch of sweet cashew. It was the best of both nut-worlds. At 108 proof, while I would have expected some heat on the finish, this seemed to have all heat on the finish, and that heat seemed to really mute any other flavors on the finish. The nuttiness did stick around for a little bit, but any of the flavors that I would have wanted to linger on the finish seemed to disappear.

Overall, this was a good-but-not great whiskey. I likely won't be reaching for it on the shelves again, primarily because there are better options at the price, there are so many new whiskeys coming out to try, and, quite frankly, there are so many other whiskeys I just haven't tried yet. My rotation of regulars is pretty small, and this one just isn't making the team.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Ezra Brooks Distiller's Collection Binny's Private Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel No. 7167078


- $30
- 107 Proof
- Barrel No. 7167078
- Kentucky

Lux Row Distillers have had quite a run recently of some pretty good and well-received products. Notably, seemingly out of nowhere the Rebel Yell 10-Year Single Barrel got all sorts of love from the bourbon community, and more recently, they released the Old Ezra 7 Year Barrel Strength, which likewise has seen largely positive reviews.  I personally really liked both of them.

Binny's apparently took notice of this, and when Luxco, who owns these brands (as well as the Yellowstone brand), started a barrel program, it seems that Binny's went nuts with their picks. Within the span of a week they got multiple single barrel picks from the Ezra Brooks lineup a swell as the Rebel line and the Yellowstone line.  I had no idea these were even a thing, let alone that they would be coming in. The best part of all of it, though, is the pricing. This Ezra Brooks was only $30 for a 107 proof bourbon! How could I say no to that! In fact, on that basis alone I wish I had purchased more than one bottle.  

But, to make it even better, the whiskey itself was really good, too!  The nose was a bit soft, but the notes that I got were vanilla and a sort of sweet wheat bread. It also had a light cinnamon spice to it, and all of these together created a sort of a cinnamon bread note that was absolutely delicious.

On the palate, it packed significantly less heat than expected. Despite being 107 proof, it came across as soft, though not watered down. It just lacked that bold punch. That being said, that would be my only real criticism of this whiskey. I really loved everything else about it.

While the flavor came across as soft, it is actually suiting, as one of the most prominent notes I was getting was a creamy nougat flavor, like the middle of a 3 Musketeers bar. It was rich and sweet, but at the same time pillowy and buttery. It had a silky mouthfeel that perfectly matched its flavor.

It was also pretty caramel forward, which seemed to mix with a bit of a spicy cinnamon note. It was that cinnamon note that seemed to linger for a long time on the finish, longer than I had expected, actually. I'm not sure which I liked more, the nougat-forward note or the long spicy finish, but the two combined really struck the right chord with me.

I also got light notes of oak, though it wasn't the least bit tannic. I also got a lot of brown sugar and even at time a more molasses sweetness to it, but it never overpowered in the sweetness category. It was all really well-balanced and just a delicious bourbon to drink. 

Unfortunately, I never really got to share this with anyone. I'd be interested in what others thought. I've seen some say that other barrels were just average, and I've seen some give similar reviews to the very same barrel that I had. Perhaps I got lucky and just randomly got one of the better barrels, or perhaps I'd enjoy them all just the same. Who knows? But at $30 a pop, it's absolutely worth it to find out!

Grade: A

Friday, August 7, 2020

High West Campfire Distillery Exclusive Barrel Select Sherry Finished Blended Whiskey

- $60
- 101 Proof
- Barrel No. 13093
- Finish Time: 1 yr., 3 mos.
- Utah

It's no secret that I'm a big High West fan. For the most part (there are some exceptions), I love everything they put out, especially their ryes. But what I really love about High West is their barrel select program. It seems High West is constantly finding barrels to use for finishing their core line-up of bourbon, rye and blended whiskey, and their Barrel Select program is great! I've had some absolutely amazing bottles finished in port barrels, Scotch barrels, and most recently one finished in Armagnac barrels that was one of the best whiskeys I've had in a long time.

So, when some buddies and I went to visit a friend at the distillery in Wanship, Utah, we made it a point to hit up the gift shop before it closed. It was as though I was drawn like a magnet--as soon as I walked through the door my hand immediately reached for this bottle. They frequently have gift shop exclusive bottlings available, and I knew this would be coming home with me regardless of what it was. Luckily for me, though, I love a good, sherried peated Scotch, and I knew this would be right in line with my tastes.

