Sunday, December 27, 2020

Blanton's Binny's Single Barrel Select Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel #321

- $70
- 93 Proof
- Barrel #321
- Kentucky

This is a bottle that I've been sitting on for quite some time.  It was dumped on December 17, 2018, and I'm fairly certain it was around March 2019 that I picked this bottle up at Binny's. I used it in a Blanton's tasting for my work whiskey club, and then it went back in its box and onto my shelf, where it sat for a long time, completely unattended to.

I think the main reason that it sat there, not getting drunk, is due to the box.  Most of my bottles on my shelves are not housed in boxes, and I can readily see not only the bottle, but the yummy liquid inside as well, and, of course, the fill level. It's the fill level that often reminds me to revisit a particular whiskey that I may have opened, tried and then forgotten about. Yet the Blanton's sit in boxes, and they are more or less out of sight, out of mind. I happen to really enjoy Blanton's, so I can't think of any other reason.

As to the whiskey itself, it had that familiar nose that I love in Blanton's and the other Mashbill #2 products from Buffalo Trace.  I got delicious notes of salted caramel and even a light chocolate note. There was a cherry note to it that was more along the lines of a cherry cordial, like it was soaked in liqueur. It even had a bit of an anise spice to it. I also got a somewhat odd note of wood shavings, like the smell of using a table saw.  

On my first sip, I got a really strong amaretto note. Perhaps that's what I was smelling when I got the cherry cordial scent.  In fact, I did get a bit of a candied cherry note to go with that amaretto. It was all sweet but rich and delectable.  

Pairing perfectly with these flavors was a nice dark chocolate note. That paired perfectly with what came across as more of a toffee than a caramel. It had a touch of that burnt sugar note to it. It also had a light oak note to it, something that I think I've noticed in maybe half of the different bottles of Blanton's I've tasted over the years.

The finish seemed to change course a bit, as it came across as more of an Old Fashioned flavor. That's where I got some bright citrus, like orange peel, along with that candied cherry note. At times that orange came across as more of a burnt orange note, but the Old Fashioned effect remained.

I've come to learn that not all Blanton's single barrels are complete winners. I've had a bottle before that I simply did not like. I have, of course, had bottles that blew me away. This one falls somewhere in the middle. It was a good bottle of Blanton's, but there wasn't anything that really stood out about it. Not that I'll stop buying these when I get the chance, but there are certainly better private picks out there.

Grade: B

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Maker's Mark 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 101 Proof
- Kentucky

For so long Maker's Mark just produced their standard bourbon
--regular Maker's Mark.  It's a fine whiskey and they do a great job with it. But, as the bourbon boom emerged and with the prevalence of limited releases, bourbon hunting, private picks and variants, Maker's Mark seemingly reluctantly changed with the times as well, introducing a cask strength version, a private barrel program and, more recently, an annual limited release.

Adding to its existing line, though, Maker's Mark released this 101 proof, something somewhere between regular Maker's Mark and its cask strength version--a little higher proof but not quite the fire water that might turn some people off  It seems to me there certainly should be a market for this product, whether for cocktails where the bourbon needs to shine or just for those drinkers that want a touch more heat. I was more than happy to grab one off the shelf to see where this might fit for me.

On the nose I got a lot more cinnamon than expected.  I'm not sure if that's due to the increased proof or what, but it was a good, pungent nose that just hit with cinnamon spice. I was able to get some molasses, adding a bit of rich sweetness, and I also picked up some graham cracker and sweet bread, two notes that I've come to expect from Maker's Mark over the years.

I feel like I relate my tasting notes a lot to cookies, but, I guess given the sweetness of bourbon, that's not so weird. And here, my first tasting note was chocolate chip cookies. But, it seemed even sweeter than that, as if milk chocolate chips were used rather than semi-sweet morsels.  It was very brown sugar forward, and even a bit buttery in taste.

I also got hints of an old fashioned flavor as well. I got some orange peel which added some brightness as well as some complementary bitterness. I even got a bit of cherry licorice.  This all seemed to work really well with the constant toffee note throughout. 

The sweet bread from the nose came through as well, with a bit of a yeasty note as well as a bit of a grain-forward note. This, too, was on the sweeter side, but it did offer just a bit of earthiness to try to counterbalance all the other sweet notes.

