Sunday, December 27, 2020

Blanton's Binny's Single Barrel Select Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel #321


VITALS:
- $70
- 93 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #321
- Kentucky

This is a bottle that I've been sitting on for quite some time.  It was dumped on December 17, 2018, and I'm fairly certain it was around March 2019 that I picked this bottle up at Binny's. I used it in a Blanton's tasting for my work whiskey club, and then it went back in its box and onto my shelf, where it sat for a long time, completely unattended to.

I think the main reason that it sat there, not getting drunk, is due to the box.  Most of my bottles on my shelves are not housed in boxes, and I can readily see not only the bottle, but the yummy liquid inside as well, and, of course, the fill level. It's the fill level that often reminds me to revisit a particular whiskey that I may have opened, tried and then forgotten about. Yet the Blanton's sit in boxes, and they are more or less out of sight, out of mind. I happen to really enjoy Blanton's, so I can't think of any other reason.

As to the whiskey itself, it had that familiar nose that I love in Blanton's and the other Mashbill #2 products from Buffalo Trace.  I got delicious notes of salted caramel and even a light chocolate note. There was a cherry note to it that was more along the lines of a cherry cordial, like it was soaked in liqueur. It even had a bit of an anise spice to it. I also got a somewhat odd note of wood shavings, like the smell of using a table saw.  

On my first sip, I got a really strong amaretto note. Perhaps that's what I was smelling when I got the cherry cordial scent.  In fact, I did get a bit of a candied cherry note to go with that amaretto. It was all sweet but rich and delectable.  

Pairing perfectly with these flavors was a nice dark chocolate note. That paired perfectly with what came across as more of a toffee than a caramel. It had a touch of that burnt sugar note to it. It also had a light oak note to it, something that I think I've noticed in maybe half of the different bottles of Blanton's I've tasted over the years.

The finish seemed to change course a bit, as it came across as more of an Old Fashioned flavor. That's where I got some bright citrus, like orange peel, along with that candied cherry note. At times that orange came across as more of a burnt orange note, but the Old Fashioned effect remained.

I've come to learn that not all Blanton's single barrels are complete winners. I've had a bottle before that I simply did not like. I have, of course, had bottles that blew me away. This one falls somewhere in the middle. It was a good bottle of Blanton's, but there wasn't anything that really stood out about it. Not that I'll stop buying these when I get the chance, but there are certainly better private picks out there.

Grade: B

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Maker's Mark 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $45
- 101 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

For so long Maker's Mark just produced their standard bourbon
--regular Maker's Mark.  It's a fine whiskey and they do a great job with it. But, as the bourbon boom emerged and with the prevalence of limited releases, bourbon hunting, private picks and variants, Maker's Mark seemingly reluctantly changed with the times as well, introducing a cask strength version, a private barrel program and, more recently, an annual limited release.

Adding to its existing line, though, Maker's Mark released this 101 proof, something somewhere between regular Maker's Mark and its cask strength version--a little higher proof but not quite the fire water that might turn some people off  It seems to me there certainly should be a market for this product, whether for cocktails where the bourbon needs to shine or just for those drinkers that want a touch more heat. I was more than happy to grab one off the shelf to see where this might fit for me.

On the nose I got a lot more cinnamon than expected.  I'm not sure if that's due to the increased proof or what, but it was a good, pungent nose that just hit with cinnamon spice. I was able to get some molasses, adding a bit of rich sweetness, and I also picked up some graham cracker and sweet bread, two notes that I've come to expect from Maker's Mark over the years.

I feel like I relate my tasting notes a lot to cookies, but, I guess given the sweetness of bourbon, that's not so weird. And here, my first tasting note was chocolate chip cookies. But, it seemed even sweeter than that, as if milk chocolate chips were used rather than semi-sweet morsels.  It was very brown sugar forward, and even a bit buttery in taste.

I also got hints of an old fashioned flavor as well. I got some orange peel which added some brightness as well as some complementary bitterness. I even got a bit of cherry licorice.  This all seemed to work really well with the constant toffee note throughout. 

The sweet bread from the nose came through as well, with a bit of a yeasty note as well as a bit of a grain-forward note. This, too, was on the sweeter side, but it did offer just a bit of earthiness to try to counterbalance all the other sweet notes.

However, that seems to be the recurring theme here--sweetness.  No matter what flavor I was getting, it was always a sweeter version of that. And the cinnamon spice I got off the nose was, unfortunately, nowhere to be found, and I found myself wishing this had a bit more spice. That is a personal preference, though, and perhaps someone who is a fan of wheaters would absolutely love this. Ultimately, though, this whisky makes sense in Maker's Mark's lineup, and although the box that this bottle came in says it's a "limited edition," it would make sense for this to be a mainstay on shelves.

Grade: B

Friday, December 25, 2020

Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Year Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey - 2019

VITALS:
- $130
- 95.6 Proof
- 13 Years
- Released in 2019; Produced in 2018
- Kentucky

Merry Christmas to whomever may be reading this!!  This has been a crazy year, to say the least. But, one thing that I've really missed is being able to get together with friends or family, either to celebrate or just to enjoy each other's company, and trying some delicious and sometimes hard-to-find whiskey. I've found that more of my more limited bottles in my collection have sat on the shelf unopened, simply because I haven't had the opportunity to open them with someone else (and I don't really want to open those special bottles when it's just me sitting on my couch watching the Food Network).

So, when last night rolled around, after we had gone to church, and as we enjoyed a nice spread of snacks and meats and cheeses and the kids all played games, I grabbed a new bottle to open with my father-in-law, and I reached for this bottle that had about 3 inches of whiskey left in the bottom.  I had picked this bottle up just over a year ago, and we may have even opened it together on Christmas Eve last year. So, we were going to finish it on Christmas Eve this year.

The nose was soft and sweet. From the nose you could tell this was not a heavy rye mashbill, probably closer to 50% rye than to 100% rye.  I got the smell of chocolate chip cookies, but without the chocolate chips. It was pretty brown sugar forward, but I also got a distinct pine note, as well as some woody notes and a bit of cinnamon. It was definitely a rye, but it was also definitely a sweeter, softer rye.

Upon tasting it, my first notes might make you think I didn't like it. I immediately got pine as well as a charcoal note, which was a touch odd. Not bad, just odd. However, I immediately got something sweet and minty as well. It was caramel forward but also had a bit of vanilla spearmint to it. I don't know that I would have ever put caramel and mint together, but here it worked really well!

It had some nice spice to it as well. I got just a bit of black pepper or anise spice, which I don't necessarily like but sometimes love in small doses. I also got a good amount of cinnamon spice that added a bit of heat and a nice burn on the tip of my tongue and at the back of my throat.

Although not super high proof, the mouthfeel was nice and sticky, which had me smacking my lips and which made for a good, long finish. After each sip my mouth seemed coated with cinnamon candy, reminding me of a milder version of Fireballs, especially once you got past the spicy hard outer shell. The licorice note seemed to carry through the finish as well, and was more noticeable on later pours.

All in all, there was a lot going on with this whiskey. It presented a cornucopia of flavors, all seemingly different but all working so well together. It didn't kill the palate with high proof, and yet it had that nice viscous mouthfeel that seems to come with higher proof whiskeys.  The long and short of it is, though, that this is simply one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. As I'm writing this I'm looking at the empty bottle next to my laptop, and I'm missing it already and wishing I had more.  Maybe next Christmas!!