As I often get with peated Scotches finished in sherry barrels, one of the first notes that I got on this was a barbecue sauce aroma. It was smokey and fruity, with rich cherry notes. It offered a bit more complexity than I expected, though, as I also got a caramel and even cherry cola note. Consistent with the smoke, I got a bit of a burnt marshmallow note as well.

As to flavor, I likewise found more flavor than I had expected to.  Of course, I got a lot of smoke that I expected (and which makes peated Scotches somewhat divisive, especially among bourbon drinkers). The fruit notes, however, came across a bit lighter and brighter, more like a raspberry flavor than cherry. 

It had a lot of cinnamon spice to it, and that spice, along with the raspberry flavor and the smoke, certainly reminded me of a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. It even seemed to be sweetened up a bit by a soft honey note.

I did get other flavors that I'd traditionally associate with Scotch over rye or bourbon. I got a sweet pipe tobacco flavor, and even some floral notes. I couldn't tell you which flower I was tasting (my palate is not that refined, nor do I have the necessary experience eating and tasting various flowers), but it was light and soft and herbal, kind of like lavender.

The finish, aside from the smoke that lingered, carried more of a pastry note. It was soft and bready, and it reminded me of King's Hawaiian bread--that sweet and light bread that I can just eat all day on its own.

I know that campfire itself can be somewhat divisive, and certainly peated whiskey is. In fact, one of my buddies that was with me when I got this bottle grabbed one for himself, and he hated it to the point that he was looking to give away his bottle. I, however, absolutely loved this and thought it was a really well done finish on a product I already really liked. I enjoyed the last few pours around my fire pit in my back yard, and I couldn't have pictured a more fitting whiskey for that purpose.

Grade: A-

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Russell's Reserve Binny's Private Barrel Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel #20-0015

- $55
- 110 Proof
- Barrel #20-0015
- Kentucky

It feels like it's been a while since Binny's, or any liquor store near me for that matter, got in any Russel's Reserve private picks. I've always had a tendency to gravitate towards them, and I've come across some absolutely stellar bottles. But it seems like for the past year or so we've been in a Russel's picks drought. Luckily for me, though, a couple weeks ago Binny's got in a nice haul of a few different Russel's Reserve barrels as well as some Kentucky Spirit barrels.

A buddy and I each grabbed a different barrel (if only I could have gotten one of each), and he got around to opening his before I could get to mine. His impression was essentially that it was just fine. It was a good whiskey, but not great, nothing to write home to mom about. That was a bit disappointing, and unfortunately I don't know what barrel he had. That being said, that's the best part of single barrels--each one is different. So his initial impressions motivated me to go ahead and crack mine open.

The nose on this was absolutely delicious. Right away I got rich notes of chocolate and cherry. That was balanced by a spicy cinnamon note, kind of like cinnamon sticks. There was also a layer of aroma that smelled a lot like chocolate chip cookies. These flavors all worked so well together, like some new type of amazing Christmas cookie that my wife needs to learn how to make.

The flavor didn't come across quite as bold. In fact, it didn't seem to drink up to its proof, if that makes sense. It wasn't as strong in flavor as I expected it to be given that it was 110 proof. That being said, the flavors were nonetheless delicious, and it had a sweet complexity to it that I really enjoyed.

I got a bunch of the traditional notes of brown sugar and caramel. Neither one was really dominant enough to be bomb-worthy (i.e. a "caramel bomb" as the kids on the internet would say). It actually had a really good balance of both flavors. 

What was missing, though, was the spice. I've become used to a certain level of spice in my Turkey products, at least in their bourbons certainly. Here, however, while there was a slight cinnamon flavor and spicy tingle, it just wasn't very strong. This came across as more of a sweeter bourbon, a profile which I would liken to a wheated bourbon, with any heat coming solely on the finish.

This was certainly a sweeter, dessert-like bourbon. It had this buttery quality to it, not in texture but in flavor, that was a lot like buttercream frosting. There was a healthy-enough dose of vanilla to make this work really well, and with the brown sugar seemed to come across like a frosted chocolate chip cookie (like those giant cookies you used to walk past at the mall).

This bottle was interesting. I expected a certain profile going in, and found that it wasn't at all what I expected. However, it proved to be a very tasty bourbon, and one certainly on the sweeter end. While I tend to lean more towards a spicier bourbon, this one was still really good, and I found myself working my way through the bottle at a pretty rapid rate. It certainly keeps me interested in finding more Russel's private picks.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 31, 2020

Elijah Craig "Jackie Treehorn Presents" Niche Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $30
- 94 Proof
- Ser. No. 6023798
- Kentucky

I love bourbon! I also love Niche Restaurant in Geneva, Illinois! And I love The Big Lebowski! That is absolutely one of my all-time favorite movies, one of those that I've watched dozens of times. There are just so many great characters from that movie, including Jackie Treehorn.  The Dude said it best -- "Jackie Treehorn treats objects like women, man."

