Friday, July 31, 2020

Elijah Craig "Jackie Treehorn Presents" Niche Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $30
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Ser. No. 6023798
- Kentucky

I love bourbon! I also love Niche Restaurant in Geneva, Illinois! And I love The Big Lebowski! That is absolutely one of my all-time favorite movies, one of those that I've watched dozens of times. There are just so many great characters from that movie, including Jackie Treehorn.  The Dude said it best -- "Jackie Treehorn treats objects like women, man."

At the start of the pandemic, when Niche began selling bottles to go, I couldn't help but pick up this bottle, cleverly named after my favorite fictional pornographer (I know, there are so many to choose from!). In fact, I found myself buying multiples of this bottle, for gifts of friends who also appreciate the cinematic masterpiece that is The Big Lebowski, and for buddies that I knew wouldn't want to miss out on possessing such a treasure. And all that goes without saying that Niche's private picks tend to be some of the best I've had, including their previous Elijah Craig pick, so how could I go wrong?!?

The bourbon itself had a bit of a fruity nose. I got an almost red licorice note out of it, as well as some fresh strawberry. I even got a sweet cotton candy scent.  It also had a chocolate note, but it was more like a mocha, sweet with a slight edge of bitterness. At times I was also getting a sweet scent of freshly baked cinnamon bread, though that note seemed a bit more fleeting.  All in all, the nose was really delicious, albeit a bit light and soft.

The flavor profile, however, was sweet and nutty. I got a lot of caramel, as well as salted peanuts. I even got some soft milk chocolate flavors, and consistently throughout each pour that all culminated into a Snickers-like flavor that I absolutely loved. It even had the rich nougat flavor to really drive that Snickers note home.

There were other delicious flavors that came through as well, though. I also got a distinct pastry note, like a light and flaky coffee cake with vanilla icing.  Although the nutty note was consistent throughout, it seemed to take on other flavors similar to the salted peanuts, but a bit different. At one point I got a candied walnut note that I really liked. That flavor didn't seem as prominent, though.

The final pours of this bourbon were almost all nougat flavor and were fantastic! It made for a sweet but not overly sweet whiskey that had me savoring the last couple inches of my bottle. In fact, when I got to the last pour, I was torn between really wanting to drink it and not wanting to no longer have any more to drink -- quite the whiskey drinker's dilemma. In the end, I landed where most whiskey drinkers land, and I drank it, and I regret nothing! This was a fantastic whiskey and yet another great selection by Niche.

Grade: A-

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon - Batch No. 5


VITALS:
- $50
- 113.6 Proof
- NAS
- Indiana

I've had this bottle for a couple years now. I grabbed it as soon as I had seen it on the shelves, having heard really good things about these Belle Meade Reserve bottles. So when I saw it, I grabbed it, and then never got around to opening it. Part of it is that down the road I also grabbed a later batch, Batch No. 23,that ended up getting opened first. 

But, when the shelter-in-place orders began and my office closed, I started doing Zoom happy hours with some work friends, and one of my buddies suggested that I crack this one open for the evening. Seemed like a pretty good suggestion. After all, I really liked the other bottle I had, and it wasn't as though I was saving this one for any special occasion.  So, nearly two years later, I finally got around to opening it up and tasting the whiskey inside.

The nose was full of the more traditional bourbon notes, with a bunch of caramel and a bit of cinnamon spice. It also had a nice layer of vanilla kind of underneath it all. Other notes came through as well, including a bit of a cherry note that at times leaned a bit brighter, like raspberry.  There was also a distinct cola note on the nose as well. All in all, it smelled delicious!

Much like the nose, the flavor was very caramel forward, and it still had that undercurrent of vanilla throughout.  The cinnamon spice that I was getting on the nose seemed to be absent, though, which I found a bit odd. It also had a decent amount of oak to it, making this a more wood-forward bourbon and telling me that it probably had some decent age to it, despite there being no indication of age on the bottle In fact, I got a bit of astringency on each sip, much like I've gotten from older bourbons.

I also got a light anise note, though a bit more than I would prefer. The cherry from the nose was also present, but it wasn't as bright. It was more like dried cherries, and it added a bit of tartness to the flavor. All that being said, though, the traditional bourbon notes carried this, as toffee and caramel seemed to be the most prominent flavors. At times I even got a bit of pecan that gave it a bit of a pecan pie flavor when paired with the caramel and toffee notes.