Grade: A+

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Glen Grant Rothes Speyside 12 Year Single Malt Scotch


VITALS:

- $35
- 80 Proof
- 12 Years
- Scotland (Speyside)

This blog has been very American Whiskey-centric as of late.  I'd like to say I'm going to make an effort to try to explore more Scotches, Irish Whiskeys, Japanese whiskeys and the like.  But, my spending habits recently tell me that that is not going to happen any time soon.  Non-American whiskey takes up a very small portion of my crowded whiskey shelf.

That said, every time I do turn my attention away from my bourbons and ryes and pour a glass of single malt, I'm reminded how much I really do enjoy it. The consistent quality that I've always gotten out of Single Malt Scotches specifically has always impressed.  Even from lower shelf stuff, I seem to find far fewer clunkers among the single malts than I do among American whiskeys.  This 12-year, $35 Speyside single malt proved to be no different.

The nose was very fruity, but light and sweet. I got a lot of white grape, almost like a sweet white wine, perhaps like a Riesling. I also got some bright citrus notes like apricot. It had a light cinnamon spice, as well as some more grain forward or crackery notes, like animal crackers with an added honey sweetness.  The white grape absolutely dominated this nose, however.

I mentioned consistency above, and this was the epitome of consistency.  The primary notes I got on the palate were pretty much what I was getting on the nose. That sweet white grape flavor was easily the most dominant flavor. That seemed to be layered over that same sweet animal crackers note I got off the nose.  I was actually surprised at how closely the flavor matched the nose in this respect.

I did get a bit of a cooked peach note. Perhaps that's where the apricot scent went. It had the added spice though, with a touch of cinnamon and even some brown sugar to sweeten it up.  There was no question that this came across as a sweeter whiskey, perhaps at times too sweet. But, at other times it seemed to really suit my mood.

The finish, however, was thin and close to non-existent. It seemed that as soon as I swallowed each sip the flavor disappeared with it. I thought this was a bit odd. There was a slight lingering honey note, leaving a certain amount of sweetness behind, but almost none of the flavor or spice that I had enjoyed up front. 

While I wanted more out of the finish, and perhaps a bit more complexity, this nonetheless reminded me of what I love about single malts, and did make me want to put more of an effort into expanding what I'm drinking. And for $35, I'd happily drink this again. 

Grade: B

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Elijah Craig Small Batch Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $37
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 6030677
- Kentucky

Elijah Craig store picks are just one of those bottles that I almost never pass up when I come across them. They are almost always reasonably priced--I've seen some get a little steep, but those are very few and far between.  And they're almost always delicious (of course there are exceptions to this rule as well, but generally speaking, it fits).

This one is certainly a bit on the higher side of what I've normally paid for Elijah Craig store picks. But, that tends to be the case at Warehouse Liquors, and honestly, I don't mind a small markup at an independent store. That little bit isn't going to drive me away, and I have no problem supporting stores like Warehouse Liquors over the big boxes, so long as it doesn't get into gouging or pricing bottles to the point it makes them museum pieces.

The nose on this was interesting, and I found myself sniffing my glass a lot! Not necessarily because I thought it was amazing (don't get me wrong, it did smell delicious), but more because it was kind of unique. I got a strong, roasty coffee quality to it, almost like espresso notes. That bitter coffee scent played well with the walnut and cherry cordial that I was also getting, along with a dark chocolate note. It was rich and had hints of sweetness, staying far away from cloying.

The flavor didn't necessarily match its nose. In fact, it was much sweeter than its aroma would have indicated. I got a lot of sweet, candied pecans and even honey roasted peanuts. It had that salty earthiness to go with a honey and brown sugar sweetness that really worked.

I also got a bright berry note to it, but it was at the same time not necessarily muted but rather accompanied by a sort of tanginess and certain level of heat. It was hard to describe, but it was almost like a strawberry liqueur where the alcohol tempers the sweet strawberry notes. It sounds weird, but it worked, particularly with the sweet pecan notes.

I also got a consistent crackery or bready note. It was almost like a mix between graham cracker and sweet honey wheat bread. I really noticed this note on the finish, which, while not a long finish, brought these notes of graham cracker as well as a light cinnamon note to bring just a touch of spice into the minx.

If I'm comparing this to regular Elijah Craig, this is a really good bottle. If I'm comparing this to other Elijah Craig store picks, this one is probably going to fall somewhere in the middle. That being said, though, this one had a lot of character and uniqueness that I haven't really seen before, and was one of the more "off brand" Elijah Craig picks I've had.

Grade: B+

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $50
- 99 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 10
- Indiana

Not too long ago it seems that Old Scout products had disappeared from the shelves here in the Chicago area. I could regularly find Contradiction, and even Big Level was pretty readily available. But Old Scout, the brand that seemingly built Smooth Ambler, was nowhere to be found.

Of course, there was the occasional exception. Most notably, I recall a well-aged (I think it was 12 years) Tennessee whiskey that was bottled under the Old Scout label and sold as a Binny's store pick. I didn't bite at that mostly due to the price and source. However, when a regular bottling of Old Scout made its way back to shelves at $50, I had to at least give it a try. I've been a fan for the most part, and I was hopeful that I'd find myself a yummy bourbon that would be a mainstay on my liquor store shelves.

The nose on this was actually pretty great. I got a lot of candied orange and brown sugar. I also got notes of dark chocolate. I think what I liked most, however, was the nice roasty quality to this nose. It actually smelled a bit like a stout, with roasty espresso notes as well as dark chocolate. I could have sat there sniffing my glass all day.

As to flavor, my first notes were that it was sweet and rich. I got a decent amount of dark cherry as well as that dark chocolate I was getting on my nose. It also had that roasted note to it, like a roasted coffee flavor, adding a bit of bitterness to the flavor as well.

What I found most interesting about this whiskey, though, was that I got a somewhat distinct Neapolitan flavor to it. I got chocolate and vanilla, but also a strawberry note that was event the sort of fake strawberry that I get from Neapolitan ice cream 

On the finish, what seemed to linger was the bitter espresso note. It was fairly bitter, and as much as I wanted to like it, this just didn't work. The bitter coffee note didn't really seem to go with any of the other flavors, and it didn't add anything great on its own. Rather, it just added this bitterness and some sharp edges that otherwise weren't there. 

In the end, I found myself using the last few pours from this bottle in Old Fashioned's. As a mixer, particularly for an Old Fashioned, this bourbon was great!  On its own, though, it was just decent and nothing to write home to mom about. I think, perhaps, I was most turned off by the finish that provided bitter espresso notes and not a whole lot else.

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Sagamore Spirit Binny's Barrel Select Single Barrel Straight Rye - Barrel No. 42


VITALS:

- $60
- 110 Proof
- 6 Years
- Barrel No. 42
- Indiana

I have been generally impressed with everything I've had so far from Sagamore Spirit.  I was a big fan of their Cask Strength Rye that I had a few months back. I've also had the pleasure of trying their Double Oak Rye, Manhattan Finished Rye (which I wasn't a huge fan of only because I don't really like Manhattans), and the Moscatel Finished Rye, and they were all really well done. In fact, I made it a point to purchase my own bottle of the Moscatel Finished Rye which I'll one day get around to reviewing here.

So when Binny's got a couple different single barrel picks from Sagamore in, there was no question I was grabbing one. Granted, this is MGP rye, but I figured (1) I love MGP rye; and (2) if they're willing to slap their label on it, there's a good chance it was going to be good. Plus, an almost barrel proof, 6-year single barrel MGP rye for $60 seemed like a pretty good deal in general.