At the start of the pandemic, when Niche began selling bottles to go, I couldn't help but pick up this bottle, cleverly named after my favorite fictional pornographer (I know, there are so many to choose from!). In fact, I found myself buying multiples of this bottle, for gifts of friends who also appreciate the cinematic masterpiece that is The Big Lebowski, and for buddies that I knew wouldn't want to miss out on possessing such a treasure. And all that goes without saying that Niche's private picks tend to be some of the best I've had, including their previous Elijah Craig pick, so how could I go wrong?!?

The bourbon itself had a bit of a fruity nose. I got an almost red licorice note out of it, as well as some fresh strawberry. I even got a sweet cotton candy scent.  It also had a chocolate note, but it was more like a mocha, sweet with a slight edge of bitterness. At times I was also getting a sweet scent of freshly baked cinnamon bread, though that note seemed a bit more fleeting.  All in all, the nose was really delicious, albeit a bit light and soft.

The flavor profile, however, was sweet and nutty. I got a lot of caramel, as well as salted peanuts. I even got some soft milk chocolate flavors, and consistently throughout each pour that all culminated into a Snickers-like flavor that I absolutely loved. It even had the rich nougat flavor to really drive that Snickers note home.

There were other delicious flavors that came through as well, though. I also got a distinct pastry note, like a light and flaky coffee cake with vanilla icing.  Although the nutty note was consistent throughout, it seemed to take on other flavors similar to the salted peanuts, but a bit different. At one point I got a candied walnut note that I really liked. That flavor didn't seem as prominent, though.

The final pours of this bourbon were almost all nougat flavor and were fantastic! It made for a sweet but not overly sweet whiskey that had me savoring the last couple inches of my bottle. In fact, when I got to the last pour, I was torn between really wanting to drink it and not wanting to no longer have any more to drink -- quite the whiskey drinker's dilemma. In the end, I landed where most whiskey drinkers land, and I drank it, and I regret nothing! This was a fantastic whiskey and yet another great selection by Niche.

Grade: A-

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon - Batch No. 5

- $50
- 113.6 Proof
- Indiana

I've had this bottle for a couple years now. I grabbed it as soon as I had seen it on the shelves, having heard really good things about these Belle Meade Reserve bottles. So when I saw it, I grabbed it, and then never got around to opening it. Part of it is that down the road I also grabbed a later batch, Batch No. 23,that ended up getting opened first. 

But, when the shelter-in-place orders began and my office closed, I started doing Zoom happy hours with some work friends, and one of my buddies suggested that I crack this one open for the evening. Seemed like a pretty good suggestion. After all, I really liked the other bottle I had, and it wasn't as though I was saving this one for any special occasion.  So, nearly two years later, I finally got around to opening it up and tasting the whiskey inside.

The nose was full of the more traditional bourbon notes, with a bunch of caramel and a bit of cinnamon spice. It also had a nice layer of vanilla kind of underneath it all. Other notes came through as well, including a bit of a cherry note that at times leaned a bit brighter, like raspberry.  There was also a distinct cola note on the nose as well. All in all, it smelled delicious!

Much like the nose, the flavor was very caramel forward, and it still had that undercurrent of vanilla throughout.  The cinnamon spice that I was getting on the nose seemed to be absent, though, which I found a bit odd. It also had a decent amount of oak to it, making this a more wood-forward bourbon and telling me that it probably had some decent age to it, despite there being no indication of age on the bottle In fact, I got a bit of astringency on each sip, much like I've gotten from older bourbons.

I also got a light anise note, though a bit more than I would prefer. The cherry from the nose was also present, but it wasn't as bright. It was more like dried cherries, and it added a bit of tartness to the flavor. All that being said, though, the traditional bourbon notes carried this, as toffee and caramel seemed to be the most prominent flavors. At times I even got a bit of pecan that gave it a bit of a pecan pie flavor when paired with the caramel and toffee notes.

