Saturday, May 30, 2020

Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered Straight Bourbon

- $55
- 115.2 Proof
- Indiana/Nevada

Smoke Wagon has been getting a lot of love these days, at least in the blogs and Facebook groups that I've been following. And for good reason! So far I've tried their straight bourbon and their Desert Reserve 10 year bourbon, and both were pretty fantastic. The hype must have something to it.

So, I'd expect no less from their Uncut Unfiltered, which is essentially a cask strength, non-chill filtered version. It's got so many key words that make us bourbon dorks excited that I had to bring one home and try it. At first these flew off the shelves--I found this at a small gas station liquor store.  But now I see it sitting around pretty available with just a bit of effort and looking.

On the nose the first thing I noticed were baking spices. I got allspice and cardamom, as well as a slight anise. That anise flavor came across as somewhat of a dark cherry note at times. I also got a woody scent, like nutmeg, as well as more of a cinnamon-type spice, like cloves. In addition to this spice cabinet of flavors, I got something doughy and sweet, like some sort of caramel pastry. This was one of those whiskeys where the nose really had a lot going on, and at one point my wife was yelling at me, "Stop sniffing your whiskey, you weirdo!"

The flavor was absolutely delicious. It was very forward with notes of caramel and sweet cinnamon spice. It also had that same woody note that I got on the nose, a nice nutmeg flavor to counter the sweet caramel and cinnamon flavors. 

Dark cherry notes came through as well, but different from what I got on the nose.  They didn't lean anise, but rather the rich dark cherry that you'd find baked into a pie. 

I also got some fresh orange notes at times that really seemed to brighten up the flavor, particularly in the face of the decent burn and lingering warmth that this bourbon had. Don't get me wrong, though. That burn was not off-putting, but rather was welcome with all the other flavors going on here. 

And it certainly had that dessert-like quality to it. I got a distinct pie crust note, and all the other flavors seemed to mix together to give off a kind of peach pie vibe that was delicious, and matched very well with the consistent cinnamon note that I got throughout. I really enjoyed this bourbon and have been recommending it to anyone that has asked (and anyone that hasn't asked for that matter). This was an incredibly solid pour at a very reasonable price, and Smoke Wagon just continues to impress me.

Grade: A-

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Jim Beam Repeal Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $22
- 86 Proof
- Kentucky

In honor of the repeal of prohibition, Jim Beam released a "limited edition" prohibition repeal tribute in its Repeal Batch. At $22, it certainly wasn't priced like a limited edition whiskey. And, as much of it as I saw on the shelves, nothing about its availability told me it was somehow limited.

That was until I started noticing the lack of any Repeal Batch at the stores. It seems this limited edition was "limited" in that it wasn't going to be an ongoing production by Beam, making it available only for a limited time. It was at that point I decided I needed to find a bottle before it was gone from the shelves for good, so when I saw one at my local Jewel, I made it a point to grab one.

The nose was light and somewhat faint. However, what was there was really good. I got a good mixture of nutty and sweet, with pecan and apricot notes. There was a bit of bitter orange rind, but with a brown sugar note that seemed to cut the bitterness a bit. At times I got a cardamom note, and I even noted a cherry licorice scent a couple times, though that one didn't really stick around.

Much like the nose, the flavor also came across as nutty and sweet. However, rather than pecan and apricot, it was more like honey roasted peanuts with a bit of a toffee note. From the start I really liked this flavor, and my first few pours reminded me of Payday candy bars, with the salty peanut and caramel center.

Kind of like what happened on with the nose, towards the end of the bottle I was getting a sort of sweet and sour vibe, with a sort of tart cherry coming through. It reminded me of cherry pies, but the kind that don't rely on twenty pounds of sugar. 

I also got an amaretto note, that could just have been me tasting the nutty note differently. But it certainly seemed to develop a sort of tang between the sour cherry and the amaretto. It was different, but it was a good different.

Ultimately, I liked this bottle to start than I did on the last few pours, which is really the opposite from what I usually experience. While it had good flavor, it's lower in proof at only 86 proof, and that really comes across. The watery texture seemed to hide some of the flavor, and I think this would really have been much more robust if it were bottled at a higher proof. That said, however, I was fairly impressed, particularly for the price.

Grade: B

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Tincup Straight Rye Mountain Whiskey

- $28
- 90 Proof
- 3 years
- Colorado/Indiana

When I find myself traveling and staying in a hotel for the evening, I frequently hit up the closest liquor store, hoping to find something unique, local or just something I can't normally get back home. A few months back we took the kids to St. Louis, to do the Arch and all that touristy stuff. I made my obligatory side trip to the local store and just didn't find anything that really moved the needle.

