Sunday, April 26, 2020

George Dickel Bottled In Bond Tennessee Whisky

- $40
- 100 Proof
- 13 Years
- Tennessee

Not that I ever really paid attention to Whisky Advocate rankings, but now I have a reason to deliberately ignore them in the future. Towards the end of last year, Whisky Advocate released its Top 20 whiskeys of 2019--business as usual. However, I'm pretty sure nearly the entire whiskey community was shocked when they saw a George Dickel product ranked #1.

At the time the article was released, I had yet to see the George Dickel Bottled in Bond on shelves here in the Chicago area. I probably would have grabbed a bottle just to try it regardless, but now that it was actually making headlines, when I got the chance to finally snag one, I jumped at the chance. I felt I needed to at least see for myself what all the fuss was about. I quickly realized that I really didn't . . .

When I first popped the cork, I immediately noticed something weird and off about this whisky. It smelled like waffles. Waffles smothered in maple syrup. It was very distinct in that respect, and you're probably thinking, okay, sounds alright so far. But that's where it got a bit weird. Along with the maple syrup covered waffles note, I also got a sweet potato smell. It actually smelled starchy, if that makes sense. I don't know how to describe it other than that it smelled like an uncooked potato.

And then I got the note that I've heard so much about - grape Flintstones Vitamins. It actually had a chalky, fake grape flavor to it, and all I could think about was Flintstones Vitamins. I couldn't get past it, as much as I wanted to enjoy the waffles smell, or even the sweet potato (though I wasn't as concerned with that one). I could not get past that note, and it really put me off every single time I caught a whiff.

Unfortunately, the flavor was no better. The dominant flavor in this whisky?  Yep, grape Flintstones Vitamins.  I've heard of people getting this note in Dickel products. I've had other Dickel whiskies, and while I've never really been a big fan, I've never gotten chalky, artificial grape flavor. Yet that is nearly all I got in this one.  My father-in-law thought I poured him a flavored whisky, it was that strong (he immediately poured his down the drain).

There were some other flavors to be picked out. I did get a bit of an odd vanilla syrup note, like the kind of syrups you see at coffee bars, as well as a touch of banana. Of course this was all quite disgusting when paired with chalky, artificial grape flavoring.

I even got some bitter orange pith at times, which I might enjoy under certain circumstances, but which does not pair well with chalky, artificial grape flavoring. I even got a bit of a doughy pie crust note. However, it only confirmed for me that I never want to try a grape pie made with artificial grape flavoring and chalk dust. I probably didn't really need to confirm that, but you get my point.

I did struggle through and eventually finish this bottle (the fact that I was able to finish it was the only thing that kept this from getting an "F"), but I frankly thought it was terrible. I have no idea what the people at Whisky Advocate had for lunch that day, or how much money Dickel may have paid them for that number one spot, but that ranking is absolutely dumbfounding. This not only failed to live up to the ranking, but would be right at the bottom of my list if I were to rank every whiskey I've ever had.

Grade: D-

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Weller Full Proof Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $50
- 114 Proof
- Batch #1
- Kentucky

Despite that I'm not a huge fan of wheaters (I like them just fine, I just lean more towards the spicy side), I was really excited when Buffalo Trace announced that they were releasing a full proof Weller. Though perhaps not always the rule, for me higher proof generally equals better. So why not a full proof Weller?

And then when I learned that it would be part of their private select program . . . all the better!!  A couple stores near me got full proof picks in early on, and they sold out nearly immediately. But, I was able to get my hands on the Binny's pick, and had my chance to give the new Full Proof a ride.

The nose was all sweet cinnamon and bread. In fact, it also had a bit of a raisin note, making me want to just toast it up, spread some butter on it and have it for breakfast. It really had a cinnamon raisin bread note going on. I also got a bit of sweetness, with hints of honey and sweet malty notes.  Throughout, however, that cinnamon bread note dominated, and it just smelled like a bakery on a Sunday morning.