The nose was actually somewhat unique and delicious. Of course I got the brown sugar and caramel that I expected. However, I didn't get those minty dill notes I've come to expect from MGP ryes. Rather, it had a nice, tangy and sweet peach tea note. It was almost a cooked peach note, which, with the brown sugar and caramel, smelled like an absolutely delicious dessert.

The flavor was full of sweet and rich caramel along with a nice, mouthwatering cinnamon spice. It was somewhere between natural cinnamon and cinnamon candy flavor. However, that base layer of cinnamon and caramel was complemented by other flavors in such a way that by the time I finished the bottle, I was left with the impression that this is one of the best whiskeys I've had in a long time.

To go with that caramel and cinnamon, I got notes of chocolate and cherry. IT was almost like a chocolate cherry cola, but with actual chocolate rather than chocolate syrup, and with real cherries rather than that fake cherry flavor. It was chocolate cherry cola, but so much better.

The proof allowed for a great mouthfeel that coated my mouth and the back of my throat with flavor that lasted forever. On the finish I got some sweet vanilla bean, almost creamy like vanilla bean ice cream. It also had a walnut note to it as well, and, of course, the sweet caramel and spicy cinnamon hung around for the finish as well.

I don't want to overstate things, but I absolutely LOVED this whiskey! It truly is one of my favorite whiskeys I've had in a long time, and while I went into it with decent expectations, I wasn't expecting anything quite this good. I may need to grab one more bottle of this if I can find it.

Grade: A+

Monday, November 30, 2020

Yellowstone Liquor 'n' Wine Private Barrel Select Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $35
- 93 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

I'm a sucker for store picks.  And I'm even more of a sucker for very affordable store picks. That's why my whiskey closet is always stocked with at least one Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig, Eagle Rare and Knob Creek pick at any given moment. They are all solid bourbons on their own, and I love the possibility and hope of getting something phenomenal at a great price. While it doesn't happen every time, it happens often enough to make it well worth the spend.

I don't come across Yellowstone picks nearly as frequently. But, when I was meandering through the aisles of my local Liquor 'n' Wine a couple months back, this one caught my eye, and for $35, it was an easy decision to buy it. Generally speaking, to me regular Yellowstone has been good but not necessarily great. But, I figure the odds were in my favor that whatever was in this bottle was not likely to be any worse, and there was a good chance I'd get something better and at a great price.

On the nose I got a lot of brown sugar and caramel. It was certainly sweet, but that richer sweet. Interestingly, I got a light bitter note, almost a tannic note, which was surprising given the relatively young age of the whiskey. It also had a light black pepper and cinnamon spice to it, as well as a touch of almond.

My initial impressions of the flavor were that the sweetness was there, but it came across as muted. It was almost as though it had the caramel flavor but without the caramel sweetness. It was kind of odd in this respect.

I also got some funky flavors as well. I noted at one point that I got a bit of mustiness, and from time to time that mustiness came across as a leathery flavor. Either way it had an earthiness to it that, if this were a sweeter bourbon, would have been fine. Here, however, I wasn't a big fan.

Throughout the bottle, at least up until the last couple pours, the flavor remained a bit muted. I did get some more interesting notes, like a bright, citrusy orange note as well as a toasted almond type note. I even got a sort of a coffee note, perhaps that bitterness I was getting on the nose. It reminded me of a macchiato.  I really felt like this drank like an older bourbon, one with 15+ years, given the amount of wood and bitterness I was getting. 

Interestingly, ad I've had this happen before, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise, but the last two pours from the bottom of this bottle were absolutely outstanding. They were sweeter, had a bit more cinnamon spice, and were absolute caramel bombs. A lot of the bitterness completely subsided.  If the entire bottle struck me the way these last two pours did, this would have easily been an A+ bottle. They were that good! I only wish every other pour could have been as good. That said, funky notes aside, I'll still be keeping my eye out for more Yellowstone picks, even if just to relive the experience of those last two pours.

Grade: B

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17 Year Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $190
- 100 Proof
- 17 Years
- Kentucky

It seems as though the Master's Keep Collection from Wild Turkey has been gathering some steam these past couple years from a bourbon hunting perspective. The first couple releases in this series seemed to sit on the shelf for quite a while. In fact, I was still seeing them up until last year. My guess is that the price has always been a bit prohibitive (that and the fact that it's not a Buffalo Trace product).  Lately though, they've seemed to move pretty quickly. Perhaps it's a matter of the bourbon market catching up with the price of these releases.

When this 17 year bottled in bond bourbon was announced as the next in the Master's Keep line, I was pretty excited. And so were most people on social media. While Cornerstone had some anticipation, this was one that people were actively planning on chasing down. And so, I was quite thrilled when I was able to land one, even at the price. I've loved everything from this line to date, so I wanted to make sure to get this one, hype or not. 

As would be expected with a 17 year old bourbon, the first note I got off the nose was oak. It actually smelled dry, if that makes sense. Perhaps I was picking up on the oak tannins on the nose. However, I also got some sweeter, richer notes of caramel and burnt sugar. It also had a nice peppery spice as well as a bit of orange peel to add some bright bitterness.

Much like the nose, I got a significant amount of wood on the palate. It wasn't over-oaked, though. Rather, that was just the character of this particular bourbon, if that makes sense. I appreciate a certain amount of oak in my bourbon, something to counter some of the sweetness. While this was on the oakier side, it didn't cross that threshold of being too oaky.

Beyond that, it came across as very complex, with a lot of rich, delicious flavors all working with one another. There was a significant amount of dark cherry, as well as some rich amaretto notes. Both these notes played very well with the wood notes. 

I also got coffee notes, adding a somewhat different bitter quality, along with some anise and cinnamon spice. Even the orange peel that I was getting on the nose made its way into the show from time to time, adding a bit of brightness.  It was full of flavors that are associated with sweetness, but without being sweet itself. It even had a vanilla bean undercurrent to it, without taking on that sweetened vanilla note. 

The finish was mostly cinnamon and even a bit of black pepper. Toffee notes also carried through on the finish, along with a touch of leather. It wasn't a very long finish, but it was full of flavor and I didn't wait very long to take each next sip anyway.

I really loved this whiskey. If you're not a fan of oak, you might not like this, and you probably won't want to spend the money on a bottle. However, if you do like a good, oaky bourbon, this might be right up your alley. It was full of rich flavors that seemed to complement that oak note in a way that made this bourbon interesting and ultimately delicious.

Grade: A

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Shenk's Homestead Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey - 2019


VITALS:

- $60
- 91.2 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 19G1138
- Kentucky

I have long been a fan of Michter's, particularly their ryes. I still yearn for the days when their barrel strength rye used to collect dust on shelves. But those days are gone. Nonetheless, Michter's is releasing more products than ever these days, including all sorts of special releases from 10 year single barrel ryes and bourbons, to much older whiskeys to toasted barrel finishes. They also continue to release their Bomberger's Declaration and Shenk's Homestead whiskeys.

These are two brands that Michter's has purchased and revitalized so to speak, and what I've had of them has been delicious.  I last had the Bomberger's in 2018, and I couldn't get enough of that one. So, of course, when the Shenk's Homestead was offered to me, I jumped on it (and I've since obtained a 2020 Shenk's as well that I'm still working my way through).  I figured I had very little to lose and much to gain.

My initial impression of the nose was that it was sweet and nutty, kind of like honey roasted peanuts. However, the more I stuck my nose in my glass, the more the sweetness came forward, but it was a richer sweetness, like good, real maple syrup. It had a bit of a pancakes vibe to it which I liked, even with a touch of cinnamon sprinkled in.