In the end, I think I liked the later batch better than this one. Don't get me wrong, this one was really good, with a lot of bold, rich flavor and the right amount of heat. It just didn't come across as complex or as interesting, and I was never able to decide if I liked that tart cherry flavor. Nonetheless, should I come across any more of these sitting on liquor store shelves, I won't hesitate to pick them up.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 24, 2020

Old Forester Single Barrel Niche Private Select "Stallion pt 12" Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I've previously touted the barrel-picking abilities of Vinny, the owner of Niche Restaurant in Geneva, Illinois. I've had many a private pick at the restaurant, and with only one exception, they've all been exceptional. A couple months ago, towards the start of the pandemic, Niche began selling liquor to go, and I was able to get my hands on a few of their picks, including the Buffalo Trace I reviewed back in March, which was delicious.

Apparently the pandemic didn't slow down the distribution of their barrel picks, as they've since gotten in a couple different new picks, including this Old Forester pick.  I'm not sure what the "Stallion pt 12" is in reference to, though my Google skills tell me it's probably a reference in some way to a song by Ween, a band I only know for their song "Push th' Little Daisies" which was a featured video in Beavis and Butthead. Regardless, whether I understood the reference or not, I made sure to get my hands on one of these bottles as soon as Niche got them in.

The nose on the first pour was really an indicator of what I was going to get throughout this bottle. On that first pour I was immediately hit with a dark cherry note, somewhat sweet but also somewhat tart. That was balanced out by notes of amaretto and black licorice (which I hate in large doses -- it didn't get to that point here). It was also full of spice, like cloves and even allspice. In a way it reminded me a bit of a spiced fruitcake, which I know might sound like a turn off to some people, but this was rich and spicy and delicious smelling.

As to flavor, I got many of those same notes. I got a bit of an anise note right up front that hit the sides of my tongue. I also got a lot of sweet cinnamon spice. It also had that fruit-forward note, however, in this case it was more of a dark plum rather than cherry, and at times even came across like raisin.  It did carry some sweetness, with a bit of a molasses note, but that seemed to be well-balanced by the light oak note that I got as well.

Despite its proof, this had a nice oily texture that still managed to coat the mouth with each sip and allow the finish to linger for quite a while--and the finish was great! This is where the cherry from the nose appeared, accompanied by rich dark chocolate as well as a healthy dose of almond or amaretto. At times I even got a bit of a peanut butter note. It was absolutely rich and delicious.

Those chocolate-cherry-almond notes seemed to get stronger as I made my way to the bottom of the bottle to the point that they really took over the flavor, which was quite alright by me. This whiskey had a lot going on, but all of the flavors seemed to be borderline sweet flavors, making this more of a rich, more decadent dessert-like whiskey, rather than a sugary sweet whiskey. Everything going on in this bottle worked really well, and quite frankly I appreciated the dryness to it. It seemed to focus the flavors a bit more. 

Once again, Niche has provided an outstanding private pick, and I'm just going to be keeping my eye out for every new pick that hits their restaurant.

Grade: A

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Fistful of Bourbon Blended Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $35
- 90 Proof
- Min. 2 years
- Kentucky

This is a bottle that I grabbed out of pure curiosity. I've seen it posted here and there in social media, but it's not as though it carried any sort of demand, nor were people hyping it or anything like that. But when you see a bottle like this with a label like this, you remember it. I never went actively looking for the bottle, and I had never seen it on the shelves at my usual haunts. I figured perhaps it just got limited to no distribution in Illinois.

But, when making a trip to Warehouse Liquors in Chicago, something I don't get to do nearly as often as I used to since I've been primarily working from home, I looked down on the bottom shelf and saw the fun, whimsical label, checked the very reasonable price, and figured what the hell, I'll give it a go.

This is a blended bourbon from William Grant & Sons, a company I've only known for their Scotch and Irish whisky brands. That being said, they're certainly a known entity.  Right on the front of the bottle they state that this is a blend of five straight bourbons (each with a unique characteristic according to the back label), with a minimum age of two years. Interestingly, it does not tell us where the whiskey was distilled, only that it was "produced" by William Grant & Sons in New York. 

On the nose I got a soft candy corn aroma, certainly sweet but not in that traditional caramel/toffee manner. It also came across as somewhat grainy, but softer and not so offensive, more like oats than corn. It also gave off notes of pie crust and even had a light cinnamon spice to it. But in the end, it was a soft and sweet nose, which certainly invited me to take a sip.

As to flavor, where I didn't get the corn on the nose, I certainly got it on the palate. The first note that I wrote down was canned corn. I got a distinct corn flavor, and specifically canned corn, as weird as that may seem. It's a familiar flavor, and once I noticed it I couldn't not notice it.

