Sunday, March 29, 2020

Wild Turkey Master's Keep Cornerstone Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

- $170
- 109 Proof
- 9 yrs and 11 yrs
- Kentucky

It's not often that a new product is coming on the market and I get into a "have to have it" mode. I tend to be more of an opportunistic bourbon purchaser, rather than actively hunting for particular bottles. However, when I read that Wild Turkey was doing a rye for their next Master's Keep release, I knew I had to get my hands on one. So, I put my feelers out there, and let every store owner and manager know that I wanted to get my hands on one once it came out.

One day I did get that call from my local store manager, letting me know that it came in and she had set one aside for me. At the time I didn't realize just how pricey it would be, or that the price would cause this bottle to be more available than my efforts had warranted. But, I got my hands on one nonetheless, so I was happy, and I only hoped that the flavor would live up to the very steep price.

On the nose I got a lot of rich, creamy caramel. I also got some black pepper spice as well as a light cinnamon note. There was also a sort of burnt sugar note, perhaps like caramel with a bit of char. At first the nose came across as very sweet and dessert-like. Later on, however, the spiciness seemed to come through more, and I felt the black pepper became more noticeable.

When I took my first sip, the fist thing I noticed was the thick, oily viscosity that this whiskey had--a sign of good things to come. Immediately up front the tip and sides of my tongue where hit with spicy cinnamon and cloves that immediately made my mouth water. Of course, the caramel that dominated the nose was prevalent throughout as well.

It wasn't entirely a dessert-like whiskey, though. There was a bit of an old fashioned note to it, as I got some orange peel, some bitter tanins and some luxardo cherry notes. That mix didn't overwhelm, but it certainly made for an interesting and delicious pour.

Towards the end, it did seem to sweeten up a bit, but the rye spice seemed to temper it and keep it from ever getting too sweet. I got a sort of a molasses note that reminded me a bit of oatmeal cookie. However, as sweet as it seemed, it was always balanced by cinnamon and black pepper spices, as well as some flavor from the barrel, like the char and tanins. It all seemed to work perfectly to give a perfect mix, even despite that it trended sweeter than I normally prefer in a rye.

In the end, with the price tag placed on this whiskey, the question is, "Is it worth it?" Although it was very pricey and hard to justify on that objective fact alone, I found this to be one of the best whiskeys I've ever had, and for that reason, I, personally, did not regret my purchase. The fact of the matter is, regardless of price, this is a great rye!

Grade: A+

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Buffalo Trace Niche Restaurant Single Barrel Select "The Second Coming" Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $30
- 90 Proof
- Kentucky

A few bourbon-related things have changed for me since the Coronavirus pandemic began, particularly once Illinois went on lockdown. I certainly find myself making these posts far more frequently. We are all, after all, on Vegas time, where time is a concept and it really doesn't matter when I pour my first drink.

Another thing that has come of this is restaurants selling their whiskey stocks to get through everything, or to raise money for their staff. We saw that the famous Jack Rose in Washington D.C. did this, and locally a couple restaurants near me have done something similar. Niche Restaurant in Geneva, Illinois is one such place. It also happens to be my favorite restaurant, as well as the best whiskey bar in the Fox Valley area. Needless to say, they get a lot of my business and certainly will continue to do so.

Niche manages to get a great allocation of the hard-to-find stuff, but more importantly, its owner, Vinny Balistreri, has made some private barrel picks that I have absolutely loved! He apparently has a palate that jives with mine, and when they posted that they are selling bottles of their private picks out the door, I jumped all over it, picking up an Eagle Rare, Elijah Craig and, of course, this Buffalo Trace (as well as muling a few bottles for my work buddies that I may or may not ever see again).

And thankfully the bottle did not disappoint!  The nose was full of caramel. However, it also had a touch of char to go with that sweetness and add a bit of an earthiness to it. I also got some light black pepper. However, the caramel was absolutely the star here. It smelled like rich, creamy salted caramel.