The flavor wasn't exactly pancakes, though. Rather, I got a heavy dose of brown sugar and cinnamon, and it was very traditional in flavor in this respect. It certainly came in on the sweeter side, with the spiciness taking a bit of a back seat.

However, the nuttiness from the nose as well as the sweet maple syrup note did come through. Rather than giving a "pancakes vibe," though, it had more of a pecan pie feel to it. It even had a bit of a graham cracker crust note to round it all out. 

The dessert motif didn't stop there, however.  There was also a lighter sweetness mixed in as well, like a honey and wheat note. There was also a buttery note as well, and on later pours from the bottle I was getting a sort of brown sugar crumble flavor, the kind that would go on top of coffee cake or an apple crisp. It even had a slight doughy pastry note.

On the finish I got all brown sugar and vanilla, and again very minimal cinnamon spice. However, the finish was long and those dessert-like flavors seemed to coat my mouth after every sip. 

Overall, this was a great whiskey (I've been careful not to call it a bourbon), particularly if you're one who like your bourbons on the sweeter side (as so many bourbon drinkers do).  I tend to lean more towards spice, so this wasn't necessarily up my alley. That being said, again, this was a great whiskey with lots of richness and depth of flavor, and I had a hard time putting down my glass.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

New Riff Balboa Rye Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Rye


VITALS:

- $55
- 100 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

I feel like it's been a while since I had anticipation for a rye release. Certainly I was excited for the recent Master's Keep Cornerstone from Wild Turkey and the Parker's Heavy Char. But that was well over a year ago now, and I feel like there has been a dearth of new, exciting rye releases hitting the shelves.

Luckily, New Riff has come through for me. They recently released a wheated product, labeled "Maltster," and at the same time that hit the shelves, so did this, the Balboa Rye. This is a rye whiskey made using . . . you guessed it, Balboa rye, which is an heirloom rye that is commonly grown in Indiana. Beyond that, I knew very little else going into this bottle, except that it was a new, special release rye from New Riff, and that so far I've absolutely loved the ryes that New Riff has been pumping out.

The nose on this was delicious. The first note that I wrote down was cherry cola. But it was a darker cherry note, and not quite as sweet. I also got a light breadiness as well as a peanut butter cookie note. Again, though, this was all without it coming across as sweet, but rather as rich and decadent. What did it for me, though, was that all of this was complemented by a black pepper note that had my mouth watering.

As to flavor, my first impression was that it had a very Old Fashioned flair to it. I was immediately getting notes of Luxardo Maraschino cherries, as well as that bright but slightly bitter note of orange peel.  It had just the slightest amount of sweetness to it.

It very much came across as a fruit-forward rye, with cherry being the most prominent note. However, I did get notes of blackberries and dates from time to time as well.  Interestingly, though, the fruit notes all seemed to be layered over a pecan-type nuttiness. In that sense it reminded me of a spiced pie.

I did get other notes finding their way in as well, including a bit of an odd flavor that to me was kind of a blend of dark chocolate and dill.  This is probably the result of a more fruit-forward grain that still met up with that strong rye spice. It wasn't necessarily a bad note, but it was a bit odd.

The finish, however, was all cherry and vanilla. Luckily that odd chocolate-dill note did not linger. However, the black pepper I was finding on the nose did make its way through on the finish, adding enough spice to make me want to go right back in for my next sip. 

While I wasn't blown away by this, I love the experimentation with rye variants, and New Riff continues to put out delicious ryes, and this was no exception. I'd certainly urge anyone else to try it, though, as my friends who also had pours out of this bottle were, in fact, blown away and couldn't have given it higher marks. So take my review with a grain of salt. 

Grade: B+ 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Elijah Craig Binny's Single Barrel Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel No. 5684209


VITALS:

- $30
- 94 Proof
- NAS (10 Years)
- Barrel No. 5684209
- Kentucky

I feel like more and more I've been finding some incredibly solid bourbons at some incredibly affordable prices with the Elijah Craig store picks. They are usually priced around $30, and the last few that I've had have been really good.  

Binny's usually gets these in batches, though, and when they got this last batch in, I had my eyes on other things. I still wasn't going out of my way to pick these up. However, the spirits manager there informed me that this particular barrel was a 10-year bourbon (the oldest of this batch of picks they got in). And so, just like that he sold me on it. I really am an easy sale, though. 

The nose was interesting, and certainly off profile for Elijah Craig. I got some brown sugar as well as a bit of almond that leaned a bit towards amaretto. I even got an interesting peanut butter note. What was a touch odd, though, was that I got a bit of cedar shavings. It reminded me of my kids hamster cages (at least when they've been freshly cleaned).  It wasn't a bad note, just a bit of an odd one.

Luckily, I didn't get that cedar shavings note in the flavor. I did get more traditional notes of cinnamon and caramel. There was even a nice dark chocolate flavor that worked really well with everything else. In this respect, it was more on profile with what I'm used to getting out of Elijah Craig. I also got a root beer flavor throughout that, while not prominent, was still really delicious and seemed to work well with everything else.

I also got a decent amount of cloves, and that flavor was most noticeable on the finish. That cloves note seemed to linger for quite a while. I was also getting a bit of orange peel, though, which added just a touch of bitterness to counter some of the sweetness from the brown sugar notes.

Just like the nose had a bit of oddity to it, though, so did the flavor. I got a sort of chalkiness. And by that, I don't mean in the texture, but a chalky flavor. I'm not sure how best to describe it, except that it tastes like the air after you smack two chalkboard erasers together. It wasn't a strong note, but it nonetheless stood out, primarily for its strangeness. 

If it weren't for that weird chalkiness, I would have absolutely loved this bourbon. Luckily it wasn't a very strong note, and I had no problems whatsoever finishing this bottle, and enjoying every pour along the way. 

Grade: B

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Canadian Club Chronicles 41 Year Blended Canadian Whiskey


VITALS:

- $250
- 90 Proof
- 41 Years
- Canada

It's totally a stupid thing, but for quite some time I always had as one of my whiskey bucket-list items to drink a whiskey that was older than me.  I called it a bucket-list item, because for the most part that limited me to single malt Scotches, and it put me into the thousands of dollars for a bottle. It was honestly just something fun to consider but nothing I really thought I'd ever get the chance to do.

Then Canadian Club came out with Chronicles - a 41 year Canadian whiskey (I was 39 at the time) to which small amounts of Cognac, rye and sherry had been added. So it wasn't necessarily a "straight whiskey," having these additives. But, what it did have was a fairly reasonable and certain attainable price point and availability. Even then I wasn't necessarily sold, but when I got a very nice bonus at work, I yielded and decided to treat myself, and to check off that bucket-list item.

The nose in this was both sweet and bitter. It had a bright, jammy raspberry note to it, but also had that accompanying tartness of fresh raspberries. I also got notes of vanilla and peach, and it reminded me a bit of a fruit tart in that respect. However, there was also this sort of grassy, straw-like note, a bit of earthiness to keep it from getting too crazy.

As for flavor, the first thing I noticed was the sherry. I have no idea how much sherry had been added, but that raspberry-esque flavor I so often associate with sherry finished whiskeys was up front and center.  

Once I got past the initial sherry hit, though, I got more confectionary flavors, like a smooth caramel that was mixed with a bit of burnt orange and even cooked peach. It almost took on a cobbler-type flavor. It even had a good buttery flavor to it to kind of round it all out.