I did get other flavors as well, though. I got an apple sauce note, along with just a touch of cinnamon, just enough to provide the lightest bit of sweet spice. As I made my way into later pours, however, this spice seemed to transform a bit, and it became more of a vegetal spice. I was getting kind of a chili pepper spice from it, but more like fresh chili peppers. There was also a sort of chocolate flavor that accompanied it, which reminded me a bit (just a bit) of Mexican chocolate.

On the final few pours, it came across a bit nutty, like walnut, and the spiciness seemed to have died off a bit. At least the chili pepper spice, while not necessarily great, was interesting. For that reason I wished it had stuck around. Nonetheless, while in the end this struck me as just an okay bourbon, it was fun to try and the price was right. It had some interesting notes that may appeal to others where it did not appeal to me, so for the price it's probably worth at least a try.

Grade: C+

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Buffalo Trace Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #27 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $27
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Batch #27
- Kentucky

As I've said in the past, I have a really hard time passing up on Buffalo Trace Single Barrel or Small Batch Selects. Whether I'm in Jewel, Binny's or any other liquor store, I just can't pass up the value that these bottles always bring. I've never had a dud, and I've been very pleasantly surprised by some of the bottles I've tasted.

I was just on a wine run with my wife when I grabbed this one. In fact, I still have a bottle of their Batch #25 sitting unopened in my desk at work (neglected due to the pandemic). Despite that, as she was loading her purchases onto the counter, upon noticing this bottle sitting there, I grabbed it and plopped it down next to her bottles of wine. Of course I got the "really?" look from her, but even she was willing to look past my yet-another-whiskey-purchase given the price.

The nose was very pleasant. I got a good, sweet cinnamon note, as well as a lot of vanilla. It reminded me a bit of cinnamon rolls, with an emphasis on the vanilla notes.  I also got some root beer notes, which gave it a sort of a root beer float smell. I also got some fresh baked bread notes from time to time. This really was a good smelling whiskey, and I found myself just sniffing my glass constantly with each pour.

The flavor seemed to follow suit, and the first note that I got out of it was a sweet, soft vanilla note that was a bit like soft serve ice cream. Along with that I got some of the more traditional notes, with a decent amount of toffee and a bit of light cinnamon. I even got a little bit of chocolate. On first pours it came across as a sweet milk chocolate, but on later pours I likened it to more of a rich, dark chocolate.

These flavors all together really reminded me of a Heath Bar, one of my favorite candies to steal from my kids' Halloween haul each year (they just don't appreciate the Heath Bar).  It also had that sort of creamy quality, not necessarily in texture but more in the way the flavors came across my palate. Much like the nose, at times I got a mix of all these flavors here that together reminded me of a root beer float.

On the final few pours, a certain richness came through. I got darker fruit notes, like raisin and plum. I also got a bit of an anise note, but not enough to offend me (I'm not a huge fan of anise). Just enough to add a bit more character and make it just that much more interesting. 

As I said, I haven't opened Batch #25 yet, so I can't compare it to that. However, this is one of the better Buffalo Trace picks that I've had in a while, and I feel like I've had a run of some good ones lately. If this is still sitting in stores, and you happen to like Buffalo Trace, I'd say definitely pick one up. I know some people would rather see Binny's doing Single Barrel Selects than Small Batch Selects, but if the Small Batch Selects are going to taste like this, then it really makes no difference to me.

Grade: A-

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $30
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

You know what I hate?  I hate getting a press release about a new whiskey coming out, particularly one that's a new entry to the core lineup for a major distillery and happens to be a rye, only to find out that the initial distribution is limited to four states.  Four!!  What kind of madness is that?  When Heaven Hill announced an Elijah Craig Rye, a lot of people were crazy excited for it -- Elijah Craig fans and rye whiskey fans alike. So much promise, broad availability and very reasonable price--what more could you ask for?

And then I read the part about the limited distribution to start. This product was only going to be available in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Oregon.  What an odd market release!!  Not a single major market in there, and even people living in Kentucky were left out.  Certainly there are plans to broaden the distribution, but my initial excitement waned quite a bit upon reading that part of the release. Luckily for me, though, I have family in Oregon, and one day, unannounced, a box arrived on my porch from my sister. Inside that box were a bunch of old towels, and wrapped inside those old towels was a bottle of Elijah Craig Rye!!  I felt like I was getting in on the ground floor of things!

I opened the bottle up right away (it was weird being this excited to try something that's not rare or limited), and I struggled to get a whiff of much of anything. It had a really soft nose, and even after pouring it into a Glencairn I really had to bury my nose in the glass. I did get some light caramel notes with just a bit of vanilla. I got almost no spice on the nose whatsoever, and I did get a touch of pine, letting me know that this was very much a rye whiskey.

