Friday, December 31, 2021

Laphroaig Cairdeas Port & Wine Casks Islay Single Malt Scotch

- $100
- 104 Proof
- Islay

I have absolutely grown to love sweet and peat. It started when my wife brought home a random bottle of Longrow Red almost five years ago. Since then I've not only grabbed every Longrow Red release, but I've also made it a point to try anything else I can get my hands on that has that combination of smoky peat and a wine barrel finish.

So, naturally, I find myself drinking Islay Scotches fairly regularly, and the Laphroaig Cairdeas releases certainly meet that criteria. This particular release was a blend of whisky matured in second fill Ruby Port barrels and ex-bourbon barrels, and then finished in red wine casks.  There was no question this would give me all that sweet and peat I was after.

Right away I got a ton of dark, jammy fruits on the nose. It was a rich and sweet combination of blackberry and fig. The peat was not anywhere near what I expected, and was only mildly present. That, however, allowed for soft notes of orange and vanilla to come through. The overall combination was incredibly mouth-watering.

As to the palate, right up front I got that nice hit of smoke, along with a black pepper spice on the tip of my tongue, followed immediately by that rich blackberry jam note. There was a little bit of fig and raisin as well, to add a bit of richness, but I also got something bright, like red raspberry, that was unexpected. 

There was a decent amount of brown sugar sweetness, perhaps at times leaning more towards a molasses note. It also had a bit of a pastry note, like puff pastry used for Danishes. 

The finish, though, was what made me fall in love with this whisky. It was on the finish that the smoky peat really kicked in. That peat note coupled beautifully with the rich, jammy blackberry and fig that also dominated, resulting in this smoky, sticky, fruity note that remined me a bit of a sweet barbecue sauce. Put this on some pork ribs and you might have something!

This is an incredible example of what I love in that sweet and peat combination. "Cairdeas" translates to friendship, and I think I've found a new friend here. This is going to be right there with the Longrow Red as a release I'm going to be picking up every time it comes out.

Grade: A

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Bowman Brothers Binny's Single Barrel Select Virginia Straight Bourbon

- $30
- 90 Proof
- 7 Years
- Barrel #031
- Virginia

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery been making some fantastic bourbon for quite some time now, and it seems only recently are they getting the mass-love that they deserve. Of course there has always been a bit of a cult following, particularly for some of their rarer releases. In the past, though, these releases, while sought after by bourbon aficionados, haven't necessarily been the subject of the high demand for other limited products.

Recently, though, their Gingerbread releases have not only been amazing, but have gotten the attention of the bourbon fan base generally. And the Bowman Cask Strength is an incredibly desired bottle, one which continues to elude me. Despite the increasing demand, however, Bowman Brothers introduced a single barrel program that provides consumers with an age-stated, single barrel product at an incredible price! At only $30, I had absolutely zero hesitation grabbing one of these off the shelf at Binny's the second I saw it.

When I took my first whiff of this whiskey after popping the cork, I knew that I had something good here. I was hit immediately with dark and rich fruit notes, like plum and cherry. I also got a burnt sugar note that provided a touch of sweet, caramelized smokiness. Interestingly, there was something earthy to it as well, almost like caramelized mushrooms. Sounds super weird, and it is, but it was oddly delicious-smelling.

Luckily, I didn't get that mushroom note on the flavor. Rather, I immediately noticed rich notes of cinnamon and amaretto liqueur. It certainly had a tangy and spicy quality to it that at times leaned more towards an anise flavor. Luckily for me that flavor never got too over-bearing.

As the bottle opened up, the sweeter, more dessert-like flavors seemed to come forward. On later pours I got a distinct chocolate note. I also got a note that once I put my thumb on it, I couldn't help but noticing. That was a cherry pie filling note. It was not just a cherries in syrup note, but the actual pie filling flavor. As I said, once I found that note, I couldn't escape it. I happen to love cherry pie, though, so I wasn't complaining.

It was on the finish that the cherry pie filling really took over. Aside from a light cinnamon note, that flavor really dominated the finish. Given this was 90 proof, the finish wasn't very long lasting. But, despite the lower proof, this whiskey had an abundance of flavor, and it had more complexity than I ever would have expected.

I don't know how frequently these Bowman Single Barrels are going to be seen on shelves, but I do know that whenever and wherever I see them, so long as the price stays where it is and the age stays generally the same, I'm going to be buying a bottle (and perhaps more). 

Grade: B+

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Crown Royal Noble Collection 16 Year Blended Rye Whiskey

- $70
- 90 Proof
- 16 Years
- Canada

Admittedly, I don't find myself reviewing too many Canadian whiskies on this blog. Perhaps that's unfair, or perhaps I just haven't found many that have really blown me away. Sure, I've had plenty of good Canadian whiskies. I've had some very good Canadian whiskies. But I just haven't had one yet that, to me anyway, has really knocked it out of the park.

But, when this was released, I found myself drawn to it and knew I'd need to pick up a bottle. While it was a "rare" release, it was relatively easy to find. It was just set out on the shelf, like any other bottle. That said, it didn't make it much past a week before they were all gone. After all, a 16 year old rye for only $70, even if it is Canadian, is a hard one to pass up. Plus, the one rye I have had from Crown Royal, the Northern Harvest Rye, was really good, so I felt pretty confident I wasn't going to be getting a stinker.

The nose was kind of funky.  It had an earthiness to it, almost like an unsalted, toasted peanut note. That was paired with a sweet honey note as well, with a little bit of black pepper spice. On top of all that, I got a distinct oak note, but somehow that oak flavor came across as sweet, almost like it was mixed with a burnt sugar note to have that sweet balancing any bitter notes.

When I took my first sip, the first thing I wrote down was that this had a thin, watery texture, but was absolutely full of flavor. Right up front I got a tangy amaretto note, as well as a healthy amount of brown sugar, a note I tend to get from Canadian whiskies. It had minimal spice, but rather leaned more caramel in flavor, with a rich sweetness.

I also got that earthy note that I was getting on the nose. While the oak came through, there was almost this dank or musty note. Weirdly, though, I liked it. I thought it worked well with the brown sugar and the oak, which again came across sweeter than I'm used to. 

The finish was probably my favorite part. There I got a distinct cherry cordial note, with the cherry and chocolate flavors, as well as that boozy quality, which I particularly noticed on the finish as I exhaled. I also got this sort of cream soda flavor, particularly on later pours, that I really enjoyed and wish I had found throughout.  