On the back end I got the slightest amount of wood.  I really expected a lot more. In fact, given the very light straw color of this whiskey and the lack of significant wood influence, I would never in a million years have guessed this was aged for 41 years. The finish also hit me with a distinct note of unsweetened peach tea. It was bitter, but had just a little bit of sweet brightness added by the peach.

Unfortunately, throughout each sip I took I did get a consistent note that did put me off a bit. It was a fake sugary flavor, almost like artificial maple syrup and brown sugar, the same type of flavor you get from similarly flavored oatmeal packets. While I like it just fine in oatmeal, it didn't work for me in whiskey, and it was just always kind of there.

Overall, I love that I got to drink a whiskey that was older than I am, and that I was able to do so without absolutely killing my budget. However, when the 42 year is released, and each subsequent release thereafter comes out, I don't see myself opening up my wallet to get a bottle. This one served its purpose.

Grade: B-

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Old Scout Binny's Private Selection 5 Year Straight Bourbon Whiskey


VITALS:
- $55
- 118.4 Proof
- 5 Years
- Barrel No. 23859
- Indiana

There was quite a gap in time between private selections of Old Scout being offered. It seems like I had not seen any on the shelves since 2016 or 2017 or so. A short while back there were some older ones available at Binny's and Woodman's that were sourced from Dickel, but I didn't bite at those (though a part of me wishes I at least gave them a try).

So, when I saw this 5 year store pick single barrel on the shelf at $55, I decided not to pass it up. Obviously it's significantly younger, but I do like my MGP whiskey, and particularly at cask strength.  Add to that that it's a store pick, and it was a pretty easy decision. I remember I first opened this bottle when the pandemic lockdown first began in March. It was only now, though, that I made it a point to finish it off.

Interestingly, this was kind of a tale of two whiskeys. The way it tasted back in March was completely different than when I finished the bottle off in October and November. When I first opened this bottle, all I could smell was cinnamon. It was like I opened up a pack of Big Red. There was also a slight tobacco note and even a pumpkin pie sort of note. I also got a certain corn syrupy note as well.

At to flavor, though on the first pours it was all Big Red gum, or cinnamon red hots, or fireball candy. You get the point. That artificial cinnamon candy flavor was pretty much all I could taste, and it was just way too much. I actually found that flavor very hard to overcome, and it really wasn't that great of an experience. 

So, I put it back on my shelf and didn't revisit it for a few months. Luckily, when I did, that cinnamon candy note had subsided. Not entirely, but enough that I was able to pick up other flavors and actually enjoyed the whiskey. It was a completely different bourbon than the one I had back in March.

Sweet but earthy notes of vanilla and pecan came through. It also had a slight woodiness to it. These flavors seemed to balance out that cinnamon note, which was still pretty prevalent. It was kind of like pecan pie but with cinnamon red hots mixed in.

The finish was full of cinnamon spice, but the natural vanilla flavor accompanied it, making for a pretty enjoyable finish that lingered for quite a while.

While I really didn't like this at all when I first opened it up, by the time I got towards the end of the bottle, I found I went through it pretty quickly. If it tasted this way from the beginning, I may have given it a higher grade.

Grade: B

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Chattanooga Whiskey Cask 111 Straight Bourbon Whiskey


VITALS:

- $45
- 111 Proof
- 2 Years
- Batch No. 20A20R
- Tennessee

I knew very little about Chattanooga Whiskey prior to getting this bottle. Quite frankly, I know very little about it now. But, I had at least heard of Chattanooga Whiskey, and I had certainly heard at least some positive feedback. So, when my assistant took a trip to Chattanooga to take her daughter to college, and she asked me what she could bring back for me, this was the first thing that came to mind. After all, at that time, it just wasn't something that I could find in Illinois (though I did see it here for the first time a couple days ago).

This bottle is young, with an age statement of "greater than 2 years."  However, they do provide a lot of information on their label. The mashbill is yellow corn, malted rye, caramel malted barley and honey malted barley. The batch size is 6-10 barrels, and the barrels used were 53 gallon barrels, apparently both toasted and charred. And it's unfiltered. This all came from the label. It even provided the fermentation period! So, with all that transparency, with a unique mashbill, high proof and no filtration, I was excited to try this regardless of its young age.

The nose gave off that apple note that I get off of young whiskeys, but rather than an overripe apple note, it was more of a crisp, fresh apple note. I actually kind of enjoyed it. It also had some graham cracker to it, some corn notes, as well as a bit of caramel, reminding me a bit of caramel apples. I also got a sweet butterscotch pudding note as well that I thought was interesting.

As to the flavor, I didn't get that crisp apple note, but I did get other bright fruits. It was on the sweeter side, and I got distinct flavors of apricot and orange. I also got a light bitterness to go with it, like melon rind. The amount of citrus was unexpected.

I also got the sweet, dessert-like flavors that I got on the nose. There was a healthy amount of caramel and butterscotch to counter the citrus flavors and that bitter note. At times I got some red licorice notes as well, even leaning towards a cherry cordial flavor. 

The finish was more of the same, but with an added black pepper spice that I didn't get anywhere else. The caramel notes seemed to stick around for quite a while as well, lending to a nice sweet and spicy finish.

Overall, this was pretty good. While it had some of the characteristics of young whiskey, those characteristics worked and were actually interesting, as opposed to being a turn off.  I think that it's priced right for what you get here, and it's certainly worth a pick-up.

Grade: B

Friday, November 13, 2020

Bushmill's Blended Irish Whiskey


VITALS:

- $18
- 80 Proof
- NAS
- Ireland

This seems like a bit of a weird review, only for the fact that this is a whiskey that everyone has probably tried at some point. It'd be kind of like reviewing Jameson or Jim Beam White.  It's not like anybody is going to make a purchasing decision based on a review of Bushmill's. That being said, I've always maintained that I write this blog more as a journal for myself, as opposed to for the benefit of others. After all, as I've said in the past, reviews are stupid.

But, this was a gift for boss' day. I'm not one to turn away any whiskey, and I knew I would eventually polish off this bottle at some point. So, with an empty bottle of a whiskey that has yet to make an appearance here on this blog, not to mention the fact that my Irish whiskeys are few and far between, I decided to nonetheless write this one up.  So here goes . . .

On the nose the very first note I wrote down was oatmeal raisin cookie. This was exactly where my mind went as soon as I smelled this. It had the softness of the oat grain, the sweet brown sugar as well as the rich fruity raisin note. I also got some other aromas, though, particularly in later pours after this sat for a while, such as black pepper and nutmeg, and even a bright apricot note. At times I also got a kind of a white wine note, like a chardonnay.

As for flavor, this comes across as very sweet and, particularly given the low proof, very easy to drink. I didn't get the oatmeal raisin cookie so much as I did a mouthful of honey with a light citrus lemon note.  Perhaps this would be good for soothing a sore throat?

The bright apricot and black pepper were also present, mingling with a layer of vanilla bean that made it far more interesting and tasty than I expected when I first received this bottle. It also had a crackery note to it, albeit a plain on, kind of like saltines. 

The finish came across as a bit peppery, and the honey lingered as well. However, I also got something very weird on the finish that really turned me off. I likened it to a mix of cardboard and soap--oddly two flavors that I think most people might actually be able to relate to. I know I've tasted both. While it wasn't overly offensive, it just wasn't great.

All in all, this is fine, and if presented with limited options, I'd be fine choosing this.  But overall, I'm not likely to buy another bottle myself, particularly with that weird finish.