However, that seems to be the recurring theme here--sweetness.  No matter what flavor I was getting, it was always a sweeter version of that. And the cinnamon spice I got off the nose was, unfortunately, nowhere to be found, and I found myself wishing this had a bit more spice. That is a personal preference, though, and perhaps someone who is a fan of wheaters would absolutely love this. Ultimately, though, this whisky makes sense in Maker's Mark's lineup, and although the box that this bottle came in says it's a "limited edition," it would make sense for this to be a mainstay on shelves.

Grade: B

Friday, December 25, 2020

Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Year Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey - 2019

- $130
- 95.6 Proof
- 13 Years
- Released in 2019; Produced in 2018
- Kentucky

Merry Christmas to whomever may be reading this!!  This has been a crazy year, to say the least. But, one thing that I've really missed is being able to get together with friends or family, either to celebrate or just to enjoy each other's company, and trying some delicious and sometimes hard-to-find whiskey. I've found that more of my more limited bottles in my collection have sat on the shelf unopened, simply because I haven't had the opportunity to open them with someone else (and I don't really want to open those special bottles when it's just me sitting on my couch watching the Food Network).

So, when last night rolled around, after we had gone to church, and as we enjoyed a nice spread of snacks and meats and cheeses and the kids all played games, I grabbed a new bottle to open with my father-in-law, and I reached for this bottle that had about 3 inches of whiskey left in the bottom.  I had picked this bottle up just over a year ago, and we may have even opened it together on Christmas Eve last year. So, we were going to finish it on Christmas Eve this year.

The nose was soft and sweet. From the nose you could tell this was not a heavy rye mashbill, probably closer to 50% rye than to 100% rye.  I got the smell of chocolate chip cookies, but without the chocolate chips. It was pretty brown sugar forward, but I also got a distinct pine note, as well as some woody notes and a bit of cinnamon. It was definitely a rye, but it was also definitely a sweeter, softer rye.

Upon tasting it, my first notes might make you think I didn't like it. I immediately got pine as well as a charcoal note, which was a touch odd. Not bad, just odd. However, I immediately got something sweet and minty as well. It was caramel forward but also had a bit of vanilla spearmint to it. I don't know that I would have ever put caramel and mint together, but here it worked really well!

It had some nice spice to it as well. I got just a bit of black pepper or anise spice, which I don't necessarily like but sometimes love in small doses. I also got a good amount of cinnamon spice that added a bit of heat and a nice burn on the tip of my tongue and at the back of my throat.

Although not super high proof, the mouthfeel was nice and sticky, which had me smacking my lips and which made for a good, long finish. After each sip my mouth seemed coated with cinnamon candy, reminding me of a milder version of Fireballs, especially once you got past the spicy hard outer shell. The licorice note seemed to carry through the finish as well, and was more noticeable on later pours.

All in all, there was a lot going on with this whiskey. It presented a cornucopia of flavors, all seemingly different but all working so well together. It didn't kill the palate with high proof, and yet it had that nice viscous mouthfeel that seems to come with higher proof whiskeys.  The long and short of it is, though, that this is simply one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. As I'm writing this I'm looking at the empty bottle next to my laptop, and I'm missing it already and wishing I had more.  Maybe next Christmas!!

Grade: A+

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Glen Grant Rothes Speyside 12 Year Single Malt Scotch


- $35
- 80 Proof
- 12 Years
- Scotland (Speyside)

This blog has been very American Whiskey-centric as of late.  I'd like to say I'm going to make an effort to try to explore more Scotches, Irish Whiskeys, Japanese whiskeys and the like.  But, my spending habits recently tell me that that is not going to happen any time soon.  Non-American whiskey takes up a very small portion of my crowded whiskey shelf.

That said, every time I do turn my attention away from my bourbons and ryes and pour a glass of single malt, I'm reminded how much I really do enjoy it. The consistent quality that I've always gotten out of Single Malt Scotches specifically has always impressed.  Even from lower shelf stuff, I seem to find far fewer clunkers among the single malts than I do among American whiskeys.  This 12-year, $35 Speyside single malt proved to be no different.