The flavor was definitely on the sweeter side, as I got some rich molasses notes, along with a touch of honey and a decent amount of vanilla. But, it had its fair share of spice as well. I got kind of a cinnamon candy flavor, like the cinnamon jolly ranchers (which I love!).

The flavor was very rich and complex. The molasses flavor at times leaned more toward a maple syrup note (again . . . breakfast). At times I even got oatmeal raisin cookie notes, which is not inconsistent with everything else I was getting. The maple syrup was even stronger on the last few pours from the bottle.  I also got hints of orange at times, as well as a healthy dose of caramel and brown sugar, reminiscent of orange muffins.  Seriously, I just kept getting reminded of breakfast pastries and baked goods throughout this bottle.

The finish was incredibly long. This bourbon had a nice, silky mouthfeel that just did not seem to go away. It coated my mouth in all of the delicious flavors noted above and made them just linger there long after each pour.

All in all, this was a great bourbon. When I first poured it, I absolutely loved it and thought it was great. By the last few pours, I had decided that this is probably one of my favorite bourbons I've had in a really long time. It had the right blend of spicy and sweet. It reminded me of sweet baked goods, but never came across as overly sweet. Rather, it was just a bourbon I felt I could enjoy any time of the day! It's a shame this one is not around any more, because I'd like about five more of them!

Grade: A+

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Smoke Wagon Desert Jewel Reserve 10 Year Straight Bourbon

- $80
- 104 Proof
- 10 Years
- Nevada / Indiana

I previously wrote on the release of the Smoke Wagon products into Illinois markets. I knew I wanted to get my hands on some, figuring I'd get around to trying the straight bourbon, the small batch and hopefully the cask strength. In fact, when they made their way here, I didn't even realize that a 10-year product was among the offerings.

However, thanks to a good friend who happens to work at a liquor store and who gave me a head's up on its release, I was able to get my hands on the Desert Jewel Reserve from Smoke Wagon, a 10-year MGP product, from a "hand selected" 35 barrel batch.  Of course I was excited to get my hands on a bottle, and I have to say, I do love the packaging that Smoke Wagon is putting their bourbon in. I dig the detailing in the glass as well as the wax stamp and the simplistic label.

The nose gave off a bit of its age, providing some wood notes and a decent amount of cinnamon spice. I also got a sweet caramel note. At times I thought I was getting bright orange notes. However, what seemed to stand out more were notes of Cabernet and amaretto, providing a rich, fruit-forward aroma that was not only rich, but had a certain tangy quality, too.  On the final few pours, I really seemed to notice the wood notes more.

The first thing I noticed when I took my first sip was the amount of sweet caramel flavor. It was pretty much all I was getting. I did get some cinnamon and pepper spice right up front, which I really noticed right on the tip of my tongue.

As I made my way through pour after pour, I started to get a lot of brown sugar, as well as baking spices and bread notes. It really was just about everything that I look for in a bourbon, taking all those great bakery spices and putting them into the flavor of this whiskey.

On the back end I got a really nice cinnamon and pepper spice, which I seemed to notice a lot more on later pours. I really noticed the spice on the sides of my tongue well after each swallow, and it caused me to salivate thinking of every next sip. I also got a light char note that only seemed to come out in later pours.

This was a delicious, rich and sweet bourbon that did an incredible job of not getting overly sweet. It was bottled at a great proof, allowing for a ton of flavor and character to come through, while still providing decent heat. I may never see this bottle again, but if I do, I'm not hesitating a second to grab it. This was delicious!

Grade: A

Friday, April 17, 2020

Larceny The Pride Stores Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $22
- 92 Proof
- approx. 7 yrs.
- Barrel Serial No. 6357515
- Kentucky

You know what's a nice surprise?  Getting home from wherever you've been (in this case I had to do a quick run to the office to grab some much needed supplies for working from home) and noticing that there's a new bottle on top of your fridge among the most recently poured bottles. Nobody told me this bottle was coming, nor did I immediately know where it came from.