Much like the nose, the palate was soft and light as well. It was what many would describe as an "approachable" whiskey. To me, this means that it had limited alcohol burn and a bit of a thin, watery texture. It was by no means bold in either flavor or spice, and had really no offensive characteristics to it at all.  

I did get some cinnamon spice that I wasn't getting on the nose. It was more on the sweeter side, however, and it mixed with a soft, creamy vanilla flavor. I also got bright notes of spearmint that really complemented that vanilla flavor.

On later pours I got some richer, sweeter flavors, like a fairly distinct molasses note. I also got a buttery and nutty note, and it really reminded me of cashews.  The vanilla-spearmint note, however, was consistent from the first pour to the last. But, even as I noticed other flavors, it always seemed to work well with them all.

Despite the thin, watery texture, this whiskey actually had a decently long and delicious finish. After each sip I found myself still getting a lot of flavor, including the vanilla and spearmint, but also some sweeter notes like oatmeal cookie.  The finish was actually my favorite part of this whiskey, and I was thrown by how much of a finish there actually was.

Overall, I can't wait for this to make its way to Illinois. It's a great price for a really good whiskey. While it won't hold up against some of the limited release, high-proofed and well-aged ryes that are out there, for $30, you get a lot of value with this one.

Grade: B+

Friday, July 17, 2020

Parker's Heritage Collection Heavy Char Barrels 8 Year Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $160
- 105 Proof
- 8 Years
- Kentucky

Last year was a great year for premium rye whiskey releases. Right around the same time that Wild Turkey released its Cornerstone Rye as part of its Master's Keep Collection, Heaven Hill released a rye whiskey as part of the Parker's Heritage collection.  Both bottles carried steep price tags, and as a result, they didn't necessarily fly off the shelves. That being said, they're not around much more, and for the most part, I've seen very little buyer's remorse from people that did get their hands on a bottle of either one.

This one was a bit more unique in that Heaven Hill aged this rye in "heavy char barrels." That means the the barrels that were used were a Level 5 char, significantly more char than the level 3 char that Heaven Hill typically uses. Not that I expected any sort of peat flavor, but I do like a good, smokey whiskey, and I was curious enough to grab a bottle, even at that price and even after seeing some negative initial reviews.

On the nose I got a pretty decent amount of wood. It had that dry, oaky, tannic quality to it. However, underneath those wood notes I got some more traditional aromas, including a healthy amount of caramel as well as some sweet but spicy cinnamon to tickle my nose. There was also a sweetness to it that was a bit more sugary, almost like a burnt sugar or even a bit of a rum note to it.

On my first sip, my initial reaction was that this is sweet and spicy and delicious. It had a lot of soft but sweet caramel notes, so much so that if it weren't for the other notes I was getting I'd have called this a "caramel-bomb." Coupled with that rich, creamy caramel note was a very welcome chocolate flavor. It was like drinking a really good chocolate covered caramel candy, like the kind you get from a really nice chocolate store.  It just had that quality of flavor to it.  On later pours I was even getting a creamy nougat flavor, like the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar. Of course, that only made me enjoy these flavors that much more!

It also had that spice that I got on the nose. I got a decent amount of cinnamon, which leaned towards the more sweet cinnamon flavor, like cinnamon candy, rather than cinnamon sticks. There was also a light pepper spice that I really noticed at the back of my throat after every sip. Quite frankly, this just made me ready to go in for my next sip.

The wood notes that I got on the nose weren't really present in the flavor. However, while I expected a certain smokey or char quality to this, while I didn't get any of that on the nose, it made its appearance in the flavor. It didn't come across as a smoked or peated whiskey by any stretch. It just added a touch of char flavor to the whiskey, and it actually seemed to complement all the other flavors going on.

That said, though, this was very much a dessert whiskey. the sweet caramel and chocolate notes seemed to take lead, with just enough spice at the back end to keep me diving back in for more. On its initial release, this was getting some negative reviews, perhaps somewhat a result of the backlash over the price. However, having tasted it for myself, this was a fantastic rye! The "Heavy Char," was in no way gimmicky, as I was worried it would be, and in the end it was just a great rye, sweet up front and spicy at the back. It hit a lot of the right notes for me.

Grade: A

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Smoke Wagon Small Batch Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $55
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Indiana/Nevada

I've finally made my way through all four offerings of Smoke Wagon that hit the shelves in our area.  A few posts ago I commented on the fact that Smoke Wagon, sourced bourbons from H&C Distilling Co. out of Las Vegas, was getting a lot of internet love in social media, but it just wasn't in Illinois. Until one day, four different versions managed to hit the shelves all at once, from the lower end Straight Bourbon to the full proof Uncut and Unfiltered to the well-aged Desert Jewel Reserve.