This was a fun bottle, and I ended up liking it way more than I thought I would. It was certainly a different rye, probably due in part to not only the age, but also the location of the aging, that gave some different barrel flavors to the whiskey. I'm so glad I picked this up.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Eagle Rare Binny's Single Barrel Select Barrel #069 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $35
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel #069
- Kentucky

As I see bourbon prices for new releases jump up and up from previous releases (looking at you Old Forester and Four Roses), I certainly appreciate bottlings of age-stated bourbons from the large distilleries, especially when they carry 10 year age statements. Eagle Rare and Russell's Reserve certainly fall into that category, and that's a big reason why I never pass on them when I find them.

Of course, being the bourbon that actually got me out of my Scotch-exclusive drinking habits and exploring the world of bourbon, Eagle Rare will always be a soft spot for me. But, to be able to still get a 10 year old single barrel private selection bourbon for $35, even if they are becoming increasingly fewer and farther between, is amazing in light of the current bourbon climate.

The nose was very much in line with most other Eagle Rare bottlings I've had. I got that expected caramel as well as a healthy dose of vanillins. There was also that bit of cinnamon spice that I've come to expect. However, there was also a sort of a root beer note, with that almost minty sassafras note to it. There was also a bit of a fake cherry note--not like cough syrup, but like cherry hard candy.

The cherry note carried over to the palate as well, but it wasn't so much of a fake cherry note.  Rather, it came across as more of a cherry cola flavor. It was accompanied by sweeter notes of caramel and vanilla, along with a black pepper spice that both hit the tip of the tongue right up front and lingered on the finish.

The cinnamon was quite a bit more prevalent as well, so much so that at times it reminded me of a cinnamon liqueur (Goldschlager anyone?). There was also a pastry note, but unfortunately that didn't really translate to a cinnamon roll note like it might sound. It was more of a bready note mixed with that cinnamon liqueur note. That combo wasn't great nor was it bad. It was just . . . there? 

On the finish, that weird combination seemed to translate a bit differently, and I was left with this lingering flavor that I likened to a cherry cordial, though with less vanilla. For some reason, it was on the finish that I got a distinct chocolate flavor, something I hadn't noticed anywhere else. The pastry note also reminded me a bit of Golden Grahams cereal, something I noticed even more on the finish.

This was certainly a bottle of good, yummy Eagle Rare. But, as might be expected from a store pick (and as some people might hope for), it did stray a bit from the standard Eagle Rare profile. At times it was a very good stray, particularly the finish. At other times it was just different. All in all, though, it was another very good bottle in which I found the bottom fairly quickly.

Grade: B

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Hazelburn Oloroso Cask Matured 13 Year Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $100
- 100.6 Proof
- 13 Years
- Campbeltown

This is the next bottle in my foray into Campbeltown Scotches. I've had a Hazelburn before, starting with the 10 Year that tends to be a bit more available. But, when the opportunity came along to grab one of these 13 year Hazelburns finished in Oloroso casks, there was no question I was going to bite. I certainly enjoyed the 10 year, and this seemed like one hell of a step up to continue on with other offerings.

I certainly took my time with this bottle, dipping  back into it for a pour or two maybe once a month, if that. But, over the past week or so, I found myself reaching for this bottle far more frequently. I'm not sure if it's simply due to the fact that I finally got to the halfway point and figured I might as well keep going, or perhaps due to the fact that there was a certain quality about this whiskey that was just hitting right for me. I'm sure it likely was a combination of both.

The Oloroso Sherry casks really took center stage on the nose. I got a ton of rich dark fruit aromas. I was getting rich and jammy blackberry right up front, as well as a bit of tart cherry. I also got a brighter black raspberry and even a fig note. It even had a light tannic note really evoking those wine flavors in the barrel. There was also a sort of brown sugar sweetness, but beyond that, it was all dark fruit notes.

The word "rich" can't be used enough in describing this whiskey. From my very first sip the first notes I wrote were "rich and oily."  That richness came in the form of those same dark fruit notes I was getting on the nose. It was a bit different though. There was a brighter fruit note but with a tart backbone, kind of like cranberry. I even got a bit of a red grape flavor. 

While it had those dark fruits, as well as that tannic wine note I got on the nose, the flavor actually gave way to a much wider array of notes. That dark fruit was layered over lighter but sweet notes of brown sugar and honey. I even got light notes of mint, which was an odd, yet pleasing combination.

That mint seemed to linger on the finish as well, along with a bright, citrusy orange note. The honey sweetness was also present on the finish, making for a great combination of otherwise unexpected flavors. That bright cranberry tartness also seemed to find its way into the finish from time to time.

This Scotch was surprising in that the nose had me expecting something much different than what I got out of the flavor. I thought this was going to be all wine note with some spice, but what I got was far more interesting, complex, and even brighter and lighter. This was a really fun and, more importantly, really tasty Scotch, and it's really no wonder that it went so fast once I got about halfway down.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Untitled Woodman's Private Barrel Selection 10-Year Calvados Finished Bourbon

- $80
- 121.2 Proof
- 10 years
- Barrel 1012
- Indiana

It seems as though for a short while there was a sort of flood of these Untitled barrel picks. I had picked one up at Binny's, had seen a few on shelves of other smaller liquor stores near me that appeared to be distributor picks, as well as this one from Woodman's (which I understand was one of at least two picks that Woodman's got in). 

There are a lot of positives about this bottle just going on face value, before even trying the whiskey inside. First, it's MGP bourbon. So that's a good start. Second, it's a 10-year old bourbon, so it's got some decent age to it. Third, it's a single barrel (which doesn't mean a whole lot, but people seem to favor those). Fourth, it's bottled at cask strength. And fifth, it's finished in Calvados barrels, something that appeals immensely to me! This bottle certainly had a lot going for it, so the price tag of $80 didn't actually seem all that prohibitive.

The most notable thing about this whiskey is that it is bold! This was apparent even from the nose. The aroma was strong, making its presence known a few feet away from the glass.  I was getting great, rich notes of peach and amaretto. It had a light oakiness to it, as well as a light peanut note as well. It even had a bit of the saltiness that comes with the peanut note. I also got a sort of a black tea note.

The flavor was likewise super rich. Right up front I got a ton of amaretto liqueur, as well as rich, dark fruit notes like fig and plum. It had a molasses type sweetness to it as well.  There as a bit of an oakiness in the flavor, just as in the nose, and that provided some tannic bitterness that kept the molasses sweetness from going too far.

I certainly got wine notes, something along the lines of a rich (I find myself using that word a lot here) Cabernet Sauvignon. I really got this on the finish, which was full of wine and black pepper spice. The finish was also fairly boozy, providing a good amount of heat as well as a sweet but charred burnt sugar note.

Everything about this was rich and full of flavor that absolutely smacked me in the mouth with each sip. However, the one knock I'd have on it is that the finish was so overpowering that the bourbon wasn't really allowed to shine through.  This was more like a syrupy, cask strength Calvados than it was a bourbon that received some influence from a Calvados barrel. That said, for what it was it was still really good!