Grade: C

Monday, November 9, 2020

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel Cask Strength Straight Rye Whiskey


VITALS:

- $55
- 114.4 Proof
- 4 Years
- Barrel No. 16745
- Indiana

I remember when I first started to really get into the bourbon hunt. That was around the time that well-aged bottle of Old Scout could still be found, but the Old Scout Ryes were seemingly disappearing from the market. One day on a trip to Mariano's, though, I was able to find a number of bottles of 7-Year Old Scout Rye on the shelf, and so I picked one up. I should have grabbed more, though, because I never saw it again since, and it truly was delicious.

So, when Smooth Ambler announced the new release of Old Scout Rye, even despite that it would be bottled at 4 and 5 years old, I was excited. It's young MGP product, but it's bottled as a single barrel product and at cask strength. And for the price of $55, it is very reasonable. I haven't seen a whole lot of fanfare around it, but I was excited when I was able to grab one off the shelf, and based on my experience with this particular bottle, I'm going to need to grab more!

The nose was full of delicious soft caramel and milk chocolate. It reminded me of a Caramello candy bar, and was so good!! It also had hints of the rye spice as well, with notes of wood and cinnamon. It even had a bit of a grainy note, giving that earthy rye bread flavor to balance it out. Interestingly, it did not immediately come across like the 95% rye mashbill that I'm used to from MGP. This seemed sweeter, like a lower rye-content rye.

The flavor followed suit. I got a lot of the caramel that I got on the nose, but I also got a sweet flavor that I likened to cream soda. Much like the nose, the flavor did not come across as a traditional rye, at least not a high-rye mashbill.  However, what it lacked in spice it more than made up for in flavor.

I got sweet notes of butterscotch candy, which seemed to work really well with the viscous mouthfeel of this whiskey. I also got marshmallow, which all combined to give sort of a note of rice crispy treats, but ones made with corn flakes instead.  It was kind of like those green wreaths with the cinnamon red hots that some people make at Christmas time.

It had a bit of that milk chocolate flavor from the nose, and even some cake frosting notes. Even the earthy notes were on the sweeter side, as I got a nutty note that reminded me of cashews. However, while the front end was all sweet, the finish was all spice. That's where the cinnamon notes came in, hitting the mouth after each swallow with a nice, spicy cinnamon red hots type note. It was almost like the spice was just waiting in the weeds to pounce. It's that great, spicy finish that had me diving right back into each next sip.

Ultimately, while it didn't have the age of those earlier releases, this was still released as a single barrel and at cask strength--two things going for it that my earlier experience with Old Scout Rye didn't have. Regardless of age, though, I absolutely loved this!! The balance of sweet and spice was perfect, and the flavors were incredible. Given that it's single barrel, and assuming they will keep putting this product out (I'm not sure whether it's intended to be limited or not), I'm going to be picking these up with some regularity.

Grade: A

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey


VITALS:
- $60
- 104 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

This is one of those whiskeys that I just never got around to trying, despite knowing that I should. After all, I do love me some Wild Turkey rye. I always have. And yet, despite it being a regular on the shelf and generally available, I never picked up a bottle of the Single Barrel Rye. I honestly have no explanation for it, and it seems silly that I've waited this long to grab a bottle.

So, grab one I did!

The nose on this one was a bit light, and I found I had to spend some time sniffing my glass just to pick up what notes I did. However, what was there was delicious. It had a light caramel note with a dusting of cinnamon. It also had a decent amount of vanilla bean as well as some sweet tobacco leaf. It was all sweet but earthy, and with just a touch of spice to keep it from being dull.

I hate using this word in my notes, and for that reason I almost never do. But, the first thing that I wrote down in my Notes app on my phone was "super smooth." I guess what I mean by that, though, is that despite this coming in at 104 proof, I got absolutely zero alcohol on the palate, allowing every other flavor to come through entirely. I realize that 104 isn't exceptionally high proof, but it's high enough that the alcohol burn would typically come through, masking the flavors even just a bit. Not so here.

Instead I got a mouth full of sweet but rich notes. I got a lot of brown sugar, along with the caramel and cinnamon that I was getting off the nose. However, it had a fatty richness to it, almost a buttery note that mixed with everything. It reminded me of the drizzle or topping on the coffee cake my grandma used to bake every morning when we visited--quite the positive memory (and yes, completely unrelatable, I know). The cinnamon provided just a touch of spice to offset that rich sweetness in a way that was almost perfect.

Perhaps a bit more relatable is that it reminded me of a Werther's caramel candy. It had that silkiness to the caramel flavor so it wasn't all cooked sugar. And it's that flavor that really seemed to stick around. Despite the proof, and perhaps owing to that buttery richness, this whiskey really coated my mouth and the back of my throat after each sip.  That coating left behind those buttery caramel notes in a way that was like eating a hard candy (bringing me right back to that Werther's note). 

Because I'm always buying whiskeys that I've never had before (and I've got tons of options), I typically don't have what people refer to as an every-day drinker. Given the availability of this whiskey, though, if I were to have an every-day drinker, this would probably be it. I loved everything about this whiskey, and I'm kicking myself for not having tried it sooner. And, as a side note, it feels good to give this high of a grade to a whiskey that is pretty widely available. 

Grade: A

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Blood Oath Pact No. 6 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Cognac Barrels


VITALS:

- $100
- 98.6 Proof
- Blend of 14, 8 and 7 years
- Pact No. 6
- Kentucky

While I, like most people, absolutely love it when my whiskey comes in a nice wooden box (said tongue firmly planted in my cheek), that alone was never enough to convince me to buy Blood Oath bourbon. It was all just too gimmicky for me -- fancy wooden box, proofed down to 98.6 degrees because, you know, blood, and finished in one manner or the other. That's all not to mention that reviews on previous batches have been pretty mixed, and for the price, I just wasn't willing to take a flier.

However, this year's Batch No. 6 actually seemed to get pretty solid reviews across the board, with some touting it as their best release yet. And, given that it was finished in Cognac barrels (a finish that I've found hard to resist), I finally pulled the trigger and got myself a bottle. I figured at the very least my son would be happy to get a cool new wooden box out of it.

The nose on this was rich and aromatic, hitting me with a healthy mix of leather and toffee. It also had some nutty and oaky notes to it as well, showing a bit of the age of the oldest of the whiskeys in the blend. There was a nice layer of vanilla to go along that rounded things out. It wasn't all rich dessert-like notes, though, as I also got some citrus and some dark notes, kind of like a mix of apricot and plum.

The palate really matched the nose, but interestingly the flavor that seemed to really stand out was a dried apricot note. Right up front I was hit with that bright yet somewhat subdued dried apricot which mixed well with the oak notes and with the bit of leather that I also got on the nose.  It had sweetness as well, with a distinct toffee note throughout, as well as a sweet granola note, kind of like those crunchy Nature Valley granola bars.

Not to belabor the point, but the dried apricot was really the star of the show here. It mixed so well with those richer, sweeter notes, and it provided balance to those earthier notes. It also seemed to play off the notes of plum and raisin that seemed to jump in the mix from time to time. 

The finish was long and lingering, with the notes of toffee and apricot sticking around for quite a while. A mild anise note came through on the finish as well, most notably on the last few pours. It was just enough to make it enjoyable and didn't cross that line of being a turn-off flavor for me. 

