Thursday, June 25, 2020

Further Rye Whiskey

- $30
- 101 Proof
- 2 years
- Bottled by BC Merchants
- Indiana

During my days as an English major in college, I developed an affinity for the writing of Ken Kesey. Of course, I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school and absolutely loathed Nurse Ratched in the Jack Nicholson film. I then read Sometimes a Great Notion, and it is still today my favorite book I’ve ever read.

As a fan, I then read up on Ken Kesey, his involvement in the counterculture of the 1960’s, and I read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which follows Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they made their way across the country in a crazy-looking bus called “Further.” It was the picture of that bus that immediately caught my eye as I did my usual perusal of the whiskey shelves, and I immediately grabbed the bottle, knowing I had to have it. Even better, per the label on the back, a portion of the proceeds from the sales of this bottle are going towards the restoration project, to bring Further back to life. I couldn’t have been more on board.

Now, going in I knew that this whiskey was young, and I knew there was a good chance I might not like it. And the nose kind of matched my predisposition. It came across as young and corny. It gave off the over-ripe apple note that I always seem to get in under-aged whiskeys.  It did have notes of cinnamon and clove, however, as well as a nice sweetness to go along with the spice. But that sour note that I associate with young whiskeys just seemed to stick around.

The flavor, however, was better than expected. While it had those young notes, particularly the corn and over-ripe apple flavors, they seemed to take more of a backseat. In fact, the apple came across as something more interesting, a bit like a crisp granny apple. I even got white grape notes at times.

It also had a heavy dose of brown sugar that went well with those apple notes. Along with that was something odd, though, kind of like a corn chip note. In fact, it reminded me of Bugles. This was definitely a first for me as far as whiskey notes are concerned. Behind all of that, and prominent on the finish, were healthy notes of pine and cinnamon. The cinnamon seemed to stick around for quite a while, giving that kind of lingering red hots flavor.    

The final few pours seemed to really showcase the granny smith apple flavor, which, again, I appreciated for not being that over-ripe apple flavor that turns me off. The pine and cinnamon seemed to really come forward as well after this was open a while. All in all, it was a decent whiskey, and for the price, not to mention the cause, certainly worth buying. In fact, I shared the last few pours with my neighbor who absolutely loved it.

Grade: B

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Old Rip Van Winkle Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2018

- $80
- 107 Proof
- 10 Years
- Kentucky

So this is the first Van Winkle product that I've ever reviewed on this blog. While I've had most of the lineup, I've only had a few opportunities to actually purchase a bottle (without paying exorbitant secondary prices). In full disclosure, while I did find this one at a retail store, it was a bit marked up, though still not marked up to anything close to what these bottles sell for on the secondary market.

Given my limited chances to own a bottle like this, it was one of those "special occasion" bottles, one that I saved for celebrations, getting together with old friends, or whatever other reason called for opening a "nicer" bottle. I cracked this one open at our fantasy football draft party and shared with whoever wanted a pour.  I finished it off with one of my best friends since the second grade when he visited for an evening from Rhode Island.  It wasn't one of those bottles I was digging into while I sat on my couch each evening watching whatever Food Network show my wife put on.  

Because of that, I took notes on this bottle only sporadically. I found I was enjoying the moment and not typing up notes in my phone with each sip, as I've been known to do. That being said, I did take notes here and there, certainly enough to put a review together.  But, let's be honest, this is a really good whiskey, and the fact of the matter is, if you have the chance to buy it at retail, you're going to do so. And so, as I've said in the past, reviews are stupid, and in this case, largely useless.  But here I go anyway . . .

The one constant throughout this bottle was the constant wood notes. The first thing I noticed on the nose was a certain sawdust note that mixed with cinnamon and vanilla. It had a sweetness to it as well that reminded me of maple syrup, and there were some richer notes as well, like cherry and amaretto. Overall, it smelled sweet but woody.

The wood notes were not as strong on the palate, however. I mostly got notes of natural vanilla bean and maple syrup. There was no question that this was a sweeter bourbon, and it did have a nice texture to it. Those sweet notes at times took on a butterscotch note that I really enjoyed.

There were some flavors to help offset the sweetness, though. I did get a light cinnamon note, perhaps leaning more toward cloves, and even hints of anise to add a bit of depth of flavor. There was also a light black pepper note that I honestly wished was more prominent, as it was really the only source of any spice. 

On the final few pours, I got some candied orange and brown sugar notes, flavors that I didn't' really get in the first few pours. The maple syrup seemed to take on a nutty, pecan-like flavor as well, reminding me a bit of pecan pie filling. 

Overall, while I wasn't necessarily blown away, this was still a very good whiskey. I wouldn't pay the $400-$450 it's fetching on the secondary market, but at retail, or even a bit above retail, it's a no-brainer. Not only do you get the immediately recognizable Van Winkle name that you can break out to impress friends, but you get a really good whiskey as well.  