Grade: B+

Monday, November 29, 2021

Yellowstone 2019 Limited Edition 9 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $100
- 101 Proof
- 9 years
- Kentucky

Limestone Branch had really been hitting homeruns lately with their Yellowstone bottlings. I've enjoyed every one of their annual limited edition releases, though I haven't tried this year's release. And the single barrel picks that only hit the market recently have all been very good, at least the ones I've tried. 

This bottle, however, is the cream of the crop, as the cool kids would say. There is no finishing to this whiskey. Instead, they just bottled some very delicious 9 year Kentucky straight bourbon.  It's not clear who actually distilled this bourbon, but it is clear that they didn't go with any gimmicks or other variants in the whiskey for this limited release, and what they gave us was an outstanding bourbon.

On the nose I got rich and delicious notes of toffee and dark chocolate. There was also a light cinnamon spice to it. In addition to that, however, I got a sort of a blackberry note that somehow seemed to go perfectly with the chocolate and toffee notes. Perhaps that's some kind of candy combination I need to try, because it was really good.

While the cinnamon was light on the nose, it was much more prominent on the palate. I got some nice, warming cinnamon spice as well as a sharper black pepper spice immediately on the tip of my tongue, and it lasted through the finish. 

As to actual flavor, the cinnamon spice came with a cinnamon flavor (if that makes sense), which was sweetened by vanilla bean and milk chocolate flavors--the kinds of flavors that are sweet but never too sweet. There was also something nutty and roasty, kind of like a hazelnut note.

At times it did go a touch sweeter, kind of like a caramel icing note. There was also a doughnut-like pastry note to it as well. However, again, it was never allowed to get too sweet, and even these notes were balanced out by a macchiato flavor that provided more of that roasty note and even a touch of bitterness to keep things even.

The finish was almost all sweet warm cinnamon and that vanilla bean flavor that seemed to work so well together. And the cinnamon and black pepper spices lingered long enough to keep me wanting that next sip.

When this was first released, I got to try it side by side with the Van Winkle Lot B 12 year old bourbon, and the consensus among the group of us was that this bourbon beat out the Van Winkle, and it didn't seem all that close. So when it suddenly hit the shelves again a year later, I had to have one. And then I had to drink that one. And now I have none, which makes me sad. But, I really enjoyed what was an incredible bourbon, and hopefully they'll go back to doing a simple but great bourbon in future Limited Edition releases. 

Grade: A

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Blanton's Red Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $150
- 93 Proof
- Barrel No. 85
- Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I've kept on my shelf for longer than I ever intended to. On Thanksgiving I finally decided that, after three years, it was time to finally finish off this bottle. Even then I still had some hesitation.

This was one of (if not the) first bottles I've ever purchased on secondary market. And that's only because, short of travelling to Japan, that was the only way I was getting a bottle. And once I had it, it became one of those bottles that was just fun to break out when company was over. Even the most casual bourbon drinker would have fun not only having some Blanton's, but having Blanton's that came from a red box with Japanese writing all over it. I write this all with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, of course, but it really was a fun one to break out from time to time, and so I rarely poured a glass while sitting on my couch any given night of the week.

The nose had that typical brown sugar, caramel and cinnamon combination that I usually get from the Buffalo Trace mashbill #2. Nothing really unexpected here, thought the caramel sweetness did at times lean more towards a darker molasses note. There was surprisingly a light woodiness to it as well.  I've never gotten indications of age with Blanton's before, but I certainly did on this one. 

The flavor was rich and sweet, and again right in line with my expectations. I got loads of brown sugar and caramel sweetness. It had almost a cookie-like quality to it in the flavor. There was also a sort of bread note, like a sweet bread, but definitely a bit of that yeast/grain note. 

What stood out, though, was the nice nuttiness that it had. Perhaps that's what I interpreted as a wood note on the nose, but it tasted like candied pecans and pie crust. Basically a pecan pie but without the goo.  That pecan note was accompanied by a boozy note, giving it almost a bourbon soaked pecan flavor, which I guess makes a lot of sense.

The body on this was fairly watery, more so than I've experienced in other bottles of Blanton's. Unfortunately, that led to a very short-lived finish. What was there on the finish were the caramel and brown sugar notes, and the vanilla seemed to come through a bit more. What wasn't there, though, was any sort of spice. The cinnamon from the nose was pretty nonexistent, particularly on the finish. 

All in all, this was a fun bottle to have on my shelf, but it didn't offer anything more than your standard bottle of Blanton's. I'm glad I tried it, but I won't be seeking any more of these out on the secondary market.

Grade: B

Friday, November 26, 2021

Old Forester Barrel Strength Single Barrel Rye Whiskey

- $90
- 128.2 Proof
- Whse. G, Fl. 3
- Kentucky

One thing that I've loved about the various barrel strength Old Forester bourbons that I've been lucky enough to come across is that they are a bolder and better version of Old Forester 100 proof for the most part, of course with variations from barrel to barrel. Certainly you pay a bit more, and they're not easy to find, but they deliver what you want out of such a product.

It wasn't that long ago that Old Forester released it's standard expression rye whiskey. That is a very nicely priced, and very delicious rye. However, I found it to be on the softer and the sweeter end of the rye whiskey spectrum. So when I found out about the release of the single barrel rye bottled at barrel strength, I wasn't sure exactly what I'd be getting, whether it'd just be a bolder and better version of their standard rye, or something very different. Well, I found it to be very different, though very good as well!

The nose was quite pungent, bull of rich and spicy cinnamon as well as a bold cherry note, like Maraschino cherries. There was a pastry note as well that leaned toward a cherry Danish aroma. I also got a little bit of anise or black licorice that added that sort of tangy quality you get from anise.  It also had some black pepper spice to it as well.  

The flavor was bold and punch, and it reminded me nothing of the standard Old Forester rye. This was a super cherry-forward rye. In fact, I got more cherry on this than I can ever recall getting from any other whiskey--rye, bourbon or otherwise. As the kids would say, this was a "cherry bomb." It wasn't that fake candy cherry, but it also wasn't that fresh-picked cherry note. It was more of a Luxardo cherry, dark and rich and almost syrupy.

I also got a light licorice note, much like I noticed on the nose. The cinnamon was there as well, along with a sweet caramel note. At times I noticed a sort of base layer of vanilla, but that note seemed to get crowded out fairly quickly.

On the finish, what I noticed most was the lack of alcohol burn. This rye came in at a pretty healthy proof, but it was far from a burner. Of course the pervasive cherry note was prominent on the finish as well, but that seemed to pair with a black pepper note and that caramel note to really leave a rich, slightly sweet and spicy finish.