In the end, I think I liked the later batch better than this one. Don't get me wrong, this one was really good, with a lot of bold, rich flavor and the right amount of heat. It just didn't come across as complex or as interesting, and I was never able to decide if I liked that tart cherry flavor. Nonetheless, should I come across any more of these sitting on liquor store shelves, I won't hesitate to pick them up.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 24, 2020

Old Forester Single Barrel Niche Private Select "Stallion pt 12" Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $40
- 90 Proof
- Kentucky

I've previously touted the barrel-picking abilities of Vinny, the owner of Niche Restaurant in Geneva, Illinois. I've had many a private pick at the restaurant, and with only one exception, they've all been exceptional. A couple months ago, towards the start of the pandemic, Niche began selling liquor to go, and I was able to get my hands on a few of their picks, including the Buffalo Trace I reviewed back in March, which was delicious.

Apparently the pandemic didn't slow down the distribution of their barrel picks, as they've since gotten in a couple different new picks, including this Old Forester pick.  I'm not sure what the "Stallion pt 12" is in reference to, though my Google skills tell me it's probably a reference in some way to a song by Ween, a band I only know for their song "Push th' Little Daisies" which was a featured video in Beavis and Butthead. Regardless, whether I understood the reference or not, I made sure to get my hands on one of these bottles as soon as Niche got them in.

The nose on the first pour was really an indicator of what I was going to get throughout this bottle. On that first pour I was immediately hit with a dark cherry note, somewhat sweet but also somewhat tart. That was balanced out by notes of amaretto and black licorice (which I hate in large doses -- it didn't get to that point here). It was also full of spice, like cloves and even allspice. In a way it reminded me a bit of a spiced fruitcake, which I know might sound like a turn off to some people, but this was rich and spicy and delicious smelling.

As to flavor, I got many of those same notes. I got a bit of an anise note right up front that hit the sides of my tongue. I also got a lot of sweet cinnamon spice. It also had that fruit-forward note, however, in this case it was more of a dark plum rather than cherry, and at times even came across like raisin.  It did carry some sweetness, with a bit of a molasses note, but that seemed to be well-balanced by the light oak note that I got as well.

Despite its proof, this had a nice oily texture that still managed to coat the mouth with each sip and allow the finish to linger for quite a while--and the finish was great! This is where the cherry from the nose appeared, accompanied by rich dark chocolate as well as a healthy dose of almond or amaretto. At times I even got a bit of a peanut butter note. It was absolutely rich and delicious.

Those chocolate-cherry-almond notes seemed to get stronger as I made my way to the bottom of the bottle to the point that they really took over the flavor, which was quite alright by me. This whiskey had a lot going on, but all of the flavors seemed to be borderline sweet flavors, making this more of a rich, more decadent dessert-like whiskey, rather than a sugary sweet whiskey. Everything going on in this bottle worked really well, and quite frankly I appreciated the dryness to it. It seemed to focus the flavors a bit more. 

Once again, Niche has provided an outstanding private pick, and I'm just going to be keeping my eye out for every new pick that hits their restaurant.

Grade: A

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Fistful of Bourbon Blended Straight Bourbon

- $35
- 90 Proof
- Min. 2 years
- Kentucky

This is a bottle that I grabbed out of pure curiosity. I've seen it posted here and there in social media, but it's not as though it carried any sort of demand, nor were people hyping it or anything like that. But when you see a bottle like this with a label like this, you remember it. I never went actively looking for the bottle, and I had never seen it on the shelves at my usual haunts. I figured perhaps it just got limited to no distribution in Illinois.

But, when making a trip to Warehouse Liquors in Chicago, something I don't get to do nearly as often as I used to since I've been primarily working from home, I looked down on the bottom shelf and saw the fun, whimsical label, checked the very reasonable price, and figured what the hell, I'll give it a go.

This is a blended bourbon from William Grant & Sons, a company I've only known for their Scotch and Irish whisky brands. That being said, they're certainly a known entity.  Right on the front of the bottle they state that this is a blend of five straight bourbons (each with a unique characteristic according to the back label), with a minimum age of two years. Interestingly, it does not tell us where the whiskey was distilled, only that it was "produced" by William Grant & Sons in New York. 

On the nose I got a soft candy corn aroma, certainly sweet but not in that traditional caramel/toffee manner. It also came across as somewhat grainy, but softer and not so offensive, more like oats than corn. It also gave off notes of pie crust and even had a light cinnamon spice to it. But in the end, it was a soft and sweet nose, which certainly invited me to take a sip.

As to flavor, where I didn't get the corn on the nose, I certainly got it on the palate. The first note that I wrote down was canned corn. I got a distinct corn flavor, and specifically canned corn, as weird as that may seem. It's a familiar flavor, and once I noticed it I couldn't not notice it.