The nose was very fruity, but light and sweet. I got a lot of white grape, almost like a sweet white wine, perhaps like a Riesling. I also got some bright citrus notes like apricot. It had a light cinnamon spice, as well as some more grain forward or crackery notes, like animal crackers with an added honey sweetness.  The white grape absolutely dominated this nose, however.

I mentioned consistency above, and this was the epitome of consistency.  The primary notes I got on the palate were pretty much what I was getting on the nose. That sweet white grape flavor was easily the most dominant flavor. That seemed to be layered over that same sweet animal crackers note I got off the nose.  I was actually surprised at how closely the flavor matched the nose in this respect.

I did get a bit of a cooked peach note. Perhaps that's where the apricot scent went. It had the added spice though, with a touch of cinnamon and even some brown sugar to sweeten it up.  There was no question that this came across as a sweeter whiskey, perhaps at times too sweet. But, at other times it seemed to really suit my mood.

The finish, however, was thin and close to non-existent. It seemed that as soon as I swallowed each sip the flavor disappeared with it. I thought this was a bit odd. There was a slight lingering honey note, leaving a certain amount of sweetness behind, but almost none of the flavor or spice that I had enjoyed up front. 

While I wanted more out of the finish, and perhaps a bit more complexity, this nonetheless reminded me of what I love about single malts, and did make me want to put more of an effort into expanding what I'm drinking. And for $35, I'd happily drink this again. 

Grade: B

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Elijah Craig Small Batch Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $37
- 94 Proof
- Barrel No. 6030677
- Kentucky

Elijah Craig store picks are just one of those bottles that I almost never pass up when I come across them. They are almost always reasonably priced--I've seen some get a little steep, but those are very few and far between.  And they're almost always delicious (of course there are exceptions to this rule as well, but generally speaking, it fits).

This one is certainly a bit on the higher side of what I've normally paid for Elijah Craig store picks. But, that tends to be the case at Warehouse Liquors, and honestly, I don't mind a small markup at an independent store. That little bit isn't going to drive me away, and I have no problem supporting stores like Warehouse Liquors over the big boxes, so long as it doesn't get into gouging or pricing bottles to the point it makes them museum pieces.

The nose on this was interesting, and I found myself sniffing my glass a lot! Not necessarily because I thought it was amazing (don't get me wrong, it did smell delicious), but more because it was kind of unique. I got a strong, roasty coffee quality to it, almost like espresso notes. That bitter coffee scent played well with the walnut and cherry cordial that I was also getting, along with a dark chocolate note. It was rich and had hints of sweetness, staying far away from cloying.

The flavor didn't necessarily match its nose. In fact, it was much sweeter than its aroma would have indicated. I got a lot of sweet, candied pecans and even honey roasted peanuts. It had that salty earthiness to go with a honey and brown sugar sweetness that really worked.

I also got a bright berry note to it, but it was at the same time not necessarily muted but rather accompanied by a sort of tanginess and certain level of heat. It was hard to describe, but it was almost like a strawberry liqueur where the alcohol tempers the sweet strawberry notes. It sounds weird, but it worked, particularly with the sweet pecan notes.

I also got a consistent crackery or bready note. It was almost like a mix between graham cracker and sweet honey wheat bread. I really noticed this note on the finish, which, while not a long finish, brought these notes of graham cracker as well as a light cinnamon note to bring just a touch of spice into the minx.

If I'm comparing this to regular Elijah Craig, this is a really good bottle. If I'm comparing this to other Elijah Craig store picks, this one is probably going to fall somewhere in the middle. That being said, though, this one had a lot of character and uniqueness that I haven't really seen before, and was one of the more "off brand" Elijah Craig picks I've had.

Grade: B+

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Smooth Ambler Old Scout Straight Bourbon

- $50
- 99 Proof
- Batch No. 10
- Indiana

Not too long ago it seems that Old Scout products had disappeared from the shelves here in the Chicago area. I could regularly find Contradiction, and even Big Level was pretty readily available. But Old Scout, the brand that seemingly built Smooth Ambler, was nowhere to be found.