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Traverse City Whiskey Co. Pride Stores Single Barrel Select 10 Year Barrel Proof Straight Bourbon

- $80
- 112.3 Proof
- 10 Years
- Bottle #84/169
- Michigan/Indiana

Sometimes it amazes me what I find at some of the more random stops I make while searching out something new. Our local Pride gas station has a Pride Stores liquor store right next to it, and for a gas station liquor store, it has a great whiskey selection. In fact, they often get barrel picks and even had Greg Metze in for an event. 

One day while doing my usual perusal, I walked by a stack of boxes, and on top was this Traverse City Whiskey pick. I nearly walked right by it, except something about the label caught my eye. In the bottom left-hand corner was a hand-written note indicating that it was a 10 year old bourbon bottled at barrel strength. I second-guessed whether Traverse Cit Whiskey has even been around long enough to have 10 year old barrels, and the label doesn't indicate anywhere that it's sourced from MGP as I would have expected to find.  I've been told that it is, in fact, MGP, but I have not been able to verify that.

But, I was nonetheless excited to be able to get a 10-year barrel proof straight bourbon randomly at my local gas station liquor store, and I couldn't wait to give it a try.  The nose was really strong, and gave off a lot of nutty notes. I was getting pecan and salted peanuts (yes, two types of nuts!).  It also had a graham crackery note, kind of like a pie crust.  At times I also got salted caramel and milk chocolate. It was in many ways like a Snickers candy bar.

The flavor was equally robust, and on my first sip I immediately got a ton of caramel and cinnamon. It was a nice mix of sweet and spice, and the cinnamon seemed to add a bit of earthiness to the mix.  I also got a lot of nougat, again lending to that Snickers experience.  That nougat is what really carried through on the finish, a finish that seemed to last forever. I felt as though I had just had a 3 Muskateers bar after each swallow. The buttery texture really just seemed to coat the mouth in flavor with every sip.

Even the milk chocolate was present on the palate, but it certainly leaned heavier on the nougat and caramel side.  As I made my way to later pours, I noticed some brown sugar and even some Luxardo cherries in the mix, adding to the depth and complexity of the bourbon. It gave it a bit of an old-fashioned type flavor. The final couple pours sweetened up a bit, and I was getting notes of peanut brittle, with that delicious salty sweetness. 

This bourbon was in your face with flavor, was certainly on the sweeter side, but had enough other notes to keep the sweetness from being overwhelming. It was complex and interesting from the first pour to the last. Even with an $80 price tag, I may be going back to pick up another assuming there are still some left.

Grade: A

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Redemption 10 Year Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey

- $100
- 116.2 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch No. 2
- Indiana

This is one of those bottles that I had been eyeing on the shelf for quite some time. Although it comes with a hefty price tag, the fact of the matter is it's barrel proof MGP rye that is 10 years old. It seems that nowadays I'm seeing even 6 year old barrel strength MGP rye going for almost as much.  The most recent release from Resilient comes to mind, sitting on the shelf with a $90 price tag. Heck, the Willett 10 year small batch rye carries all the same specs but was twice the price!

So, despite the high price, there's certainly value here, and I got some added value when I used a 15% off coupon to knock the price down just a bit more. In fact, when I got the Binny's coupon in my e-mail, I knew right away that I'd finally be pulling the trigger on this bottle.  And, as a brief aside, I love this squat bottle. It looks great and had a slight curve to it that really fits well in your hand. Almost made me want to just pull straight from the bottle.

The nose certainly gave off those well-aged, high rye notes. It was very woody and piney. It had a bit of a tannic bite to it. It also had that traditional cinnamon spice, but it carried along with it a sweetness kind of like chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips. It also had some brown sugar and molasses notes, which gave it a bit of a gingerbread note as well. It had a very strong aroma to it, one that was bold in spice.

On the first few pours from this bottle, the whiskey came across as very piney and with a strong cinnamon note. It really had very little sweetness to it, and came across as more of a dry whiskey, particularly on the finish. But, it still had a certain crispness to it, kind of like a pear note.

I also got some rich fruit notes that did add a slight amount of sweetness. It reminded me of Luxardo cherries, but again backed by the pine and cinnamon. The nice, oily texture of this rye allowed that cinnamon spice, as well as these dark fruit notes, to linger long after each swallow. A certain layer of vanilla stuck around as well, but that cherry and cinnamon spice just really seemed to last.

On the later pours, those strong pine notes seemed to take a back seat and it sweetened up a bit. The cinnamon was a bit more like cinnamon candy, and that chocolate chip cookie note seemed to come forward. Those black cherry notes persisted throughout, and ultimately that was my favorite part of this bottle. It was the constant that seemed to work with all the other flavors, no matter how they changed or transformed. 