This was one of the bolder and more punchy whiskeys I've had in a while, and what stood out the most was that strong cherry note. I have no idea why there was so much cherry influence here, but it was unmistakable.  I do wish it had a bit more going on, that other flavors were allowed some room inside as well. But, what was there was delicious and bold and, again, nothing like the standard Old Forester rye.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Sagamore Spirit Distiller's Select Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Armagnac Casks

- $80
- 113 Proof
- 4 years
- Finished 3 years, 1 month
- Indiana

This is one of those bottles that somehow went under the radar at least among the social media community of bourbon lovers/chasers.  That said, among my personal group of bourbon-loving friends, everyone who has tried this bottle has loved this bottle, has purchased their own bottle, and in a few cases, purchased multiple backups. 

This is a 4 year MGP rye that Sagamore then finished in Armagnac barrels. Now, that in and of itself is not novel or any reason to bat an eye. What's unique about this rye is the incredible length of time that it sat finishing in those Armagnac barrels. Usually I see barrels finished for anywhere from 3 months to 9 months. This one, though, was finished for 3 years and 1 month! That's an incredibly long finishing period, but here, it paid off!!

The nose was full of rich notes of molasses and raisin and dates. It also had a bread-like note to it, as well as an earthy, nutty note to it. It kind of reminded me of pecan pie (a must have at any Thanksgiving meal in my household).  There was also a light cinnamon spice to it, telling me that the rye wasn't completely buried by the Armagnac finish, and was still able to stand up on its own.

The Armagnac finish was immediately noticeable from the first sip. That influence was strong, but not overly done by any means. It was just as nutty and rich as the nose would indicate. I got the figs and raisins that I got off the nose, along with that nutty note. In a way it reminded me of bread pudding.

I also got that pecan pie note that I got off the nose. However, the sweet element wasn't so much of a molasses note, but rather sweet honey and caramel. Again, I feel like this is where the rye still held its own despite the extra-long finishing period. It even had a graham cracker flavor to complement those sweet notes and really round out that pecan pie note.

There was also the lightest salinity that I noticed, and when paired with the rich raisin and fig notes, reminded me a bit of bacon-wrapped dates. It sounds weird, but if you've ever had bacon wrapped dates, they have a sweet and rich and salty quality to them that makes for an amazing appetizer. As weird as it seems, I got a bit of that here, and it was delicious!

This rye also had a nice, oily texture which provided for a long finish that coated my mouth in those same rich, dark fruit notes. The fig and raisin was there, but there was also a sort of bright and flavorful blackberry note that came through. That was complemented by that cinnamon spice in a way that had me diving back for each next sip.

I wish I had been wise and purchased as many bottles of this stuff as I could. Unfortunately I'm not finding it anywhere any more. This was fantastic, and that extra long finishing did everything right by what was likely a very solid MGP rye to begin with.

Grade: A+

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Scotch Malt Whiskey Society Black Oak 8 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $95
- 100 Proof
- 8 years
- Speyside

For the past year I've enjoyed a membership to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a Christmas present I received last year. Well, "enjoyed" might not be the right word, as I actually haven't really purchased much through them. I find the bottles are certainly on the higher end from a price standpoint, shipping is also expensive, and each bottle seems to take forever to ship. So I really haven't taken advantage of the membership like I thought I would.

However, I did jump at the opportunity to purchase this particular bottle when it came around. While the distillery isn't disclosed, this is an 8 year Speyside single malt that was aged in first fill ex-bourbon barrels, and then "married" in Gascon black oak barrels that formally held Armagnac. I can't say I've had an Armagnac finished Scotch before, which is primarily what compelled me to purchase this particular bottle.

The nose was full of rich brown sugar and baking spices. It had a bit of nutmeg and a light not of cinnamon to it. There was a healthy amount of sweet tobacco leaf that seemed to pair with a candied orange note that I really enjoyed.  There was something else, though, that was bright and crisp but odd and out of place. It was a sort of melon note that was fleeting but kept coming back.

As to flavor, my first note was that it wasn't strong in flavor at all.  It was subtle and delicate. Given that my only experience with Armagnac finishes has been finished bourbons or ryes, I attributed it to that more than anything. But, I did wish I got more of the Armagnac influence than I did. That was what I came for, after all, but it just wasn't there. 

This whisky did have some bright notes of peach and pear, and later on I was getting delicious notes of apricot. This was all layered over a light brown sugar sweetness as well as a honey note. In fact, I even got a bit of orange marmalade at times.

In addition to those brighter, sweet fruit notes, I got something bready, almost like a spice cake. That, paired with the fruit notes, gave it a sort of baked peach flavor as well. It was rich, sweet and spicy all at once.  

However, it remained light and subtle in flavor, and I wished these flavors were a bit more bold. That would have provided for a bit more complexity.  I also wished that the Armagnac influence were more present. That is really where this one disappointed a bit.

Grade: B-

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Russell's Reserve Binny's Private Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Barrel No. 21-0888

- $60
- 110 Proof
- 8 1/2 years
- Barrel No. 21-0888
- Warehouse F
- Kentucky

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Russell's Reserve picks are always a must-buy for me whenever I see them!  As far as setting the bar, I've never had one that has been less than what I would consider "really good," and I have had some absolutely phenomenal bottles. I do happen to love Wild Turkey bourbon to start, but for some reason, I have never even come close to a clunker of a store pick on the Russell's Reserves.

It's been a while since Binny's has had some of these come in. I think prior to this one being released, there was one barrel that was released a couple months prior, which I never saw. Prior to that, I have no idea how long it had been. So I jumped at the opportunity of grabbing this one.

On the nose I got a bold, sweet and spicy mix of cinnamon and cherry. It also had some chocolate notes to it as well that, mixed with the alcohol fumes, gave it a sort of cherry cordial note. It also had a richness to it, as I was getting candied pecans, maple syrup, and even a bit of allspice.

The flavor leaned more towards the rich notes from the than the cherry notes. Cinnamon and nutmeg were the most forward notes. Backing those flavors was a creamy and sweet kind of nougat note along with a rich caramel note. Together it absolutely reminded me of a Milky Way candy bar, but without being sugary sweet.

It certainly leaned more sweet than spicy, though, with a little more sweetness than I get out of regular Russell's Reserve. However, there was still a soft and warm cinnamon spice as well as a nutty note that helped keep it balanced and from going over the edge into being too sweet.

The finish was interesting as there it turned to more of a cola flavor. The caramel notes really stuck around for quite a while after each sip. Eventually the cherry from the nose came through on the finish as well, and the finish had a certain Dr. Pepper quality. There was also something bright and almost citrusy on the finish, kind of like a bright orange note.