I went through them in no particular order, but I've absolutely loved each one that I've had for what each one brings to the table. Finally, I got around to opening the small batch. I look at this as kind of their regular, mid-shelf offering. It's a bit on the high end in price for a mid-level offering, but among the other Smoke Wagon releases, that seems to be where this falls. It does, however, come with the same cool bottle design that the Uncut and Unfiltered and the desert Jewel Reserve came in. 

The nose was full of sweet and rich caramel. I also got some nice toffee notes as well, along with a bit of milk chocolate. This all had a vanilla undertone that even had a slight spearmint and root beer quality to it. It had a little bit of spice, but with all the sweetness going on, it came across as more of a cinnamon sugar note than anything. Oddly, I also got a biscuit note that threw me off a bit.

The flavor very much followed suit with the nose. Toffee and vanilla were right up front, and those notes hung around well through the finish.  The chocolate flavor, though, came through a lot more than it did on the nose. It also had a light pepper spice that I noticed on the tip of my tongue with each sip.

About half-way through the bottle, the profile seemed to change quite a bit. I got a kind of a buttery and bready note, kind of like coffee cake. It even had that ribbon of cinnamon to go with that only seemed to appear every other sip or so. It also developed more rich and even tangy notes. I started getting some amaretto notes, and at times even an anise note.

On the final few pours those tangy notes turned into what I eventually identified as a distinct sweet peach tea note. Even on the final pours, though, the vanilla and toffee notes were still there, and even a bit of that spearmint seemed to linger. Quite frankly, it was the final two pours that I liked the most!

All in all, Smoke Wagon is putting out some great whiskey, and I don't think you could go wrong with anything in their lineup.  That being said, if I were to pick up another off the shelf, I'd probably reach for the Uncut and Unfiltered at $5-10 more, or even the Straight Bourbon which is a much better value. I probably liked that one equally as much as this one, if not more, and it was $15 less.

Grade: B

Monday, July 13, 2020

Clark & Sheffield Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $12
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

Whenever stores have their house brands, I tend to be skeptical. While it's probably exactly the same as some name brand, you just never know, and for whatever reason they're often associated with lesser value (possibly due to lesser price). For larger liquor chains, it's nothing new to have a house brand whiskey. Liquor Barn in Kentucky has Flatboat, and not to long ago Binny's released the Clark & Sheffield lineup. 

For a long time I passed on trying any of these bourbons (whether the small batch or single barrel), and it wasn't just because I'm a White Sox fan, even though technically the name doesn't have anything to do with the Cubs. The idea of a house brand just didn't appeal to me, and quite frankly I hadn't heard much about the bourbon inside one way or the other. It doesn't help that very little information is provided as to where the bourbon is coming from.  However, when it went on sale for a mere $12 (normally $22), I had to pick one up. At that point, what did I have to lose?

The nose was soft, and quite frankly nothing too special. I got primarily notes of wood and caramel, though even those notes were hard to detect. The wood notes were more along the lines of wood shavings or saw dust. I also got a little bit of unsweetened vanilla, and there was the slightest hint of spice, like a black pepper note that provided just a touch of bite.

As to flavor, it certainly tasted better than it smelled. I got a lot of sweet and soft caramel, reminiscent of the kind of hot caramel syrup you'd put on an ice cream sundae.  Along those same lines, I also got a light milk chocolate note as well as a decent amount of sweet vanilla. It came across more dessert-like than I expected from the nose.

It did have that light wood note to it, and again, it came across as a sort of saw dust note, like that flavor you taste in the air when working with a table saw.  It also had a bit of a crackery note, like saltines. But, it was the caramel and vanilla that dominated the flavor here.

On later pours I got more of a burnt sugar note, and there was even an added touch of char. I was a bit surprised by this, as I assume this is a relatively young bourbon. It also came across as a bit more grain forward, with corn notes becoming a bit more pervasive.

All in all, this bourbon was okay. It was a great bourbon for when I wanted to have multiple pours and not get seriously banged up, and it was surprisingly sweeter than it's nose indicated. In the end, for the $12 I paid (granted it was on sale), this was easily worth it.  I don't know where I draw the line in the sand as far as at what price do I look for other options. But luckily I don't have to worry about that.

Grade: B

Sunday, July 12, 2020

New Riff Backsetter Peated Backset Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $45
- 100 Proof
- 4 years
- Kentucky

This was one of my more anticipated releases in recent memory. When New Riff announced that they were releasing Backsetter Rye, I had no clue what that meant at all. When I looked into it, I knew I was going to have to track down a bottle, and luckily I was able to do so without too much effort, though it didn't remain on shelves for very long.