I came to learn, though, that my father-in-law had bought a bottle himself (he was very pleased with the price point), really loved it, so he went back and grabbed one for me! Hooray for free whiskey! I've now had a few different picks from the Pride Stores, a liquor store in a strip mall next to a Pride gas station. I'm not sure their process for getting picks, whether they're being sent samples or simply provided whatever the distillery chooses. However, what I've had has been fairly solid.

This particular bottle proved to be no different. The nose was sweet and soft, like the smell of honey wheat bread. I also got a bit of sweet corn as well as a hint of molasses or maple syrup. It was certainly grain forward but not doubt had a bit of a sweet aroma.

That soft sweetness also carried over to the flavor. I got a kind of sweet but creamy or fatty note, almost like a honey butter flavor. This went incredibly well with the honey wheat bread note that also carried over from the nose.

I also got a lot of vanilla that for some reason I didn't get on the nose. It kind of underscored every other flavor. It added a sweet note, which  mixed with the other flavors I was getting to develop almost a butterscotch candy flavor. I also got cornbread notes at time, and those too were with that hit of vanilla as well, which was a bit of an odd combination.

Despite the lower proof, this bourbon had a nice, oily mouthfeel, which provided for a long, drawn out finish with butterscotch and caramel flavors seeming to linger for quite a while. In fact, the finish was what I enjoyed the most about this bottle, as it was just as good as any finish I've noticed in far more expensive and far higher proofed bourbons.

This was really a present surprise, particularly given where it came from, the proof, and of course the incredibly affordable price.

Grade: B+

Monday, April 13, 2020

Bulleit Bourbon Binny's Private Select Barrel #2 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $50
- 104 Proof
- Barrel No. LIB30053
- 36% Rye; Yeast 3
- Kentucky

It seems every product these days is getting the private barrel treatment. There is certainly no dearth of private picks to choose from at all of my usual liquor store haunts. What's available, however, seems to depend upon the distillery, though, as Buffalo Trace products and Four Roses single barrels seem to sell themselves.

However, a while back I recalled reading announcements from MGP and Bulleit, both only a couple days apart, that they would be starting a private barrel program, and as a fan of both, I was excited for both.  Binny's finally got a few different bottlings in earlier this year, and although the particular staff member I spoke with hadn't tried any, he related that another customer bought a bottle of this "Barrel #2" and loved it so much that he came back to the store to buy two more. So, that's the one I went with.

The nose is relatively soft and a little feint, but nonetheless good. It had a decent amount of cinnamon, as well as a light and inoffensive oakiness. I also got a light smokiness on the nose as well. Those notes were sweetened up a bit by a nice honey note, as well as notes of maraschino cherry and dark chocolate. At times I got a nice vanilla or sweet creme note, which I wished were a bit more prominent.

I found the flavor to be very amaretto and allspice forward. It had that rich, tangy quality that I get from those flavors. At times it reminded me of cherry pie.  There was also a decent amount of cinnamon spice, which I expected given the high-rye recipe.

As I worked my way through, the allspice notes seemed to dominate. I also got a nougat note that was really good, perhaps a transformation or development from the pie crust flavors I was getting. However, I also started getting something a bit more earthy, more of an umami flavor.

At first I couldn't quite place that umami note, but towards the end of the bottle, I found that that note, mixed with the allspice note, reminded me a lot of pumpkin pie. It had that sweet, spice, and yet earthy note that I love in a good pumpkin pie. All I needed was the whipped cream!

The whiskey had a nice, buttery viscosity, and I think that went very well with the flavors I was getting. I thoroughly enjoyed this whiskey in multiple ways, whether neat, over ice or even in a cocktail (it made for great whiskey sours). It held up every way. While it didn't blow me away, it was nonetheless a very good pick by the Binny's staff.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Maker's Mark Bill Samuels, Jr. Private Select Kentucky Bourbon

- $70
- 109 Proof
- 10 Maker's 46 staves
- Kentucky

A few years back when I visited the Maker's Mark distillery, I had just missed their distillery only release of their cask strength Maker's 46. I missed it by only a couple of weeks.  It was around that time that they started their Private Select program, and with one of their stave options being the Maker's 46 staves, it seemed almost inevitable that someone, somewhere, would use that to create their own Maker's 46 cask strength.