The best indicator of how much I like a whiskey is how fast I finish the bottle.  Of course there are some that are amazing, but that I hold onto and milk a bit due to rarity or sentimental value. But, for everything else, it's clear that I love a bottle when I finish it within a week of opening it, and that was the case here. I just kept going back to it because it was just so delicious. I only wish I had more!

Grade: A

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Buck 8 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $30
- 90 Proof
- 8 years
- Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I'm sure I've looked at on the shelf and didn't give a second thought at least a dozen times. Let's be honest here, the name of the brand itself doesn't exactly scream "Buy me!" Simply "Buck" lacks any sort of draw to the label. And the label design doesn't help either. The relatively monotone label with a monochromatic picture of a horse "bucking" made it really easy to pass on this whiskey over and over again.

But, one day my trusted local liquor store manager recommended this whiskey to me, completely unsolicited. Now, under certain circumstances, that may just be a ploy to sell some slow-moving product. But, that wasn't the case here. He gave me tasting notes that tole me he genuinely backed his recommendation. On top of that, this is still an 8 year old whiskey, out of Kentucky and bottled by independent bottler Frank-Lin Distillers. I'm not sure where it's sourced from, but I figured it could only be so bad, and it only cost me $30 to find out.

The nose had those traditional notes of caramel and cinnamon. What set it apart, however, was a nice peach note, almost like a peach tea. It also had a wheat note that reminded me of the smell of wheat bread, even with that yeast note to it.

The cinnamon certainly crossed over to the palate. But, it wasn't that spicy cinnamon that I'm used to in my bourbon. Rather, it was sweet and backed by a distinct cereal note. In fact, in my notes I wrote down that it reminded me a bit of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. There was just a touch of spice up front, but it wasn't a cinnamon spice. Rather, it was more along the lines of a black pepper spice that I noticed right on the tip of my tongue.

I still got that peach note that I got on the nose, which was nice. The cereal note persisted as well, but in later pours it was more crackery, kind of like wheat thins. It also had some nice vanilla notes that seemed to become more prominent with each pour.

The finish was interesting in that it seemed to go a whole different direction. There I got a light citrus note--not quite lemon or orange, but somewhere in between. I also got some notes of banana as well as cherry pie filling. That sweetness was tempered a bit by the black pepper spice that finished it all off.  The finish sort of threw me a curveball, as the flavors there seemed to almost come out of nowhere.

For $30, it was well worth it to take a flyer on this bourbon. It was tasty, fun and interesting, even if the flavors didn't quite seem to complement each other, and even if it was a bit grain forward. I'd certainly recommend that you give it a go, particularly for the price, and ignore the unappealing (to me) label.

Grade: B

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Old Forester Gold Eagle Wine & Spirits Single Barrel Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $85
- 125.3 Proof
- 6.5 years
- Kentucky

Certain liquor stores in the Chicagoland area not named Binny's have managed to make a name for themselves as far as having good whiskey selections and getting good store picks. Antioch Liquors is one of those stores that's on my short list of places that I need to check out. But, it's way up north from me and not really on my way to much of anything, so unless I'm making a separate trip, I have no reason to head that way. And so it remains on my short list.

However, I saw a Facebook post a while back that they got these Old Forester single barrel picks in. Luckily for me, I have a buddy who lives in the area and was kind enough to run over there, pretty much at the drop of a dime, just to grab one of these bottles for me.  What's funny is he was told the owner had to put some bottles in back because a bunch of people from Wisconsin came looking for them. This, apparently, was one of those bottled tucked in back.

The nose on this one was a bit corn forward and sweet. It had a bit of a corn syrup note to it. It also has something rich and almost tangy, like amaretto with a light cinnamon note. It also had a sort of sawdust note and even a slight yeasty smell to it. It reminded me of a cinnamon pastry, perhaps like a cinnamon roll but without the icing.

I realize as I typed that out that it isn't the greatest sounding nose. That's fair. But, it's the flavor that really matters, and here, the flavor was pretty spot on.  I got this bright, almost sour cherry note. It was that natural cherry as opposed to the fake cherry note that I get sometimes and really don't enjoy.

That sour cherry note was balanced out by a brown sugar sweetness. It also had a cinnamon note that reminded me of cloves, but sweeter. There was also a light char note to this bourbon, which only further supported that cloves note with that added char/smoky quality.

The finish was almost all amaretto. I was wondering where that was from the nose, and on the finish it made its appearance. It was rich and spicy, with a sweet tanginess that I absolutely loved. It even had that sort of almond extract flavor to it, which is a flavor I happen to love, though I know is not for everyone.

This was a very complex, interesting and tasty bourbon. The sawdust on the nose and sour cherry up front were certainly . . . different. But, they weren't bad by any means and added a layer of complexity and made for an interesting pour. I really enjoyed this, and I may need to send my mule-buddy for more of their picks!

Grade: B+

Monday, November 1, 2021

Carl T. Huber's Fox Valley Whiskey Society Single Barrel Bourbon Finished in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels


- $80
- 115.2 Proof
- 4 1/2 years
- Barrel No. FB092-2
- Indiana

This is the second private barrel pick I've grabbed from the Fox Valley Whiskey Society, the first being a Sonoma Distilling Rye. Admittedly, I was significantly more excited for this particular pick.  I've pretty much loved everything coming out of Starlight Distillery. They've been in the distilling game longer than most people realize, and it shows in their product.

I tend to be more partial to their rye. It really hits all the right notes as far as what I like in a spicy and right rye. But, I've learned that I love their bourbons as well. So when the opportunity came for a privately selected barrel of their bourbon that was finished in cabernet sauvignon barrels, I was all for it!  While I haven't really found a cabernet-finished bourbon yet that I've fallen in love with, I figured if there was one that might, it'd be this one.

As would be expected from a Cabernet finished bourbon, the nose was full of rich, dark fruit. I got notes of plum and fig, maybe even a bit of blueberry. However, the bourbon also really stood out, as the caramel and even a bit of vanilla shone through just as well, though without the usual sweetness.

However, the flavor was certainly sweeter than expected, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I've always found that Cabernet finishes could benefit from a bit more sweetness. Here, those fruit notes really provided that.  I got a lot of blackberry on this one. Rather than the rich fig notes, this was a brighter, sweeter note.

I also got some blueberry notes and even a grape note. It had that jammy flavor, but without that overt sweetness that I always associate with that word "jammy."  

Much like the nose, it had plenty of those toffee and caramel notes as well. I didn't get much vanilla, but that rich toffee, along with a light milk chocolate note, had the whole thing feeling like some sort of blackberry Heath bar, which isn't a thing but really should be.

On the finish I got a bit of a peppery spice--the only time that any spice really seemed to kick in. It also had a tannic note to it, which was okay given that the "jammy" notes seemed to be kicked up on the finish and needed that balance. Those sweet fruit notes came on strong on the finish, with the plum reappearing as well as a rich and sweet cherry pie filling note.