The flavor matched the nose as well. It was a "caramel bomb" as the kids like to say. If anything, it tasted even sweeter than it smelled. It still had that creamy richness to it, and it reminded me of dulce de leche. It very much was like a dessert whiskey in this respect, but man was it good.

Other notes came through as well, all which seemed to complement the caramel very well. I got a touch of milk chocolate, and there were even some distinct vanilla notes. It reminded me a bit of yellow cake as well.

The finish of course carried that sweet caramel theme through to the end, but it was on the finish that the barrel seemed to really come through, as I got a bit of oak at the end, almost to temper the dessert-like quality and provide a touch of earthy bitterness to balance everything out.

Grade: A

Friday, March 27, 2020

Russell's Reserve 6 Year Kentucky Straight Rye

- $45
- 90 Proof
- 6 years
- Kentucky

There are still so many staples or regularly available bottles on the shelf that I, for one reason or another, just haven't gotten around to trying. I've made it a point lately to pick up some of those bottles to supplement the ever-growing supply of store picks that I feel like I'm seeing everywhere now. This is one of those bottles.

I actually love Wild Turkey rye. I know this, and yet just now got around to grabbing this bottle. In all fairness, I've tried the entire lineup, but just hadn't purchased a bottle of this (nor the single barrel). That's a mistake that is not likely to be repeated, because, as I may have mentioned, I love Wild Turkey rye.

The nose is very cinnamon forward, with some light oak tones. Interestingly, I noticed some red wine notes as well, which was a bit unexpected. I got light, bitter tanins along with dark fruits, like plum or blackberry. This rye smelled very rich, particularly for a 90 proof whiskey.

The flavor was not nearly as strong or rich as the nose came across. Rather, the flavor came across softly and delicately. It seemed a lot more grain forward, as I got a little bit of a cornbread note. It also had some bready qualities, adding in some wheat and yeast flavors. This was all sweetened up by a dark honey flavor.

The rye spice was certainly there, though, even if a bit more subtle than I'd prefer. The cinnamon spice comes through well from front to back, and manages to linger pretty well on the finish. I also got that somewhat traditional dill note from the rye as well, and all this seemed to sit on top of a thin layer of caramel. The flavors were all somewhat fleeting, however.

The wine notes that I got on the nose did not make their way into the flavor. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. What was here, though was a classic, albeit sweeter rye flavor profile. It had a nice balance of sweet and heat, along with a bit more cereal-forward flavor than I usually get in a rye. There was nothing here that blew my mind or anything, but it's an absolutely solid, regularly available, everyday rye whiskey.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. Straight Rye Whiskey

- $50
- 100 Proof
 - NAS
- Illinois

Blaum Bros. has managed to get some nationwide recognition for the work that they've been doing, mostly due to the love for their MGP-sourced Oldfangled Knotter Bourbon (which I've had and I've loved!!).  They are now coming into their own distillate, though, and so far it's been well-received, at least in my internet and social media circles.

I went into Binny's with the intention of grabbing something that I simply haven't gotten around to trying (as opposed to the store picks or allocated items I'm usually keeping an eye out for), and this is what I came away with. They're so close to me, and the only product I've had of theirs wasn't actually theirs. So I felt like it was long overdue

The nose is very pungent. I could smell this whiskey from a couple feet away before even pouring it into my glass. I got a distinct maraschino cherry note, along with some cinnamon and brown sugar. However, I also got that overripe or cooked apple note that I always get in young whiskeys.

On my first sip, I got a weird kind of furniture polish note--that taste in your mouth you when you spray dusting spray and a few of the airborne particles get into your mouth. Perhaps it's not as relatable as I think it is, but that's what this reminded me of.

I primarily got notes of orange and cinnamon. The orange was more like orange pith, though, with a touch of bitterness to it. I also found that it came across as woody and piney. The pine notes are not unexpected in a rye, but these leaned more towards pine bark than pine needles, if that makes sense. I also, surprisingly, got a bit of a char note.