I did get other flavors as well, though. I got an apple sauce note, along with just a touch of cinnamon, just enough to provide the lightest bit of sweet spice. As I made my way into later pours, however, this spice seemed to transform a bit, and it became more of a vegetal spice. I was getting kind of a chili pepper spice from it, but more like fresh chili peppers. There was also a sort of chocolate flavor that accompanied it, which reminded me a bit (just a bit) of Mexican chocolate.

On the final few pours, it came across a bit nutty, like walnut, and the spiciness seemed to have died off a bit. At least the chili pepper spice, while not necessarily great, was interesting. For that reason I wished it had stuck around. Nonetheless, while in the end this struck me as just an okay bourbon, it was fun to try and the price was right. It had some interesting notes that may appeal to others where it did not appeal to me, so for the price it's probably worth at least a try.

Grade: C+

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Buffalo Trace Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #27 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $27
- 90 Proof
- Batch #27
- Kentucky

As I've said in the past, I have a really hard time passing up on Buffalo Trace Single Barrel or Small Batch Selects. Whether I'm in Jewel, Binny's or any other liquor store, I just can't pass up the value that these bottles always bring. I've never had a dud, and I've been very pleasantly surprised by some of the bottles I've tasted.

I was just on a wine run with my wife when I grabbed this one. In fact, I still have a bottle of their Batch #25 sitting unopened in my desk at work (neglected due to the pandemic). Despite that, as she was loading her purchases onto the counter, upon noticing this bottle sitting there, I grabbed it and plopped it down next to her bottles of wine. Of course I got the "really?" look from her, but even she was willing to look past my yet-another-whiskey-purchase given the price.

The nose was very pleasant. I got a good, sweet cinnamon note, as well as a lot of vanilla. It reminded me a bit of cinnamon rolls, with an emphasis on the vanilla notes.  I also got some root beer notes, which gave it a sort of a root beer float smell. I also got some fresh baked bread notes from time to time. This really was a good smelling whiskey, and I found myself just sniffing my glass constantly with each pour.

The flavor seemed to follow suit, and the first note that I got out of it was a sweet, soft vanilla note that was a bit like soft serve ice cream. Along with that I got some of the more traditional notes, with a decent amount of toffee and a bit of light cinnamon. I even got a little bit of chocolate. On first pours it came across as a sweet milk chocolate, but on later pours I likened it to more of a rich, dark chocolate.

These flavors all together really reminded me of a Heath Bar, one of my favorite candies to steal from my kids' Halloween haul each year (they just don't appreciate the Heath Bar).  It also had that sort of creamy quality, not necessarily in texture but more in the way the flavors came across my palate. Much like the nose, at times I got a mix of all these flavors here that together reminded me of a root beer float.

On the final few pours, a certain richness came through. I got darker fruit notes, like raisin and plum. I also got a bit of an anise note, but not enough to offend me (I'm not a huge fan of anise). Just enough to add a bit more character and make it just that much more interesting. 

As I said, I haven't opened Batch #25 yet, so I can't compare it to that. However, this is one of the better Buffalo Trace picks that I've had in a while, and I feel like I've had a run of some good ones lately. If this is still sitting in stores, and you happen to like Buffalo Trace, I'd say definitely pick one up. I know some people would rather see Binny's doing Single Barrel Selects than Small Batch Selects, but if the Small Batch Selects are going to taste like this, then it really makes no difference to me.

Grade: A-

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

- $30
- 94 Proof
- Kentucky

You know what I hate?  I hate getting a press release about a new whiskey coming out, particularly one that's a new entry to the core lineup for a major distillery and happens to be a rye, only to find out that the initial distribution is limited to four states.  Four!!  What kind of madness is that?  When Heaven Hill announced an Elijah Craig Rye, a lot of people were crazy excited for it -- Elijah Craig fans and rye whiskey fans alike. So much promise, broad availability and very reasonable price--what more could you ask for?

And then I read the part about the limited distribution to start. This product was only going to be available in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Oregon.  What an odd market release!!  Not a single major market in there, and even people living in Kentucky were left out.  Certainly there are plans to broaden the distribution, but my initial excitement waned quite a bit upon reading that part of the release. Luckily for me, though, I have family in Oregon, and one day, unannounced, a box arrived on my porch from my sister. Inside that box were a bunch of old towels, and wrapped inside those old towels was a bottle of Elijah Craig Rye!!  I felt like I was getting in on the ground floor of things!