This was an adventure of a whiskey, and it was probably the best cabernet-finished bourbon I've ever had.  It had just that little bit of added sweetness that I've found others lacking, and yet it never got too sweet, which I appreciated.  This was an excellent pick by the Fox Valley Whiskey Society!

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 28, 2021

FEW 10th anniversary Four Grain Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 93 Proof
- Illinois

I've had a love/hate relationship with FEW Spirits out of Evanston, though hate is certainly not the right word here.  What I mean by that is that I have always loved FEW's rye whiskey. I think it is great and well-deserving of all the accolades that it has received over the years. But, I have not had that same love for their bourbons. I've found in the past that their bourbon tends to be grain forward and often has that overripe apple note that I get in young whiskeys.

So, when a buddy of mine picked up this bottle and told me it was very good and that I should give it a try, I was skeptical. I've been there and done that, or so I thought. But, he insisted and my intrigue ended up getting the best of me.  At $45, the cost wasn't prohibitive, and given that it was a limited bottling and that I haven't had FEW bourbon in a few years, I figured I'd go ahead and give it a try. Quite frankly, I'm really glad I did!

The nose was soft and pleasant, filled with a nice blend of malt and chocolate. It had a touch of sweet tobacco leaf as well as a sort of graham cracker note. On top of that, it also had a black pepper spice to add something sharp to the otherwise soft aroma.

As to the flavor, I was immediately hit with toffee and chocolate, sweet and rich. It had a nice oily texture that made it sweet and soft, but not watered down at all. I also got a bit of cherry that even leaned towards a cloves note, even with that slightly smoky lean to it. It also had a strong brown sugar backbone that added to the rich and sweet character. And yet it never got too sweet.

On later pours the brown sugar seemed to come forward even more, almost becoming a molasses note. It had a bit of an oatmeal cookie flavor to it, and the last few pours reminded me more of a good Canadian whiskey than a bourbon.

The finish seemed to really highlight the cloves note, with that mix of cinnamon, cherry and smoke. Between that and the brown sugar, I feel like could have basted a ham with this whiskey, but that would be wasteful.

I'm so glad I decided to give this whiskey a try. It was sweet without ever getting to be too sweet, and it had a lot of depth and interesting notes throughout to make it unique on top of being delicious. And it did not have any of those grain-forward notes or overripe apple notes of a young whiskey. I have no idea how old this whiskey is, but it wasn't lacking for time in the barrel.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Glen Scotia Double Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $50
- 92 Proof
- Campbeltown

Here I am once again dipping back into Campbeltown malts. I've found my love for the region, and ever since I've been getting my hands on what I could to try as much of it as I possibly can.  This particular bottle was an easy one for me. It's a regular on the shelves, and it's not price-prohibitive, as I've found other Campbeltown malts tend to be. 

I first opened this particular bottle during an at-home date night with my wife.  I had a charcuterie board with all sorts of meats and cheeses to enjoy, and I paired that with three different whiskeys, a bourbon, a Japanese whisky, and this Glen Scotia Double Cask.  That was quite a while ago, and I remember at that time feeling that this was good but didn't quite get to great. It got put in a box and left on my shelf untouched for a few months, and when I went back to it, I found I enjoyed it immensely more than when I first opened it. 

Although this is finished in both American oak and Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks, the Sherry didn't come through nearly as much as I expected. On the nose I got notes of brown sugar and leather, as well as a sweet tobacco aroma. There was a bit of allspice in the mix, as well as a bit of salinity to it. I didn't get that bright raspberry that I typically associate with Sherry casks, but instead I got kind of an orange marmalade note.

The first notes I jotted down when I first tasted this Scotch were brown sugar and a slight brine note. It had that sweet and salty character to it. It also had more of an earthiness than I expected given the Sherry finish, and it reminded me of a whole wheat bread.

Throughout the bottle it had a decent spice to it, with black pepper providing a bit of bite. It also had a decent amount of oak influence, as well as a cinnamon note. It wasn't until later pours that a certain smokiness came through, but that smoky flavor came across as sweet, oddly enough. It was like a smoky caramel note that I really enjoyed.

The finish was great. I got notes of caramelized banana balanced by that black pepper spice. It also had this sort of buttery quality on the finish, both in texture and flavor. Finally, it was on the finish, particularly on the last few pours, that the sherry notes seemed to finally make themselves known. I got this sort of rich, dark raspberry note. Not bright like fresh raspberries, but almost like wine-soaked raspberries. It was really good, and I wished that this flavor had made its presence known sooner.

Overall I ended up really enjoying this whiskey, even if it didn't really move the needle at first. It certainly hasn't detracted me from pursuing more Campbeltown malts!

Grade: B

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Batch V

- $90
- 100 Proof
- Blend of 13-16 years
- Indiana

The last few Remus Repeal Reserves that I've had the pleasure of tasting have been absolutely fantastic. I bought a bottle of Batch III and loved it! And I've had the pleasure of getting to try Batches I and IV.  To me, this release seems to get better with each year, so when Batch V hit the shelves, I knew I was going to be grabbing a bottle.

As with previously releases, this is a blend of older whiskeys, and I love that they put the details of the blend right on the front label.  For this release, it's a blend of a 16 year 21% rye bourbon, a 15 year 36% rye bourbon, a 15 year 21% rye bourbon, a 13 year 36% rye bourbon and a 13 year 21% rye bourbon, the last of which comprises 54% of the blend. Given today's market, and given my love for MGP, even at $90, this seemed like a great price for a well-aged, decently proofed bourbon, and its track record certainly boosts that feeling.

The nose provided some all-too familiar notes that I love in my bourbon. I got a nice amount of spice, with cinnamon and even a little bit of black pepper. There was also this pastry note, kind of like a sweeter pie crust. I also got some dark chocolate with a little bit of toffee thrown in the mix. It wasn't a very strong aroma off my glass, but what was there was delicious.

The flavor was, quite frankly, very much what I expected. It started with a sweet but hot cinnamon note. It was kind of like cinnamon candy, but without that artificial flavor, if that makes sense. Right up front I also got notes of caramel and brown sugar, which certainly had this bourbon leaning toward the sweeter end of the spectrum.

After it opened up a bit, I was able to get some of those richer notes that I got on the nose. That pastry note came through, as did the chocolate note, but, of course, it was sweeter, more like a milk chocolate than a dark chocolate. Any bitter notes I got on the nose were not present here. In a way it kind of reminded me of a chocolate croissant.

The finish was somewhat thin and short-lived. I wish it lasted a bit longer, as it was full of cinnamon and salted caramel, a combination that really worked here. While it remained sweet, the cinnamon heat and that touch of salinity seemed to provide balance to that sweetness. The finish was my favorite part of what was already a really damn good whiskey.