But, I never saw it anywhere. Four years later, though, Maker's released a cask strength Maker's 46 in their Generations of Proof gift box set sold at Costco, and shortly thereafter this Bill Samuels, Jr. release.  As I've mentioned before, there's no better whiskey than free whiskey, and this is no exception. I got this bottle as a Christmas gift from a good friend of mine, who is an even better friend as a result!

This bourbon had a really sweet smell. Upon opening the bottle I was immediately reminded of sugar cookies. It also had a crackery note, as well as a light black pepper spice to sort of counteract that sweet note. I also got a bit of a molasses note, and all of it together created a sort of pecan pie aroma. While it was somewhat all over the place, it all worked really well, and this smelled delicious.

Consistent with the nose, the flavor immediately hit my tongue with a nice mix of sweet and spicy, which I really enjoyed. It reminded me of a spiced chai tea, but with a bit of an added sweetness, like a sweet or flavored creamer was added.

Accordingly, I got a lot of vanilla, as well as a kind of rich chocolate fudge brownie flavor. It lacked any bitterness that would normally come with dark chocolate notes, but rather really leaned on the richness of the fudge note.

On the finish I got notes of black cherry and anise. These flavors added to the richness of the bourbon, as well as providing something beyond the "sweets" notes that predominated, and they gave a little bit more complexity to the bourbon. On later pours, these flavors seemed to come across as more of a sweet amaretto note.

This was a delicious bourbon, and I'm glad that not only did Maker's Mark release a cask strength Maker's 46, but that even as a limited release, it was still pretty readily available. I'd imagine that even now, with just a little bit of effort, one could find a bottle on the shelves to try.

Grade: A-

Friday, April 3, 2020

Jim Beam Distiller's Cut Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $22
- 100 Proof
- 5-6 years
- Kentucky

When Jim Beam first released this product, it seemed to be without much fanfare. Rather, it was just a new product from Beam that one day started appearing on shelves. Given that Beam seems to regularly change or add to their line-up, I barely blinked the first time that I saw it, and I was certainly in no rush to grab a bottle.

Then people started reviewing it, and the returns were overwhelmingly positive--at least what I was seeing online. I added it to my ever-evolving list of whiskeys that I wanted to make it a point to try, but I still always seemed to have something else I wanted to grab. And then it started disappearing from shelves.  Despite that the bottle states "Limited Release" right on the front, I guess I didn't take it seriously.  However, I don't believe it was THAT limited, and with just a little bit of effort, despite it now being out of production, I was able to locate a bottle and finally give it a try.

The nose had some of that traditional Jim Beam spice to it, with a nice, rich and spicy mix of cinnamon and amaretto. It also had a sweet bread-like note to it, almost like a pie crust. At times I got a crackery quality, like a good Pilsner. On later pours I was getting a kind of root beer aroma from my glass. The nose was somewhat all over the place, but it was at least interesting and bold.

The flavor was spicy and nutty, but also had a certain level of sweetness to it.  It was like a mix of brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. The nutty notes that came through reminded me of pecans or walnuts, something more on the woody end.

There was also the sweet bread note as well. It created a sort of unfrosted cinnamon roll flavor. At times I also got a sort of cherry-cinnamon flavor, and this was particularly noticeable on the finish, as the cinnamon seemed to linger for quite a while. However, so did that cherry note, and unfortunately on the finish that translated to more of a fake cherry or cherry cough syrup note that was a bit of a turn off.

Aside from that note on the finish, though, I really liked everything else about this bottle. It was bold in flavor, and provided a nice mix of different notes that all complemented each other. All in all, it reminded me sticky buns topped with chopped walnuts -- not too sweet, but carrying those delicious brown sugar, cinnamon and nutty notes throughout. And for the price, this was pretty stellar!

Grade: B+