Consistent with the gimmick, I finished off the last two pours on Halloween night. It seemed apropos.  Gimmicks aside, though, this was an absolutely delicious whiskey, and I'm so glad I decided to go ahead and grab one. I thoroughly enjoyed every last drop!

Grade: A

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Mississippi River Distilling Cody Road Experimental Rye Whiskey Finished in Brandy Barrels


VITALS:
- $30
- 80 Proof
- NAS
- Batch 1
- Iowa

It's been almost six years since I've purchased a Cody Road bottle  I'm not really sure why, though. The last one I had was a Binny's private select rye, which I thought was great! But with the overabundance of smaller, craft distilleries that are out there to try, not to mention the seemingly endless stream of products from the big guys, I just never made my way back to Cody Road rye.

This one, however, caught my eye. At first it was the bright pink/purple colors on the label. That really stood out among the sea of green rye labels.  Then it was the edgy looking "X" right on the label, telling me this was certainly one bad-ass whiskey (okay, not really, but it certainly doesn't exude "fancy"). Then, it was the fact that it's brandy finished -- I've always been a fan of such finishes. And what sealed the deal here was the price -- a mere $30!  Now it is only 80 proof, and likely a younger whiskey, but I was still more than willing to give this whiskey a try at that price.

The nose was definitely fruity, as would be expected. I immediately got notes of apple cider and cedar. There were also notes of green grapes and baked pears. In addition to that, though, I also got come rich brown sugar notes, as well as a bit of nutmeg. It definitely had a sort of apple pie quality, with a few other flavors added in. 

When I took my first sip, the first thing I noticed was the very watery texture. Of course, this is to be expected given the low 80 proof. It struck me as a bit more watered down than I anticipated, though. This resulted in it coming across as pretty light in flavor, which was disappointing. I really wanted that brandy barrel finish to shine.

What flavors that were there, though, were quite frankly what I was hoping to get. I got that apple pie note, with notes of baked apples and cinnamon. It even had a light, graham crackery note to it, like a sweeter pie crust. The baked pear from the nose came through as well.

The finish was probably what I liked the most about it, even if it didn't last very long. On the finish I got this sticky maple syrup note that changed direction from the other flavors just enough to make it interesting. On later pours it was still there but was more of a brown sugar and butter note which was my favorite part of tasting this whiskey.

All in all, I wanted a bit more from this, but at this price, if I'm in the mood for a brandy finished whiskey, it'd certainly have the potential to be a grab again.

Grade: B-

Monday, October 26, 2020

Buffalo Trace Liquor 'n' Wine Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:

- $25
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

As far as my whiskey hobby goes, I feel like I'm pretty lucky living where I live. Not only do I have a Binny's just minutes from my home, but I can spend 20 minutes driving from my house and back and hit up five different liquor stores other than Binny's, all of which have decent to very good whiskey selections, all of which get their own store picks from time to time, and nearly all have great craft beer selections. It's even the envy of some of my friends who live a bit farther away.

This is just another such example.  Liquor 'n' Wine is a local chain here in the Western Suburbs of Chicago with I believe five different locations. They do get the highly sought after allocated stuff like BTAC and Pappy, and they do sell those bottles at a hefty mark-up (sold in packages with 6-7 other bottles that most people looking for these things would otherwise not be interested in). But, I still pop in from time to time, without even glancing at what's on the shelves behind the counter, and go straight to the bourbon wall just for bottles like this where, for $25, I know I'm getting a solid if not really good whiskey.

The nose was interesting.  I've come to expect a certain profile from Buffalo Trace, and this one was just slightly off.  Sometimes with store picks that's a good thing, sometimes its bad.  Here, I wasn't really sure which way this one fell. It had that caramel note I expected, but there were also some spices and bitterness. I got pumpkin pie notes, as well as a rich espresso note on the nose. Don't get me wrong, it smelled sweet, and I even got some delicious chocolate caramel notes at times, but it definitely had some more earthy spices and bitterness to offset.

As to flavor, the brown sugar and caramel that I expected to be there was certainly front and center. It immediately struck me as a sweeter bourbon, as I got minimal spice up front. That brown sugar and caramel eventually seemed to turn into a cola note, and then in later pours into a cherry cola note. I actually really enjoyed these notes.

However, somewhere in the middle of each taste other flavors seemed to pop in, some good and some not so great. As to the good, I got a root beer note, not like the super sugary root beer you get off the shelves at the grocery store, but one of those more flavorful specialty root beers that derive their flavor from something other than a cup of sugar per 12 ounces. 

However, I the cherry notes I was getting at times leaned towards anise flavor, and when they did this it seemed to come on a bit strong. Some people might like this. I, however, did not.  Also, throughout this bottle I got this really weird note that I likened to wet cardboard. Now, I certainly don't hang out on my couch eating cardboard every night while watching Food Network. But, I've certainly tasted cardboard before, as have most people I'm pretty sure, and this is what I was reminded me of.  Not my favorite of tasting notes I've ever had. 

The wet carboard note aside, this was still a very solid pour, especially for $25, and I won't ever stop buying these when I see them.

Grade: B-

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Dewar's Blended 21 Year Double Double Aged Blended Scotch Whisky


VITALS:

- $50 (375 ml)
- 92 Proof
- 21 Years
- Scotland

Not too long ago Whiskey Advocate came out with its list of the Top 20 Whiskies of 2019. The list drew a lot of criticism and skepticism, and rightly so.  But nonetheless, I made it a point to grab a couple of the bottles near the top of the list that I had not yet tried. One was their #1 rated whiskey, George Dickel Bottled In Bond.  I was not a fan, and I immediately questioned the credibility of the remainder of the rankings and how that whiskey could possibly have made the top of anybody's list. 

Nonetheless, I made it a point to grab another off the list, the #2 whiskey, Dewar's Blended 21 Year Double Aged Scotch. Granted, I grabbed this before actually trying the Dickel, but that was due in part to it having been recommended to me by the spirits manager from my local Binny's well-before this list actually came out. So, there wasn't a whole lot of hesitation in trying it, other than that it was $50 for a .375 ml bottle. But I figured I've paid more for less.

It's been a while since I've done a Scotch, and I feel like I've been doing myself a disservice. Between Scotch and bourbon, I think, as far as the smell goes, my preference is Scotch. I got a decent amount of oak and leather on the nose of this one. But, I also got sweet tobacco leaf, one of my favorite smells in the world. In addition to these earthy notes, though, I also got some bright notes of dried apricot, as well as a baked goods kind of note, kind of like banana bread. I also got the slightest grainy note, but it was sweet, like caramel corn. 

As to flavor, this was very malty and crackery, like a wheat thin type cracker -- savory but with a little bit of sweetness to it.  The banana bread that I got on the nose was fairly prominent as well, providing a bit of richness to go with that malty note. 

Much like the nose, the flavor also had a bright note to it, again reminding me of apricot, but sweeter than simply dried apricots. It was more like an apricot jam. I also got notes of banana (consistent with the banana bread flavor, I know), as well as a bit of a peppery spice. Additionally, I got a light coffee note, but not so bitter as to provide a rough edge. In fact, there was not a single rough edge, overstated flavor or overdone note to this whisky.  It really had great balance.

This is only 92 proof, but it had a great, buttery texture to it that provided a nice, long finish. What seemed to linger the most on the finish was the banana and black pepper spice. However, it was also on the finish that I really seemed to notice the Sherry cask influence, as I also got notes of raspberry and cranberry--bright berry notes with a touch of bitterness to it to keep it from getting too sweet.