I say surprisingly given the overripe apple notes that I got on the nose, indicative of a young bourbon. Those same notes were there on the palate as well, but that apple note seemed to fade rather quickly to more of a nutty, spicy note, like cinnamon and nutmeg.

I also got some rich, more dessert-like notes. Particularly, I got a bit of dark chocolate, as well as a sort of dark fruit cookie note. At first I was leaning towards an oatmeal raisin flavor, but it wasn't that sweet. Eventually, I pegged it as similar to a fig newton, with that bready note and that almost-sweet fruit filling.

Once I got past the weird or off notes, I found a lot to like about this rye. It had good spice, light sweetness, and a certain richness that gave this whiskey a lot of character. However, it required some work to get past the young notes as well as that odd furniture polish note in order to get there.

Grade: B-

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Michter's Limited Release Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey - Barrel No. 19C394

- $80
- 112 Proof
- Barrel No. 19C394
- Kentucky

There once was a time, not that long ago, that this stuff just sat on shelves gathering dust. In fact, the last time that I reviewed this release, back in 2015, that was exactly the case. That was a bottle that I had been eyeing for a while, and eventually pulled the trigger.

This bottle, however, was one that never made it to the shelf. Because it's gotten so scarce (perhaps a combination of lack of supply and increase in demand), it was treated as allocated and held in back. I only got the chance to buy the bottle due to my local store's manager knowing my love of rye and letting me know it came in.  I didn't even know to ask for it, it had gotten so far off my radar.  I only hoped it'd be as good as I remembered.

Pine and caramel dominate the nose, along with a touch of oaky bitterness. It smelled like a sweet Pacific Northwest forest. It also had some sweet cinnamon notes, and at times it smelled to me like fresh baked oatmeal cookies with just a touch of molasses. All in all, it smelled like a bold but sweet rye whiskey.

The first thing I noticed when I took my first sip was the very oily texture of this rye. It had a great viscosity that coated the glass and my mouth.  This viscosity seemed to take the flavor from the whiskey and just hit me from all angles. Luckily, that flavor was great, and I still couldn't get enough of it.

It had more of a vanilla undertone than I'd expect from a rye, and certainly than I would have expected given the nose. On top of that, however, was all brown sugar and cinnamon, giving a great baked goods type of sweet and spicy.

It had a light woody note to it, but not as strong as was on the nose. It was more of a nutty type of wood note, like walnut. It also had something bright to it to balance that out, kind of a mix of sweet apple and plum that I really enjoyed. At times I got hints of a spearmint-vanilla flavor as well that added a bit of brightness.

In the end, though, this is a bold, spicy rye, and the sweet cinnamon note was front and center, and that's the flavor that seemed to linger long on the finish. After I first opened this, I then set it to the side for a while, knowing that it likely wouldn't last. When I went back to this bottle, that was exactly the case, and I found myself plowing through the rest in a couple days. I absolutely love this rye and only wish it were more available, but such is the industry these days.

Grade: A

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Spirits of the Apocalypse The Walking Dead Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $10 (Regularly $40)
- 94 Proof
- Kentucky

I can't tell you how many times I looked at this bottle on the shelves, chuckled at the idea that someone even bothered producing a "The Walking Dead" bourbon, and moved on to other bottles on the shelf. I wasn't about to spend $40 on a gimmick whiskey with so many better options out there, particularly for that price.

However, while on a wine run for my wife, while doing my typical perusal of the same bourbon aisle I peruse all the time, I was drawn not to the bottle, but to the label right underneath it -- "Sale: $9.99"!!!  Whether or not this bottle was worth the price at $40 is certainly debatable, but at $10, what did I possibly have to lose?

As the Coronavirus pandemic grew, and as I found myself spending every minute of my day at home (not to mention having no need to wake up to an alarm), it only seemed appropriate that I go back to this bottle, otherwise sitting in my closet, and toast the nationwide shutdown.  But that's enough preambling.  How good can The Walking Dead bourbon really be?

Though I anticipated that this would be a young whiskey, I felt that wood notes were prevalent on the nose. It smelled like a barrel, but it also had a peanut note to it as well. Though it didn't come across quite as sweet, that peanut butter mixed with an amaretto note as well.