However, there on the bottom shelf was Tincup rye. It wasn't a special or limited bottling, and it's certainly available in my area. But, it had just been released and I had yet to see it, so for under $30, it became my pour for that evening.  I figured that although it is young, it's at least MGP rye so it shouldn't kill me, right?  I've never been big on Tincup whiskey, but I was willing to take a chance on this.

On the nose I get a healthy amount of cinnamon and sweet vanilla, like vanilla frosting. There's also a slight citrus note, kind of like lemon zest. It also had a bright minty aroma to it as well, kind of like spearmint. Oddly, I also got some rich, dessert notes too, like dark chocolate covered cherries. It was quite the cacophony of smells, ranging from light and bright to dark and rich.

While the nose had a whole lot going on, unfortunately the flavor didn't exactly follow suit. It certainly tasted young and grain forward. It did have a lot of pine and cinnamon notes, though they weren't as rounded as I'd like, but rather seemed to have sharper, jagged edges.

It did have a light, vanilla sweetness on the front end, in line with the vanilla frosting note that I got on the nose. This seemed to translate into a sugar cookie note from time to time as well. The vanilla with the pine seemed to really work well, and was one of the more redeeming qualities of this whiskey.

After I had the bottle open for a while, the young quality seemed to dissipate a bit, though not completely. as a result, the sharp edges seemed to soften a bit, and rather than the pine, cinnamon and vanilla, and even mint from time to time, clashing with each other, they seemed to mix together better. I also got a sweet bread note in later pours, with wheat and corn grains coming forward as well as a bit of a honey note.

One odd thing I noticed was on the finish, though, where I got a certain vegetal flavor, almost like green pepper. Between that odd flavor on the finish, the overall thin texture of the whiskey, and the flavors that I typically attribute to young whiskies throughout, this just ended up being a whiskey that I kept wanting to find enjoyable but had too many reminders of why I found that hard to do.

Grade: C+

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Four Roses Single Barrel Binny's Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OBSO

- $70
- 110.6 Proof
- 8 yrs., 9 mos.
- Kentucky

This is a bit of a milestone bottle for me. I've been making my way through each of the 10 Four Roses recipes, but the last one, the OBSO, was quite elusive. After a couple years of searching and striking out, I asked Al Young himself at an event I was attending why I never saw this recipe on store shelves. Needless to say, I was a bit disheartened when he told me the whiskey was just too young and wasn't included in the private barrel program.

I had accepted my fate and the fact that it'd probably be a few more years before I had a chance to grab a bottle of this final recipe I needed. But then, only a handful of months later, Binny's got in a few different Four Roses private selections, and sure enough, one of them was an OBSO! It's been a long time since I've been that excited to get a bottle, even counting some of the limited and allocated stuff I've lucked into. I finally get to say that I've had all ten recipes (and have reviewed all ten on this blog). That and a couple bucks will at least get me a cup of coffee!

As for the whiskey itself, the nose was softer than what I've experienced in other Four Roses single barrels. Usually I get hit right up front with bold spiciness. Here, the nose was softer, with brown sugar and caramel at the front. I also got some dark fruits like raisins and cherries, as well as a prominent banana note. All in all, it reminded me of Bananas Foster, and I thought it smelled amazing.

My first impressions on the taste was that this was sweeter than other Four Roses single barrels I've had. I got a lot of cherry and orange up front, along with a light cinnamon note adding just a touch of spice. I also got a light anise note to add just a bit of nuance and character.

The finish seemed to be almost entirely caramel, as the spice seemed to disappear quickly, and the cherry and orange notes seemed to slowly fade away. I also got a nice, cooling mint note on the finish that was surprising but very welcome.

After a few pours, though, the cherry flavor that I initially liked and thought went well with the orange turned into more of a medicinal cherry note, like cherry cough syrup. I thought perhaps it was just me, or just an off day for my palate, but later pours confirmed this note. I even had my father-in-law try it and he got the same flavor. It was somewhat off-putting and disappointing, as I had otherwise been enjoying it.

I will say, however, that when I poured it over just a couple small cubes of ice, that medicinal cherry note disappeared entirely, and it became more of a dessert-like whiskey. I got a lot of caramel and brown sugar, and also a pastry note that reminded me of honey buns. It was quite the transformation, and I was a bit perplexed, as I just wasn't a huge fan of it neat.

All in all, this wasn't my favorite of the recipes, and would be on the low end if I were to rank them. I know each bottle is different, and I would certainly try an OBSO recipe again. On private picks it's more about the person picking it than the recipe itself. But, it was fun reaching this arbitrary goal of trying all ten and looking back at what I liked and didn't.  For what it's worth, my favorite was the OESF bottle I got from Binny's a few years back. That bottle blew me away!