This blend is very much in my wheelhouse of flavors I love in a bourbon. There's nothing crazy different about it, or any unique flavors thrown in the mix. Rather, it's just a well-made and well-blended bourbon full of rich, dessert-like notes throughout.  My only real knock is that it leans sweet, but that didn't stop me from loving it!

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch No. A119

- $60
- 135.2 Proof
- 12 Years
- Batch No. A119
- Kentucky

This is one of those bottles I pick up whenever I see it on a shelf at the right price. I don't go out of my way to track them down as they're released, but I certainly don't pass them by whenever I do see one out on display or on the shelf. Of course sometimes I do pass them up due to price. And I haven't run across every release.

I have, however, managed to get the "A" batch, the first release of the year, for the past three years. Having developed that sort of backlog of three bottles, a couple weeks ago I finally decided it was time to open one of them up. And so, I started with the oldest one first. The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof certainly isn't super rare, but it's rare enough that I generally don't pop them open just to sit on my couch at home by myself. This one was somewhat of an exception to that rule.

The nose came across as a bit spicy. And I'm not just talking about the alcohol burn, which certainly was there as well. Rather, I got a lot of cinnamon, the spicy kind, mixed with chocolate. It reminded me of Mexican chocolate, with that chili or cayenne spice, but not the pepper flavor. I also got notes of dark cherry as well as a light note of cloves on the nose.

The flavor didn't necessarily match the nose, which I was okay with.  Up front it was all caramel. In fact, when it first hit my tongue I was thinking it might be a "caramel bomb" as the kids on the internet might say. But, shortly behind that I got waves of other, rich and sort of sweet flavors, including a great, rich amaretto note, followed by that same dark cherry I got on the nose. 

It did have a nice, warm cinnamon spice to it, but not the heat I was getting on the nose. It didn't accompany a chocolate note either. Rather, it was more paired with the caramel note on the front end, as well as a pecan pie filling type of note.

The finish brought yet another wave of flavor. The nice viscosity of the bourbon left a sweet coating of butterscotch in my mouth and at the back of my throat. But, there was also a distinct nutmeg flavor that seemed to stick around, along with just some remnants of that cinnamon heat.

This wasn't the best Elijah Craig Barrel Proof I've had, and yet I can still say it was delicious and absolutely worth grabbing off the shelf. I may have to crack into the next one sooner than later!

Grade: B+

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Buffalo Trace Binny's Small Batch Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch #29

- $27
- 90 Proof
- Batch #29
- Kentucky

I feel like Buffalo Trace store picks used to be more plentiful.  There were many times where I'd walk into a random store for the first time and, even though the selection may be slim, there would be a Buffalo Trace store pick available, and, of course, that's what I'd grab and bring home.

Recently, though, I don't see these anywhere. And when I do, they're treated like a limited release. They're either limited to one per person or even kept off the shelf altogether. And when they are put out on the shelves, they seem to be cleared out with relative quickness. I don't need to go on about the demand for Buffalo Trace. That's fairly well known among the bourbon company, whether justified or not. I'm more just commenting on the fact that I miss seeing Buffalo Trace store picks, typically a good value and something unique on the shelf, with a bit more regularity. 

As for this particular pick that I grabbed at Binny's a few months back, I was a big fan of the nose. I got a good amount of cinnamon and dark chocolate together, giving it a certain richness I don't typically expect from Buffalo Trace. It also had a graham cracker quality along with some toasted marshmallow notes, giving it a sort of amped up s'mores note.

The flavor, while in that same ballpark, wasn't quite the amped up s'mores I got on the nose. Right away I got chocolate, caramel and peanut. It was a bit like a Snickers in this respect, but with a significant amount of cinnamon spice. There's a brewery near me called Pollyanna, and one of their staples is a milk stout called Fun Size, which is intended to taste a bit like a Snickers. This bourbon reminded me of that beer (which I love, by the way).

The cinnamon spice seemed to push its way in throughout, and while those other dessert-like flavors were present, it was the cinnamon note that seemed to hog the spotlight. Later on I also got a sort of hazelnut note, perhaps what previously came across as peanut. I'm not a huge hazelnut fan, but I could see where others would love this.

The finish was really good, though. That hazelnut note didn't seem to stick around, but rather it was all dark chocolate and cinnamon, bringing me right back to what I first noticed on the nose. It had a rich spiciness that I had only wished lasted a bit longer, as the finish was relatively short-lived.  All in all, though, I thought this was delicious and yet another justification for grabbing Buffalo Trace picks whenever I see them, even though they appear to be becoming more scarce.

Grade: B+

Friday, October 8, 2021

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 106.8 Proof

- $60
- 106.8 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I love the Willett Family Estate Small Batch Rye! Any time I see it on the shelf, so long as it's not marked up as I've seen, I always grab one. Of course I try to make sure it's a new batch before I bring it home with me. I have to justify writing a review of the same product over and over again somehow, and the variety in batches allows me to do just that.

I wish I had some backstory here, but I've managed to amass a backlog of these bottlings as a result of the above-described behavior. I'm not sure where I picked this one up, but I can confidently say I got it at the expected price, which is unfortunately more than it was just a couple years ago, but that's the world we're living in.  All I know is that going in I already knew I was going to love it, because I haven't found one yet that I don't. So, take this incredibly biased review with a grain of salt, because I'm not going to have much bad to say at all.

The nose was a bit different than past bottlings. It had the pine and brown sugar that seems to be a staple of these ryes. It also had the cinnamon spice that I've come to expect, as well as more of a black pepper to kick the spice level up a bit. What set it apart, though, was a rich coffee note. I can't recall getting that aroma from previous bottles, but it was certainly there.  And as a heavy coffee drinker, I found it very much to my liking.  

As to flavor, this was certainly more on the expected side. I got a very healthy amount of sweet cinnamon, coupled with a strong brown sugar note. It was very pastry or dessert-like in this respect. It also had the pine notes from the nose, which seemed to mingle with a rich candied-cherry note. 

The finish was where the spice came through, providing not only the cinnamon spice, but also that black pepper spice I got from the nose, which seemed to linger at the back of my throat. The finish was certainly spicy and sweet all at once, with those spicy notes mixing with the cherry, reminding me of a Dr. Pepper, a flavor which stuck around long after each swallow.

I wished the coffee from the nose had made its way to the palate. That could have been incredible. That said, I was far from wanting with this one. In fact, despite being on the lower end of the proof scale for these WFE ryes, this was one of the better batches I could recall. The balance of sweet and spicy was on point, the pine was more muted than in previous bottles I've had and I loved the pastry note that really came forward.  Of course there's some recency bias there, but it was (of course) delicious!