I opened the bottle up right away (it was weird being this excited to try something that's not rare or limited), and I struggled to get a whiff of much of anything. It had a really soft nose, and even after pouring it into a Glencairn I really had to bury my nose in the glass. I did get some light caramel notes with just a bit of vanilla. I got almost no spice on the nose whatsoever, and I did get a touch of pine, letting me know that this was very much a rye whiskey.

Much like the nose, the palate was soft and light as well. It was what many would describe as an "approachable" whiskey. To me, this means that it had limited alcohol burn and a bit of a thin, watery texture. It was by no means bold in either flavor or spice, and had really no offensive characteristics to it at all.  

I did get some cinnamon spice that I wasn't getting on the nose. It was more on the sweeter side, however, and it mixed with a soft, creamy vanilla flavor. I also got bright notes of spearmint that really complemented that vanilla flavor.

On later pours I got some richer, sweeter flavors, like a fairly distinct molasses note. I also got a buttery and nutty note, and it really reminded me of cashews.  The vanilla-spearmint note, however, was consistent from the first pour to the last. But, even as I noticed other flavors, it always seemed to work well with them all.

Despite the thin, watery texture, this whiskey actually had a decently long and delicious finish. After each sip I found myself still getting a lot of flavor, including the vanilla and spearmint, but also some sweeter notes like oatmeal cookie.  The finish was actually my favorite part of this whiskey, and I was thrown by how much of a finish there actually was.

Overall, I can't wait for this to make its way to Illinois. It's a great price for a really good whiskey. While it won't hold up against some of the limited release, high-proofed and well-aged ryes that are out there, for $30, you get a lot of value with this one.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 17, 2020

Parker's Heritage Collection Heavy Char Barrels 8 Year Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

- $160
- 105 Proof
- 8 Years
- Kentucky

Last year was a great year for premium rye whiskey releases. Right around the same time that Wild Turkey released its Cornerstone Rye as part of its Master's Keep Collection, Heaven Hill released a rye whiskey as part of the Parker's Heritage collection.  Both bottles carried steep price tags, and as a result, they didn't necessarily fly off the shelves. That being said, they're not around much more, and for the most part, I've seen very little buyer's remorse from people that did get their hands on a bottle of either one.

This one was a bit more unique in that Heaven Hill aged this rye in "heavy char barrels." That means the the barrels that were used were a Level 5 char, significantly more char than the level 3 char that Heaven Hill typically uses. Not that I expected any sort of peat flavor, but I do like a good, smokey whiskey, and I was curious enough to grab a bottle, even at that price and even after seeing some negative initial reviews.

On the nose I got a pretty decent amount of wood. It had that dry, oaky, tannic quality to it. However, underneath those wood notes I got some more traditional aromas, including a healthy amount of caramel as well as some sweet but spicy cinnamon to tickle my nose. There was also a sweetness to it that was a bit more sugary, almost like a burnt sugar or even a bit of a rum note to it.

On my first sip, my initial reaction was that this is sweet and spicy and delicious. It had a lot of soft but sweet caramel notes, so much so that if it weren't for the other notes I was getting I'd have called this a "caramel-bomb." Coupled with that rich, creamy caramel note was a very welcome chocolate flavor. It was like drinking a really good chocolate covered caramel candy, like the kind you get from a really nice chocolate store.  It just had that quality of flavor to it.  On later pours I was even getting a creamy nougat flavor, like the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar. Of course, that only made me enjoy these flavors that much more!

It also had that spice that I got on the nose. I got a decent amount of cinnamon, which leaned towards the more sweet cinnamon flavor, like cinnamon candy, rather than cinnamon sticks. There was also a light pepper spice that I really noticed at the back of my throat after every sip. Quite frankly, this just made me ready to go in for my next sip.

The wood notes that I got on the nose weren't really present in the flavor. However, while I expected a certain smokey or char quality to this, while I didn't get any of that on the nose, it made its appearance in the flavor. It didn't come across as a smoked or peated whiskey by any stretch. It just added a touch of char flavor to the whiskey, and it actually seemed to complement all the other flavors going on.

That said, though, this was very much a dessert whiskey. the sweet caramel and chocolate notes seemed to take lead, with just enough spice at the back end to keep me diving back in for more. On its initial release, this was getting some negative reviews, perhaps somewhat a result of the backlash over the price. However, having tasted it for myself, this was a fantastic rye! The "Heavy Char," was in no way gimmicky, as I was worried it would be, and in the end it was just a great rye, sweet up front and spicy at the back. It hit a lot of the right notes for me.

Grade: A