The flavor was like-wise surprisingly woody, which came with a bit of bitterness that seemed to stick around from start to finish. I also got a distinct burnt orange flavor that paired with a burnt sugar sweetness. This bourbon seemed to get more char character than most in that respect.  It wasn't bad, just the character of the bourbon.

The amaretto notes that I got on the nose and enjoyed were present on the palate as well, though not as much as I had hoped. I also didn't get the peanut flavor that I got from the nose. However, there was a strong cherry note on the finish, particularly in earlier pours. In later pours, that cherry note seemed to become more and more prevalent, and not just noticeable on the finish.

Additionally, another flavor seemed to develop in later pours, and it took me a bit to attach a descriptor to it. But, when I finally made the connection, I couldn't get past the flavor of wet leaves in the Fall.  I know, it's weird, and I don't recall ever actually eating wet leaves in the fall, but that was the kind of earthy and damp flavor that I was noticing.

At $40, I'm not a buyer of this whiskey. At $10, however, I am. It did not come across as young, as I had feared. Sure, it had some odd notes, but for the price, this was pretty good (albeit a low bar at the price point).

Grade: C+

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Smoke Wagon Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $40
- 92.5 Proof
- Nevada (distilled in Indiana)

I always do my best to try out the new brands on the block. I've heard of Smoke Wagon only due to an internet kerfuffle over the purchase of a barrel pick. The story, if you will, got a lot of attention and caused a lot of discussion on Facebook, Twitter and message boards, and at the time, I had no idea what Smoke Wagon even was.

But, as a result of all that talk, I quickly learned who they were, despite that they weren't in Illinois. But, it wasn't too long after that that I got a message letting me know they had hit -- this straight bourbon, a small batch, a cask strength and a 10-year. Initially this was the only bottle I was able to find, but with a little patience, a little diligence, and of course a little good luck, I was eventually able to track down all three to give them a try.

At the outset, though it has nothing to do with the bourbon itself, I really like this bottle design. I like the tall bottles, and the printed on label (rather than a paper label) is really eye-catching. I've been fooled by pretty packaging before, though, so I wanted to be sure to let the whiskey do the talking.

On the nose I got a bunch of corn and molasses. This gave it a sweet, grainy, and young character. There was also a kind of a fake cherry note and a sweet cinnamon note that reminded me of a spicy cherry hard candy (like a mix between a Fireball and a cherry Jolly Rancher). After it was opened for a bit, I liked it a bit more, as it was dominated by a dark caramel note as well as some welcome vanilla notes.

The palate, much like the nose, was young, sweet and corn-forward. It nonetheless also had a lot of that caramel that I was getting on the nose in later pours, as well as a light cinnamon spice. I did get some woody bitterness to it, as well as a light peppery spice. Luckily, I did not taste any of that fake cherry I was getting on the nose.

As it sat open for a while, it seemed to sweet up significantly.  Although the flavors remained somewhat soft, I'm sure partly due to the lower proof, it turned into something sweet and sugary. It reminded me of the caramel syrup that's drizzled onto fancy coffee drinks.

For anyone that likes really sweet bourbons, this would be right up their alley. However, for me it was a bit too sweet, and a bit too young. I wish it had developed a bit more spice. That being said, though, this had a lot of flavor and still stood up as a pretty good bourbon, one I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at. I'm looking forward to trying and finishing off the other bottles in the line-up!

Grade: B

Friday, March 13, 2020

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel #098

- $25
- 90 Proof
- Barrel #098
- Kentucky

When it comes to private selections or store picks, I feel like I'm a broken record in these reviews, constantly touting the incredible value in the private picks of Buffalo Trace and Knob Creek. At $25 or so, I grab every single private selection of Buffalo Trace that I come across. The financial risk is minimal, and I have had some absolutely outstanding bottles.