I loved this whiskey. It was full of nuance and complexity, and somehow it all worked perfectly well together. It reminded me a lot of why I initially got into Scotch in the first place. On this one I can't fault Whiskey Advocate for such a high ranking. This was delicious! I only wish it came in a bigger bottle!

Grade: A

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Tattersall Binny's Private Select Cask Strength Straight Rye Whiskey


VITALS:
- $40
- 132.6 Proof
- Min. 2 yrs.
- Minnesota

This was an interesting pickup for me. I first noticed this on the shelf due to the label.  It seemed very "Scottish" looking to me with the plaid patterns and certainly seemed out of place among all the other ryes on the shelf. Having not recognized anything about the bottle, I passed. But the next time I was in the store, I took a closer look.  

This wasn't just some rye from some unknown distillery, but rather it was a store pick from that distiller. Not only that, it was from Minnesota (and actually distilled there)--can't say I've had a Minnesota whiskey before. And most compelling, this was bottled at 132.6 proof! While I haven't gone back through my archives to confirm, I can't recall ever having a rye that came anywhere close to that proof. So, with all that going for it, at $40, I now had no reason not to bring it home.

The nose is heavy on the pine. It immediately reminded me of some of my other favorite, punchy ryes like the Willet Family Estate small batch ryes, Wilderness Trail and Driftless Glen. A good start! Underneath the pine was a healthy amount of vanilla and spearmint. It also had this root beer note as well as a sweet candy bar note to it, like chocolate and caramel. This nose was pungent but full of delicious aromas.

The first three notes I wrote down immediately after my first sip were vanilla, spearmint and root beer. Much like the nose, these flavors absolutely dominated here. The combination was really enjoyable, and I was surprised that there wasn't more of a pine flavor to get in the way--a good surprised.  I also had the immediate thought that this was way too easy to drink for its proof.  Not only did the pine not get in the way, but the alcohol took a backseat as well.

It had a certain sweet and spicy note to it, and I got a distinct fennel spice to it at times. It wasn't overpowering, but just enough fennel to let you know it's there (and it doesn't take much). That fennel note brought with it those associated notes of anise and black licorice, but again, not enough to turn me off, and I'm not a huge fan of anise.

Other notes seemed to sneak in from time to time, including a grainy bran cereal note. I also got sweet tobacco leaf and molasses from time to time. This really came across as rich, thick and sticky. On what was a really long finish, I got the vanilla and spearmint, but also a semi-sweet butterscotch note that I really enjoyed. This was probably my favorite part of each sip, as it left a sweet and delicious flavor behind, causing me to dive right back in for that next sip.

I'm so glad I tried this. This was an excellent, bold and punchy rye, and it reminded me of why I make myself try stuff I otherwise may not know much about.  I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for this brand in the future.

Grade: B+

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength Straight Rye Whiskey


VITALS:

- $60
- 112.2 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No 10AA
- Maryland/Indiana

Sagamore Spirit is one of those brands that I've been seeing on the shelves for years now, that seems to have some interesting products, and which has received, for the most part, really positive reviews online. While it's been on my shortlist of products I've been wanting to try, I just never got around to grabbing a bottle off the shelf. I'm not really sure why, perhaps I just always found something else I wanted--a matter of priority.

Interestingly, though, after purchasing this bottle, I attended a bottle share at a local restaurant, and two Sagamore Spirit reps attended. So all of a sudden I was not only trying this cask strength rye, but I also got to sample their Double Oak Rye, their Muscatel Finished Rye and their Manhattan Finished Rye. This, however, was the only bottle that I purchased (and finished), so this is the only one that gets a review on here.

I got some of those traditional rye mint notes on the nose, as well as a bit of that dill note that I commonly associate with MGP ryes such as this. Of course, there was also a healthy dose of vanilla, but I also got some sweet, crackery notes as well as a decent amount of cinnamon spice. I have no idea as to the age of this rye, but it also had a certain dry, woody note on the nose.

On the first sip I got a healthy dose of cinnamon right up front. That was immediately followed by a number of sweet, dessert-like flavors, including notes of chocolate and vanilla, as well as a light honey sweetness.  I was immediately impressed by that balance of spicy and sweet right away, not to mention the boldness of the flavors. This was a punchy whiskey (which you want from a cask strength whiskey), but the flavors seemed all right on point.

It had a certain grainy or cereal note, but not necessarily a corn note as I so often get. Along with the honey note, I likened it to sort of a Honeycombs cereal flavor. 

The finish on this whiskey was outstanding. It had a nice, viscous texture that really coated the mouth and made for a nice, long finish that carried a nice, light black pepper spice. On top of that, though, was a bright citrus flavor, kind of like orange or nectarine. The mint carried as well to create this spicy yet citrusy and cooling flavor which, when mixed with the vanilla, all combined to make for a delicious mix!  

This was a fantastic bottle, and I still can't get over just how much I loved the finish on this. Compared to the other bottlings from Sagamore I got to try, this would certainly be my favorite (though perhaps those didn't get a fair shake). I did, however, really like the Double Oak as well, and I'm already eyeing the Cognac finish. Clearly I'll be picking up more Sagamore Spirit bottles down the road.

Grade: A-

Sunday, October 11, 2020

George Remus Binny's Single Barrel Select Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $65
- 124.2 Proof
- Barrel No. 483
- Indiana

I do love store picks. And I do love MGP bourbon. Luckily, both are usually pretty easy to find. The George Remus bourbon has been out for some time, but I hadn't taken the time to try it. I've had pretty much every other product coming straight out of MGP, such as Eight & Sand, Metze's Select and Rossville Union Rye.  I've even had the big brother of George Remus, the Remus Repeal Reserve Batch III (which was spectacular!), and they've all been really good.

So, when the opportunity to grab a store pick of George Remus bottled at cask strength, that was just something that I couldn't pass up.  And when you consider the prices that you see on other barrel strength bottlings of MGP product sold under a different label, $65 for a barrel strength single barrel of MGP bourbon is, in the end, a very decent price.

On the nose I got a lot of sweet bakery notes. There was a lot of brown sugar, as well as a sweet vanilla icing note. It had that baked goods smell to it as well, though, like the smell of cinnamon rolls or coffee cake. It even had a bit of a walnut note to it to kind of round out the experience. I only wish the nose was stronger than it was. Surprisingly, despite the high proof, I found the nose to be kind of soft and dainty.

I had a similar experience with the palate, too.  Despite being well over 120 proof, I got very minimal alcohol burn with each sip. That was very surprising, in a good way. It allowed the flavors to come through much more.

The first impression that I got from this was smooth, salted caramel. This is totally unrelatable, but I remember having salted caramel ice cream for the first time years ago while passing through Atlanta. I loved the flavor of that ice cream, and they even sprinkled a small amount of salt on the top. The flavor here reminded me of that experience.

It wasn't all sweet caramel, though. It had a grain forward note to it, kind of a corn flakes note, but sweeter. Perhaps more like Frosted Flakes? It also had more earthy notes. There was a distinct but not strong wood note to it, and the walnut note that I got on the nose came through as well.

This bourbon had a long, sweet finish. There was no spice on the back end, but rather more of a dark brown sugar note that stuck around, and at times it was almost a molasses note that lingered.  I was surprised at how sweet this whiskey was, and I did yearn for a bit more spice. But all in all, this was well worth the price of admission.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Jeppson's Blended Straight Bourbon


VITALS:

- $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


VITALS:

- $45
- 102.2 Proof
- NAS
- 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


VITALS:
- $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+