Certainly bucking norms, New Riff used a peated sour mash backset, so a portion of a previous mash that's used in a new batch (kind of like sour dough bread). So it's not a peated whiskey, at least in the traditional sent of using peat to smoke the malt. I was very curious as to just how much smoke flavor would actually be imparted by the use of the peated backset, as I do love me a smokey Scotch from time to time.

On the nose I definitely got a char note, but it certainly wasn't very strong, and it was certainly a far cry from the smokey notes you get from Lagavulin or Laphroaig.  In addition to the light char, I also got some mild pine notes, as well as brown sugar and vanilla. The vanilla was almost minty in character. I also got some soft caramel notes as well.  All in all, I thought this smelled great, and I couldn't wait to dive into my first pour.

The smoke definitely shows up on the palate. Again, not quite like the heavily peated Scotches, but certainly more present than on the nose.  It was alight smokiness, kind of like a burnt marshmallow, where you get the char but it quickly subsides and makes way for the sweet, vanilla notes. In fact, the more I drank of this bottle, the more the smoke came through, particularly on the finish. I've often found that's what I've liked most in peated Scotches was the finish where the smoke lingered, and I really enjoyed it here.

Underneath the peat I got a healthy dose of caramel as well as a sweet graham cracker note. That sweetness went well with the burnt marshmallow notes. I also got a certain salty quality to it, kind of like salted caramel. One of the more interesting notes that I got, though, which I noticed from the first pour to the last, was a baked sweet potato flavor. That was certainly a first for me, but it worked with all the other flavors going on, and I did actually enjoy it.

All in all, the peat character is front and center, but that's not unexpected. I've seen a lot of love it or hate it reviews, and I'm not surprised.  Peated whiskeys tend to be divisive. If smoke is not your thing, then this is probably not for you.  I, however, loved it. In a way, it kind of reminded me of the bark of a good smoked brisket--smokey, salty and sweet.  I hope this makes its way around again, because I will absolutely be after another bottle.

Grade: A-

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Eagle Rare Liquor 'n' Wine Single Barrel Select Barrel No. 116 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $30 (375 ml)
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 116
- Kentucky

I don't get there frequently, but every so often I make it a point to visit a couple of the local Liquor 'n' Wine liquor stores that are near me. They're not big stores, each one seems to be independently owned, and they can have a slight mark-up at times (and a BIG mark-up on the Pappy and BTAC lines). But, At times I find stuff that is worth grabbing, such as the Willett Family Estate bottles I found a while back, and most recently, this Eagle Rare pick.

Not everyone is getting Eagle Rare picks in, and when they do, they seem to get snapped up. I've started to amass a collection of Eagle Rare store picks, and so, even at $30 for the half-sized bottle, I was quick to grab this one off the shelf. I haven't had enough picks from this store to know if their tastes are in line with mine, but given how much I enjoyed this bottle, they just might be.

On the nose I immediately got a lot of toffee and chocolate notes. It reminded me a lot of a Heath bar (something I seemingly only eat when rummaging through my kids' Halloween haul).  I also got a sweet cereal type note that somewhat reminded me of Honey Nut Cheerios.  I even got a sweet peach tea note that I really enjoyed. 

As for flavor, it was full of caramel, as would be expected, but it didn't come with the expected sweetness. It was a bit downplayed in this, which for me really worked. The caramel mixed well with the coffee notes, which also weren't sweet but were more along the lines of dark chocolate or cacao.  

There was something nutty to it, kind of like walnut, even with that light bitterness that I always get from walnut. That was offset, however, by a toasted marshmallow note that really kind of brought everything together into one cohesive dessert, yet without making anything too sweet. At times I even got a cotton candy note, but again, it was never enough to make this overly sweet. It just added that additional layer of flavor.

The finish was probably my favorite part of this bourbon.  I got chocolate and caramel that seemed to linger forever. It reminded me of really good chocolates, like those Ghirardelli chocolate caramel squares. It was absolutely delicious and I found myself just enjoying that finish for quite a while before going for my next sip. 

I wish I had a bigger bottle of this. It seemed to go way too fast, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless, and I'll absolutely be keeping an eye out for future picks from them!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 112.2 Proof

VITALS:
- $60
- 112.2 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I love the Willett Family Estate ryes! I feel like I need to preface each review with that statement, because I'm clearly going into this with a bias. Of course this is going to get a really good review, it's one of my personal favorite whiskeys.  And that is why reviews are dumb--at least from the perspective of determining for yourself whether you should buy or try a particular whiskey.  It's all just so subjective.