And when that pick is coming from the likes of Gene at Warehouse Liquors, it's not only something that I grab because of the value, but it's something I grab because I know that it's something I'm going to really enjoy, something that will suit my palate well. There have only been a small handful of his picks that I haven't absolutely loved, and this one was no exception to that rule.

The nose is peppery and spicy, but that's laid on top of a caramel undercurrent. I also got a distinct corn syrup note, like the Karo light corn syrup that my mom used to bake with. Perhaps that got in my head, but I swear I was also getting graham cracker and a sort of a pecan pie note (it just so happens that Karo used to put a delicious pecan pie recipe on the back label of their bottles -- don't know if they still do that or not).

On my first sip, the first thing I noticed was a light anise note (I'm not a big fan of anise, but this wasn't enough to turn me off), as well as an immediately noticeable black pepper spice.  That gave way pretty quickly to vanilla and brown sugar, which was the undercurrent of flavor throughout.

Interestingly, part way through the bottle I started getting coffee notes, as well as those pecan notes I was hoping to get after that delicious nose. While initially I thought this was going to be well on the spicier end, after being open a bit the bottle seemed to transform to more of a dessert-like bourbon.

Don't get me wrong, the peppery spice, which I really liked in this, was still there. It just wasn't as front and center. It did seem to linger a bit on the finish, along with that caramel undercurrent and that coffee note. To add to that dessert-like quality, though, the finish also developed a dark chocolate note that seemed to just go perfectly with everything else.

By the time I got to the bottom of this bottle, it was a great combination of sweet, rich, bitter and spicy. Had I been grading this pick based on only those last couple pours, this would have gotten an A or even an A+ for me. They were that good and seemed to hit all the right notes for me. Nonetheless, my blind allegiance to Gene's picks paid off again, and this was a great barrel of Buffalo Trace.

Grade: A-

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Jim Beam Black Extra-Aged Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $22
- 86 Proof
- Kentucky

I feel like I've been ignoring the Jim Beam lineup for far too long. I enjoyed the bottled-in-bond, and I really liked the double-oak.  The other day, I found myself looking at the Beam section of the liquor store shelves, and I realized I've never had the black label, nor the Distiller's Cut or Repeal Batch, and so I made some lower dollar purchases to get them in the queue.

Although it's lower proof, I've heard good things about the black label, and the price certainly can't be beat. I figured at the least I'd be out $22, and at best perhaps I'll find that regular sipper at a good price.

Despite its lower proof, the nose on this bourbon was pretty pungent. I got a decent amount of spice, kind of like a stick of cinnamon. Underneath that spice was something between a woody and a nutty note, kind of like pecan. I also got some brighter fruits, like black cherry and black raspberry (perhaps the label was creating a bit of a pre-disposition towards "black" fruits).  On later pours, the woodiness of the nose seemed to stick out a bit more, but it all worked together, and I couldn't stop sniffing my glass.

The first thing I noticed on my first sip was the thin texture. It was very watery, but that's to be expected given the proof. However, it delivered far more flavor than I was expecting, and in that respect it did not match the texture.

Caramel and vanilla led the way throughout, with the vanilla being the first flavor to hit my tongue, and the caramel being the flavor that seemed to stick around after every other flavor had left the party. The caramel reminded me of a sweet, sugary caramel, like the caramel syrup Starbucks drizzles into fancy coffee drinks.

To balance the sweetness there was a little bit of wood, and even a light char note. That char note, mixed with the caramel, reminded me a bit of creme brulee, with the cooked caramel sauce. It had that certain burnt sugar note that I'd associate with such desserts. I also got distinct pie notes. There was a bit of that bakery taste that reminded me of pie crust, as well as a light baked apple note that worked really well with the caramel. At times I also got some light anise notes.

All in all, the flavors in this bourbon were more pronounced than I ever expected, and they all worked really well together. If I have a knock on this bourbon, it's that it was too sweet for my taste, which is something I certainly did not expect. Despite the notes of wood and char, it was still full of those caramel and burnt sugar notes. Nonetheless, this was delicious, and certainly a pour I'd never turn down, especially for the price!

Grade: B+