Of course, there was the occasional exception. Most notably, I recall a well-aged (I think it was 12 years) Tennessee whiskey that was bottled under the Old Scout label and sold as a Binny's store pick. I didn't bite at that mostly due to the price and source. However, when a regular bottling of Old Scout made its way back to shelves at $50, I had to at least give it a try. I've been a fan for the most part, and I was hopeful that I'd find myself a yummy bourbon that would be a mainstay on my liquor store shelves.

The nose on this was actually pretty great. I got a lot of candied orange and brown sugar. I also got notes of dark chocolate. I think what I liked most, however, was the nice roasty quality to this nose. It actually smelled a bit like a stout, with roasty espresso notes as well as dark chocolate. I could have sat there sniffing my glass all day.

As to flavor, my first notes were that it was sweet and rich. I got a decent amount of dark cherry as well as that dark chocolate I was getting on my nose. It also had that roasted note to it, like a roasted coffee flavor, adding a bit of bitterness to the flavor as well.

What I found most interesting about this whiskey, though, was that I got a somewhat distinct Neapolitan flavor to it. I got chocolate and vanilla, but also a strawberry note that was event the sort of fake strawberry that I get from Neapolitan ice cream 

On the finish, what seemed to linger was the bitter espresso note. It was fairly bitter, and as much as I wanted to like it, this just didn't work. The bitter coffee note didn't really seem to go with any of the other flavors, and it didn't add anything great on its own. Rather, it just added this bitterness and some sharp edges that otherwise weren't there. 

In the end, I found myself using the last few pours from this bottle in Old Fashioned's. As a mixer, particularly for an Old Fashioned, this bourbon was great!  On its own, though, it was just decent and nothing to write home to mom about. I think, perhaps, I was most turned off by the finish that provided bitter espresso notes and not a whole lot else.

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Sagamore Spirit Binny's Barrel Select Single Barrel Straight Rye - Barrel No. 42


- $60
- 110 Proof
- 6 Years
- Barrel No. 42
- Indiana

I have been generally impressed with everything I've had so far from Sagamore Spirit.  I was a big fan of their Cask Strength Rye that I had a few months back. I've also had the pleasure of trying their Double Oak Rye, Manhattan Finished Rye (which I wasn't a huge fan of only because I don't really like Manhattans), and the Moscatel Finished Rye, and they were all really well done. In fact, I made it a point to purchase my own bottle of the Moscatel Finished Rye which I'll one day get around to reviewing here.

So when Binny's got a couple different single barrel picks from Sagamore in, there was no question I was grabbing one. Granted, this is MGP rye, but I figured (1) I love MGP rye; and (2) if they're willing to slap their label on it, there's a good chance it was going to be good. Plus, an almost barrel proof, 6-year single barrel MGP rye for $60 seemed like a pretty good deal in general.

The nose was actually somewhat unique and delicious. Of course I got the brown sugar and caramel that I expected. However, I didn't get those minty dill notes I've come to expect from MGP ryes. Rather, it had a nice, tangy and sweet peach tea note. It was almost a cooked peach note, which, with the brown sugar and caramel, smelled like an absolutely delicious dessert.

The flavor was full of sweet and rich caramel along with a nice, mouthwatering cinnamon spice. It was somewhere between natural cinnamon and cinnamon candy flavor. However, that base layer of cinnamon and caramel was complemented by other flavors in such a way that by the time I finished the bottle, I was left with the impression that this is one of the best whiskeys I've had in a long time.

To go with that caramel and cinnamon, I got notes of chocolate and cherry. IT was almost like a chocolate cherry cola, but with actual chocolate rather than chocolate syrup, and with real cherries rather than that fake cherry flavor. It was chocolate cherry cola, but so much better.

The proof allowed for a great mouthfeel that coated my mouth and the back of my throat with flavor that lasted forever. On the finish I got some sweet vanilla bean, almost creamy like vanilla bean ice cream. It also had a walnut note to it as well, and, of course, the sweet caramel and spicy cinnamon hung around for the finish as well.

I don't want to overstate things, but I absolutely LOVED this whiskey! It truly is one of my favorite whiskeys I've had in a long time, and while I went into it with decent expectations, I wasn't expecting anything quite this good. I may need to grab one more bottle of this if I can find it.

Grade: A+