So, here I go with my dumb review where I'm going to tell you how I really enjoy this particular whiskey which I always really enjoy.  This is one of three batches of WFE that I happened to find on the shelf at a local liquor store. They had a stockpile of the stuff, and I eventually went back to buy three more to mule for a buddy of mine. At $60, they're only slightly marked up, and certainly not marked up to a point where I'm going to pass on them.

On the nose I got a lot of alcohol right away, but once that burned off, I got a lot of dark, rich fruit notes. I got a bit of tart plum. I also got a lot of brandy notes, with some wine grape and even pear notes. All of that was on top of a thick layer of pine and cinnamon, though, keeping it right in the realm of ryes. It also had a thick, syrupy type sweetness to the nose, smelling somewhere in between molasses and maple syrup.

I think my favorite part of this batch was its texture. Right away I noticed how thick and oily it was -- almost chewy. I absolutely loved the way it just coated my mouth in flavor and spice. The pine and molasses notes from the nose were what immediately presented themselves up front. It had a rich and dark sweetness to it, kind of like a gingerbread cookie, but it also had a healthy amount of woody pine flavor to it as well. The cinnamon from the nose was likewise prominent.

The plum from the nose was also readily apparent, providing that sweet tartness. I also got some dark cherry notes, adding just the slightest sour component. This was full of these rich fruit notes that all worked really well with the pine and molasses flavors. At times I was even getting some amaretto liqueur notes.

I also got a sweet, graham crackery flavor from time to time. That note was a bit more fleeting, but I was noticing it both at the beginning of the bottle and even on my last pour, and it added just another layer of flavor.

All in all, this is a bold whiskey packed full of flavor and punch, and it seemed to hit all corners of the flavor wheel (yes, I know that makes no sense), providing spicey, sweet, earthy and fruity notes all at once, and they all seemed to work together really well.  This was one of my vacation whiskeys, and it didn't survive that vacation. Once opened, it was one that we just kept going back to.

Grade: A

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Knob Creeck ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $45
- 115 Proof
- 5 yrs., 10 mos.
- Kentucky

As with most avid whiskey enthusiasts, whenever I travel other places, I love checking out the stores there just to see what's on the shelves. While occasionally I may find a special or allocated bottle, I'm more looking for either bottles that I just don't see or can't get in Illinois such as local craft whiskeys or limited distribution whiskeys, or for store picks. 

If I'm out of state and see a random store pick on a shelf, I'm typically going to grab it, particularly if it's a brand I really like.  That proved to be exactly the case here. While in Miramar Beach, Florida for a week, I managed to make my way over to ABC Fine Wine & Spirits one town over in Destin, Florida, having convinced my wife that she really needed a wine run. I was impressed by the nice selection, and as soon as I set my eyes on this bottle it was already in hand. I've said it in the past, but Knob Creek store picks are always a no-brainer for me.  They are almost always good, and sometimes great!

On the nose, the high alcohol seemed to really give it a kick. However, it didn't overpower the other notes, and I got a healthy dose of cinnamon and pine. It had a northwest woods smell to it. I also got a bit of a cracker note, but a sweeter cracker, like Wheat Thins. Part way through the bottle I also started noticing an orange peel note, giving it a bit of brightness but also reminding me a bit of an old fashioned.

The flavor was pretty spot on. Sweet and spicy cinnamon dominated here. It was kind of a blend between cinnamon sticks and that artificial cinnamon flavor that you get from red hots. This was on top of a healthy brown sugar flavor as well. These flavors were bold and rich and provided a nice, sweet baseline with a good balance of spice.

I also got a slight woody note, which was a bit unexpected given the age. It wasn't just pine notes, though they were certainly there. I got that distinct oaky woody notes, and they seemed to be most noticeable, along with that pine, on the finish. This rye coated the mouth fairly well which provided a long, enjoyable finish that, again, took me deep into the woods of the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps at this point you're thinking, "Yeah, but who wants to drink a forest with a side of cinnamon?" Well, I kinda do. But, there's more here as well, these are just the dominant flavors. I also got the orange peel from the nose, but it came across as more of a burnt orange note, something a bit more earthy rather than bright and citrusy like it was on the nose. I also got a touch of cherry, and these flavors worked to provide that old fashioned note that I got on the nose, perhaps even moreso. 

This turned out to be a pretty good store pick. If it's any indication, the bottle was empty within just over 24 hours. That's typically a sign of a pretty good bottle. And it only confirmed my stance on Knob Creek store picks -- grab them when you see them. This one did not disappoint.