This bottle still seems to be sitting on shelves in places, and given the current market, that seems a bit odd to me. But, if you've got the expendable income, I wouldn't hesitate to grab a bottle of this. You could certainly spend far more for less, and this is a really good barrel strength rye!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

James Oliver Bourbon Barreled American Whiskey

- $30
- 86 Proof
- Oregon

One of the perks of being a "whiskey guy" is that when people come over to your house for cookouts, parties or whatever, frequently they'll bring a bottle of whiskey . . . and frequently that bottle will be left behind. Such is the case with this bottle of James Oliver American Whiskey. A neighbor brought this over last Summer and left it behind for me (intentionally). Which is good, because I don't know that I otherwise would have grabbed this off the shelf.  So, in a way, he's expanded my horizons!

Per the limited information on the label, this is a bourbon distillate aged in used bourbon barrels. Hence the reason it's called an "American Whiskey." Beyond that, however, little information is offered.  I have no idea of the mashbill nor the age of the whiskey. All I know is that it hails from the Northwest, which has really been hit or miss for me as far as whiskey from that region is concerned.

I opened this bottle with absolutely zero expectations. I'd heard nothing about the brand, and I certainly knew nothing about this whiskey. So, I was going in with a blank slate. So I poured my first glass and took a whiff, and I was taken aback by how much I really liked the way it smelled. It had notes of caramel and sawdust. It had a nice, spicy cinnamon tingle to it, as well as a bit of earthiness. The nose wasn't strong by any means, but what it had was a great blend of sweet, spice and earthy flavors that all worked really well together.

Unfortunately, the flavor took me down a different path. At first, I kind of liked this whiskey. It was very brown sugar forward, and was very sweet. But, for being a sweeter whiskey, I initially liked what it was doing.

However, the more I had, the more that feeling changed. The brown sugar seemed to absolutely take over this whiskey, to the point that I was trying to find out if it had additives or flavorings. It was that strong, and I absolutely could not get past that. It was a brown sugar flavored whiskey (even if no actual flavoring was added).

Going back over my notes, I was able to pick up other, interesting notes. At times I got distinct pecan pie flavors, with some nice nutty notes and maple syrup notes where the brown sugar notes usually were. I even got kettle corn at times, but even that was overshadowed by a dark corn syrup flavor. I even noted some peanut brittle notes at times.

But, those notes were fleeting, and ultimately the sweetness of this bourbon, and the pervasive brown sugar flavors, just became cloying. I found myself unable to have more than one pour of this in a sitting, which resulted in it taking a long time to finish this bottle. I found that, even despite its lower proof, it was better with a couple cubes to help water it down and cut that sweetness where I could. While it was fun to try something new, I don't see myself going back to this whiskey any times soon.

Grade: C-

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Redemption Binny's Single Barrel Select High Rye Straight Bourbon

- $40
- 105 Proof
- Barrel No. WES-060-06-11
- Indiana

Redemption is one of those brands that I just haven't paid all that much attention to.  I've tried their rye a few years back, when it was in the tall, skinny bottle. I will say, I really do like their re-branding, and they've been putting some interesting, more limited products on their shelves, including their 10-Year barrel strength rye sourced from MGP, which I'm about half-way through.

Of course, store picks are always intriguing to me, and for a relatively modest price, I figured I should certainly try a private select single barrel of their high rye bourbon, also sourced from MGP. I tend to lean towards the more spicy bourbons, so I figured this one, even if it might be a bit young, might be in my wheelhouse.

And young this one was. I noticed that familiar note of a young bourbon immediately on the nose, with notes of corn and cooked or over-ripe apples. It did have a nice bready quality, like a hearty wheat bread, and there was a certain amount of brown sugar sweetness. The alcohol was very noticeable on the nose, though, even on later pours, which was a bit surprising, as the proof is up there, but certainly not what I would consider to be high.

The flavor was very much toffee forward, with a good alcohol burn backing it. Just like the nose, though, the young notes came across pretty heavily. I got a lot of creamed corn notes, and I also got that over-ripe, or cooked, unsweetened apples that I usually get in young bourbons. If I enjoyed those notes, that wouldn't be a problem, but I don't, and this seemed like a barrel that was bottled too early.

There was a buttery cracker note to it, like Ritz crackers, as well as a heavy dose of brown sugar sweetness. It's a combination that I've never actually tried, but perhaps it'd work in real life. Despite the young notes, the combination worked here.

After I had this bottle open for a while (and I had it open for quite a while, as I just wasn't motivated to go back to it very frequently), it seemed to lose some of the sharp edges. That tangy, apple note seemed to fade a bit, perhaps coming across as more of an unsweetened apple sauce. The toffee and brown sugar notes seemed to come forward a bit as well, and the last few pours were certainly more enjoyable than the first few. 