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Mortlach Gordon & MacPhail Binny's Exclusive Bottling 19 Year Single Malt Scotch

- $90 (Originally $160)
- 116.8 Proof
- 19 Years
- 1st Fill Sherry Butt
- Speyside

It's been quite a while since I last reviewed a Scotch on here. Scotch is where I started in whiskey, but I eventually gravitated to bourbon and rye, which I quickly learned to love. And, given the plethora of great bottles and easy access, it's where I've stayed for the most part.

However, when Binny's marked this bottle down to $90 from $160 as an End of Bin sale, I couldn't help but add this one to my collection. It has all the earmarks of a Scotch I would love -- from the Speyside region, cask strength and sherry finished. Never mind the fact that it's a 19 year single malt for only $90!!  At that price, and considering what's in the bottle, I figured I could't possibly go wrong.

On the nose I immediately got candy-type sweetness, with a lot of caramel and honey. It was more of that rich, burnt sugary note. That seemed to pair with something fruity and sweet, but that fruit flavor seemed to go in two different directions. On one end I got a distinct melon note, like cantaloupe. On the other end, I got a bright and fresh raspberry note, which I'm sure is from the sherry. It also had a bit of a sweet pipe tobacco note that added just a touch of earthiness. All in all, it smelled amazing.

On my first sip, the first thing I noticed was how super rich and buttery it was. This Scotch was thick and oily, and seemed to immediately coat my mouth with flavor. Up front I got a lot of brown sugar, but it wasn't as heavy. There was a golden honey note that seemed to keep that sweetness on the lighter end. I also got a decent amount of yeast or bready notes that worked really well with the brown sugar and honey.

It wasn't all sweet, though. The grain seemed to come through, and with the buttery texture reminded me of Ritz crackers. I also got a slight pepper spice that seemed to become more prominent as I made my way through the bottle.

Of course, I got a lot of fruit-forward notes. I didn't get the cantaloupe I got on the nose, but I did get a lot of fresh red raspberry and even strawberry. It was certainly on the sweeter end of the berry spectrum. Those honey flavors that seemed to carry throughout each sip complemented these fruity notes nicely.

Unfortunately, the proof seemed to get in the way a bit. Though I tend to love high proofed whiskeys, in this instance the burn seemed to magnify the peppery spice and detract from the bright raspberry and honey notes that I wanted more of. It seemed to just overwhelm those lighter, brighter flavors. I did find that with a solitary, small ice cube I enjoyed this much more.

Grade: B+

Monday, May 11, 2020

Rossville Union Warehouse Liquors Barrel Select Straight Rye Whiskey

- $56
- 100 Proof
- Indiana

I've been wanting to try the Rossville Union products for quite some time now. After all, it's MGP's own rye whiskey, as opposed to being bottled under someone else's label. For whatever reason, though, whether that be that I always seemed to find other bottles I wanted to try first or the fact that I just hadn't heard much about this whiskey one way or the other, I never grabbed one off the shelf.

When Warehouse Liquors in Chicago got a private pick of their 100 proof rye in, though, I knew now was the time. Not only do I get to finally try the Rossville Union Rye, but I got to try one that was selected by Gene at Warehouse Liquors, whose palate I've come to trust.

The nose on this one, not unexpectedly, was all cinnamon and brown sugar. It smelled like an MGP rye, and the cinnamon spice really seemed to tickle my nose. It wasn't a very strong nose, however, and I found myself working to pull the different aromas. Once  I got past that spice, I got other notes, like milk chocolate, and even a chocolate chip cookie note. Though the nose was soft, it was very delicious smelling.

The flavor was sweet and not as spicy as I would have wanted, or even as I would have expected given the nose. I got a lot of brown sugar and maple syrup. It reminded me a lot of pancakes, as it also had that certain semi-sweet cake flavor to it.

As it settled on my tongue and lingered in the back of my throat, I got some molasses flavors, as well as a bit more sweetness that reminded me of oatmeal cookies (I seem to go to cookie notes a lot when drinking whiskey -- I just can't help it).

The finish was where this was probably the most interesting. The whiskey had a nice, silky texture that seemed to leave a light and soft coating of flavor after each sip. On the finish I was getting notes of orange and amaretto. It reminded me of a less sweet amaretto sunrise, if you've ever had that cocktail (I think I had it at a Mother's Day brunch once). That sweet, citrus note was even tempered a bit by a peanut note.

As mentioned above, though, I found myself looking for the spice in this bottle and never really getting it. It had a lot going on, which was all good, but it seemed to lack what I like most in MGP ryes. Perhaps it's just this pick. I think I might at some point grab a bottle of the cask strength Rossville Union rye just for confirmation.