Grade: B+

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Basil Hayden's 10 Year Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $60
- 80 Proof
- 10 Years
- Kentucky

I just got back from a trip to the beach, where I spent a week soaking up sun, playing with my kids in the ocean, and of course drinking a whole bunch of whiskey. This was among the handful of bottles I brought with me. I grabbed it because, despite the low proof and my general history of not really liking Basil Hayden's products, it's really hard for me to pass on a well-aged rye. 

It turns out it ended up being a pretty good choice, review aside. After all, what goes better with vacation than day drinking?!?  But, it's no fun to get absolutely banged up and end up going to bed early and missing all the fun. So, enter the 80 proof rye. This quickly became my go-to when I was looking for a pour either after lunch or later in the afternoon. It was an easy sipper that I could enjoy and still do everything else I wanted to do.

But the whiskey itself? The nose was, as expected, soft and somewhat faint. It was hard to pick up, but I did get a decent amount of sweetness, kind of a brown sugar mixed with white frosting type of note. I also got a certain earthy baked goods note that reminded me a lot of rye bread, even pumpernickel. I don't often get bread notes in american whiskeys, but it was definitely here. It did lack the spice that I usually get of ryes, but perhaps that's due to the low proof--that it was just hard to notice.

The texture of this rye was, as expected, a bit watered down. It certainly comes across as thin and lacking in depth or boldness of flavor. However, it wasn't entirely absent. It had a constant undercurrent of sweet and woody notes, which for me makes a good combination. I got that brown sugar sweetness, and at times it came across as more of a caramel note, perhaps a slightly over-cooked caramel, toasted but not burnt.

To balance out that sweetness, I got a bit of woodiness as well, just a touch of oak. It had a nutty quality to it as well, which itself was sweet.  It reminded me of cashews in that respect. There was also a slight rye bite to it, a bit like a peppery sweet cinnamon. This was the spice I was looking for on the nose but just couldn't find. This is also what told me that this is definitely a Basil Hayden's product, despite being a rye rather than a bourbon, as I always seem to get that black pepper note.

The finish was fairly minimal. It didn't stick around very long, which, again, I attribute to the low proof. As noted above, though, that low proof actually worked for the situation, helping keep me lucid throughout the day, and then I'd switch over to higher proof stuff at night.  It was a good-but-not-great rye, but it sure served its purpose.  While it was a decent whiskey, though, I think I'd want more than just decent for the price.

Grade: B

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Larceny Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch No. A120

VITALS:
- $55
- 123.2 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. A120
- Kentucky

This is one of those releases that I was keeping an eye out for and actively asking for to make sure I got a bottle. I'm not necessarily a wheater-head. I like Maker's just fine, same with Weller. As for Larceny, I like it a lot for its price point, and whenever I find a private selection of Larceny, I pick up a bottle -- again, going back to the price. Larceny has proven time and time again to provide good flavor that doesn't hurt the wallet.

So, when a barrel strength version was announce, to be released periodically (I think three times a year like the Elijah Craig Barrel Strength), I wanted to make sure I got my hands on a bottle right away. The price is still really good, and if I like regular Larceny, I figured I'd be sure to like the barrel proof version.

Luckily, from my first pour, my assumptions were confirmed! The nose was very pungent, loaded with cinnamon, oak and even some honey. It really came across as sweet and woody. I also got a tangy, almond liqueur type flavor as well, along with some brown sugar, and it reminded me of a biscotti. Later on it seemed as though all I could notice was the brown sugar, as it really took over the nose. All in all, though, it smelled sweet and rich with a whole lot of depth.

As to flavor, this bourbon really had a sweet and spicy profile. As with the nose, brown sugar really took the forefront, giving it a rich tone. The thick, oily texture gave it a brown sugar and melted butter quality, kind of like chocolate chip cookie dough before you add the chocolate chips.

The light cinnamon spice was there as well, to add just a light amount of heat, as well as a bit of a tannic, oaky flavor to help offset the sweetness.  It also had an oatmeal flavor to it, which reminded me of oatmeal cookies, with brown sugar and molasses notes mixing in.

On later pours I got almost all brown sugar and molasses (much like the way I got all brown sugar on the nose after a while). It really dominated the oatmeal cookie note, making it seem a bit more like a molasses cookie at times. Despite that dark sugariness, the oak flavors also came through fairly well.  The finish was long and sweet, mixed with just the lightest cinnamon bite that had me wanting more and more.

I found I was a pretty big fan of this. While the notes seem a bit simplistic (brown sugar, wood, cinnamon, etc.), each of those flavors was rich and bold, and they were also well balanced such that it wasn't overly sweet or overly woody. It was rich and flavorful, and I just kept wanting more and more. It didn't take long to polish this bottle off once it was opened.

Grade: A-