That being said, overall, I just wasn't very impressed. While it had promising notes here and there, ultimately I just felt that it was bottled way too soon, and wasn't allowed to develop into what likely could have been a very tasty bourbon.

Grade: C

Friday, June 5, 2020

Buffalo Trace Bedrock Liquors Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $25 (Presumably)
- 90 Proof
- Kentucky

I've always made it a point with my blog to only review a product after I've finished the bottle. The point of that is to give a bottle a fair shake, rather than simply review a single pour that will be influenced by so many other factors, including what I ate that day or where I was when I had the drink. So, in full disclosure here, this review is not based off the entire bottle, but that being said, I certainly had more than a few pours out of this bottle!

A couple weeks ago I had some guys at my house to hang out in my backyard, drink some whiskey and beer, and eat some barbecue. One of the guys happens to be quite the whiskey guy himself, and he brought this bottle over, along with a great story about how he got it. I'm not going to relate the story here, as it's not my story to tell, but it involved the owner of Bedrock Liquors playfully telling my buddy what he could do to himself when he learned my buddy had just been picking a barrel of Blanton's at Buffalo Trace. After all was said and done that day, this bottle was left behind for me to finish, and finish it I did!

The nose smelled like what I've come to expect from Buffalo Trace. It was full of caramel and brown sugar right up front. I also got a whiff of waffles with maple syrup -- certainly along those same sweet and rich lines. In fact, on the last couple pours, it even took on a bit of vanilla and the smell reminded me of Cowtails, those caramel rope-like candies with vanilla cream in the middle. 

The flavor, quite frankly, very much matched suit. I got a rich, dark caramel, almost with a touch of burnt sugar, as well as a healthy dose of brown sugar. There was a light cinnamon, like a sweeter cinnamon, but not really enough to offer much spice.

On the last few pours I started noticing some different things. I got a white chocolate note, as well as hints of orange here and there. I also noticed kind of a puffed pastry or fried dough type note, like funnel cakes you get at a carnival, with the powdered sugar and everything. 

All in all, this was a sweeter, more dessert-like bourbon, and if that's your bag, you'd love this. I was missing some spice to give it a bit more character or complexity. It was a bit one-dimensional, but at least that dimension was very tasty. I'm not sure which Bedrock Liquors my buddy went into (they've got locations in Lafayette, IN and Dayton, IN), but if I find myself swinging by, perhaps on my way to or from Louisville, I'd certainly be willing to try other picks from their stores.

Grade: B

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Knob Creek Binny's Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 15 years, 2 months

- $45
- 120 Proof
- Barrel #9691
- 15 years, 2 months
- Kentucky

I've been touting for years that the Knob Creek private picks are easily one of the best values out there. They're reasonably priced, basically barrel proof, well-aged and always good and sometimes great! In fact, the first such pick I ever had was one of the best bourbons I've ever tasted!

For a while there seemed to be a run on these well-aged Knob Creek picks, all of them 12 years or over, and a bunch of them in the 14-15 year range, or even older. I felt like I was picking up one a month or so around the middle of last year. But, those don't seem to be flooding the shelves any more, and I'm only down to one more of those picks after this one. That being said, I certainly have no regrets, as once again, I got my money's worth in this Knob Creek store pick!

The first thing I noticed on the nose was peanuts. I've heard a lot of people identify peanuts as a common note in Jim Beam products. I can honestly say I've never really gotten that, but I certainly noticed it here. There was a lot more to it, though, that provided a lot of complexity, even in the nose. I got cherry and black raspberry notes that provided a sort of peanut butter and jelly aroma. I also got some cardamom and nutmeg scents, with a bit of woodiness to it.

As to flavor, that peanut note came through, but, although it may seem a bit nuanced, it reminded me more of peanut butter than peanuts themselves. Perhaps it was a bit of sweetness coming through. This was also a very viscous, oily bourbon, and maybe that had something to do with it a swell. 

The cherry also came through, but it was more of a spiced cherry note, almost like cherry and cloves. There was a rich sweetness throughout, like a molasses note that reminded me a bit of gingerbread cookies (I always associate what I'm tasting with various cookies I've had, for some reason).  But, that sweetness was tempered by a tannic bitterness which was actually a welcome addition to the party of flavors going on.

All in all, this was a very drinkable bourbon, despite the high proof and despite the bold flavors that seemingly were almost at extremes in flavor. Every point had a counterpoint. The sweetness balanced with the bitterness and the spices. Even the peanut flavors balanced with the fruit-forward notes I got. This was a rich, complex and interesting bourbon throughout, and one that I really enjoyed drinking. Once I finally got around to opening the bottle, it really didn't last very long.

Grade: A-