Grade: B

Friday, May 8, 2020

Savage & Cooke Lip Service Rye Whiskey Finished in Grenache Wine Barrels

- $30
- 90 Proof
- 3 Years
- Tennessee

Dave Phinney is certainly well-known in the wine world. I'm not even close to being any sort of a wine connoisseur, but even I know him as the guy behind The Prisoner wine and 8 Years in the Desert. Just a couple ago he started his Savage & Cooke distillery, where he's been distilling, aging and finishing whiskey in what I can only assume are his own wine barrels.

What stands out with these offerings, however, is the bottle. These opaque, all-black bottles are labeled with a black and white photo and very little text. The label (along with the neck-tag) does offer some transparency, though, telling me that this is a 3 year rye out of Tennessee that was finished in Grenache wine barrels for an unspecified period of time. The black and white photo, though, is what has made me pause on multiple occasions, certainly curious about the liquid inside this bottle with the picture of a woman showing off her lip tattoo plastered on the front. When I found a sale price of $30, I finally pulled that trigger.

As would be expected, the nose was very fruit forward. I got a lot of sweet plum and raisin, nice dark fruits. I also got something citrus as well, like a touch of fresh orange. The nose was pungent, and even from a couple feet away I could get notes of bright raspberry and vanilla cutting through those other, more rich aromas. It certainly had a lot going on, though it seemed to be more from the barrel finish than from the whiskey itself.

As for the flavor, it certainly came across as sweet and fruity, though not necessarily overly sweet. The flavors from the Grenache barrel permeated, with a lot of brighter and lighter flavors, including white grape and raspberry.  On later pours I got a sweet, almost candied strawberry flavor. It came across as a very fresh and crisp sweetness.

I really had to focus in order to find the flavors imparted by the rye itself. I did get a certain nutty note, but on the sweeter side, like cashew. I also got a layer of vanilla, but it certainly was a thin layer. Flavors of granola also came through, which I'd attribute to the whiskey over the wine barrel, though I could certainly be wrong in that.

Unfortunately, for someone who really likes ryes, the rye characteristics didn't really come through. While it was full of bright, fresh flavors that I really enjoyed, I feel like I would have enjoyed this much more if the rye itself took more of a center stage. It lacked the spice and vanilla and other notes that I had really hoped to find. That being said, for the price, I certainly had no regrets. While it didn't do what I'd hoped it'd do as a rye, it was still very enjoyable for what it was.

Grade: B

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 299 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $31
- 90 Proof
- Barrel No. 299
- Kentucky

I have professed my love for the various store picks that Gene at Warehouse Liquors in Chicago gets in. Regardless of distillery or brand, I know whatever store pick I grab off their shelves is going to be a standout bottle, and I don't hesitate to grab a private pick of a brand I may not have even tried before.

Of course, the go-to picks are no-brainers. Any Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, 1792 Full Proof or Elijah Craig picks you can find on their shelves are almost always great and worth the price. The Buffalo Trace is where you get the most bang for your buck though. These are usually packed with flavor and at a price that's easy on the wallet.

The nose was very sweet and dessert-like.  I got a lot of cinnamon and chocolate, giving it a spicy richness, as well as a very sweet quality. I also got a slight peanut note, as well as something fruity but earthy, like prunes or figs or something like that. I couldn't pinpoint the specific note that I was getting, but it was that rich sweetness that seemed to permeate.

The flavor seemed to follow suit with the nose. It certainly came across as somewhat fruit, but this time it was more easy to pin down. I got kind of a cross between plum and blueberry. It had that tangy bite that I get from either fruit, the kind you notice on the sides of your tongue.

I also got some sweet cereal notes. It was like sweetened corn flakes, but not quite frosted flakes. It was like they were sweetened with maple syrup or brown sugar. The maple syrup wasn't overdone, though. It was just enough to notice it was there.

I also got a light cinnamon spice, and at times I noticed a nice dark chocolate note to add a bit of richness as well as a light bitterness, which was welcome to counter the sweetness.  All in all, everything in this seemed to meld together really well, with a nice balance of sweet, spicy, tangy and even bitter. It was perhaps a touch on the sweeter side than I would prefer, but that certainly didn't stop me from enjoying every sip from this bottle.

Interestingly, I reviewed the last Warehouse Buffalo Trace pick I had almost exactly one year ago, and I even gave it the same grade. That's the kind of consistency you look for not only in a particular product, but in the private selections of a particular store. Gene at Warehouse does amazing work finding the best bourbons on a regular basis, and this is just another example of that.

Grade: A-