Grade: A

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Barton 1792 Kirkland Signature Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $26 (1 L)
- 100 Proof
- min. 4 years
- Kentucky

Costco has always been a great place to find value in whiskey. Even the regular stuff that you see on shelves everywhere else tends to be discounted to some extent. However, the true value lies within their Kirkland Signature branded whiskeys. At least, that is certainly the case with their Scotches, which in the past have been pretty well-aged and rumored to be sourced from Macallan, among other distilleries.

However, just recently they announced the release of three bourbons all sourced from Barton 1792. Even better, rather than hide the source as with most of their house-branded products, Costco decided to clearly and conspicuously state right on the label where this bourbon is coming from. And in this case, it's Barton 1792 bottled-in-bond, packaged in a 1 liter bottle, and sold for a mere $26!! Given that regular Barton 1792 bottled-in-bond is twice that price for less whiskey, this is already a steal of a deal before I even had a sip.

The nose gave off very traditional notes of cinnamon and almond. It had a certain maple syrup sweetness to it, though, leaning away from your typical caramel or toffee notes. There was also something bright and crisp to the nose, kind of like fresh orange peel. All in all this had a solid nose, one that invited you in for a sip.

As to flavor, the first thing I noticed was this warm cinnamon note right up front. That cinnamon note hit the tip of the tongue and carried all the way through to the finish. It provided a nice coating of both sweet and spice, and really complemented the proof, giving it some kick without a bunch of the heat.

Aside from the cinnamon, I also got sweeter notes of chocolate and brown sugar. In this respect it had somewhat of a cookie-like quality. There were other spices beyond the cinnamon that seemed to come through as well, including a clove note that added a sort of tanginess to it, as well as an allspice note that gave it some richness and depth. At times it reminded me of a spiced cider.

The finish was all cinnamon and brown sugar though. There was no mistaking it. At times it reminded me of a cinnamon roll, but only if that cinnamon roll has no frosting and is very heavy on the cinnamon and brown sugar . . . so not really like a cinnamon roll, I guess.

Overall, this is the best value in whiskey right now. As mentioned above, you get a full liter of Barton 1792 bourbon, bottled in bond so you get decent proof and age, and for only $26. And the best part is that for my money this was right on par with the regular Barton 1792 bottled in bond that runs you twice the price for less bourbon.   That incredibly value certainly adds to the grade I'm giving this bourbon.

Grade: A-

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Four Roses Single Barrel Meier Private Selection Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OBSF

- $75
- 107.4 Proof
- 9 years, 11 mos.
- Kentucky

This bottle is kind of a weird one. I was talking with a neighbor one day and he told me that a mutual friend of ours had picked up a cask strength Four Roses single barrel at Meier. Knowing that the only way that could be the case would be if it were a store pick, and doubting that Meier, of all places, would have a Four Roses private barrel, I texted my friend for a picture. What he sent me was equally strange.

While it certainly was a Four Roses Private Selection, it didn't indicate in any way who it was selected by. The label just read, "Specially Selected By" and immediately below that was a cartoon drawing of a barrel on its side. No indication as to who this was selected by or for. That said, when I was next in Meier, I couldn't help myself, and I went to the liquor store aisle, and there, pushed all the way to the back of the shelf, was one remaining bottle. I took a look, saw the OBSF mashbill and the 9 years, 11 months age statement, and I figured, "What the hell!" At the very least I was curious about this mystery selection.

The nose seemed to have a significant cereal note to it, as well as a healthy amount of cinnamon. It was kind of like cinnamon Cheerios, or even Cinnamon Toast Crunch but with the sugar dialed down a bit. I also got a light chocolate note along with a light peanut note. There was also a bright but slightly bitter orange peel note on the nose as well.

The first note that I got when I took my first sip was an Old Fashioned. The cherry was right up front, with more of that Maraschino cherry flavor. I also got that same orange peel note that I was getting on the nose. It even had a bit of a splash of cola, which really seemed, for some reason, to round out that Old Fashioned note. 

There was a bit of an odd note that I got as well, something like a cleaning solvent. My mind went right to that stuff you use to clean wood that smells like orange, but I've never actually tried tasting that, so I'm not sure if that's a fair comparison or not.  It's what I'd imagine that stuff tastes like.  It wasn't a strong note, but it was there.

On later pours the cherry and cinnamon really seemed to take center stage. The cinnamon always remains sweet with a light spice, kind of like cinnamon cereal, I guess.  The cherry note, however, seemed to stray from that great Maraschino flavor to more of an artificial cherry candy flavor. I know many people like this note, but I'm not among them. 

Unfortunately, on the finish that cherry candy note came across as more of a cherry cough syrup or cough drop that seemed to linger, particularly in the back of my throat. This was certainly a bit of a turnoff to me, and I was surprised that this note seemed to develop toward the end. It's not often that I get a bottle that seemed to taste worse on the last few pours than on the first few, but this was one. That said, the mystery behind it still intrigues me, and I know if given the chance I'd do it all over again.

Grade: B-

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Pursuit United Blended Straight Bourbon

- $60
- 108 Proof
- Kentucky/Tennessee

Pursuit Spirits is the creation of Ryan and Kenny, the hosts of the Bourbon Pursuit podcast. I've been listening to these guys for years.  I distinctly remember the first episode I listened to was Episode 15, released on May 27, 2015 -- Party Planning the Bourbon Trail with Mint Julep Tours, Sean Higgins. It was this episode that prompted me to book two days of bourbon tours with Mint Julep Tours when I visited Kentucky for the first time.

Since then I've pretty much listened to every episode, obviously some not as good as others. But, it's become a really good source of bourbon information as well as entertainment. When they first got into releasing their own line, which they made available to Patreon members, I was certainly intrigued, but I never got my hands on a bottle. This Pursuit United, however, has fairly wide distribution. So, when it made its way onto liquor store shelves by me, I felt I had to give it a try.

On the nose I got a decent amount of oak, along with some cinnamon spice. At times the oak note seemed to lean towards nutmeg. There was a certain sweetness to it, like sugar cane. Weirdly enough, I also got the smell of bran muffins, with hints of orange and cherry along for the ride. This had a bit of a weird nose, and it seemed a bit schizophrenic.

The flavor didn't come across quite so weird, thankfully.  Right up front I got the spicy cinnamon. However, the sweetness up front wasn't sugar cane, but rather was a light toffee sweetness, rich and soft and not so in your face. That was balanced by a bit of anise, adding a little tanginess to the mix

I also got a slight salinity, though I'm not sure where that would have come from. As weird as it sounds, though, it kind of worked, as I also got an underlying peanut note throughout. In fact, on later pours that peanut note seemed to be even more prominent.

On the finish the saltiness was more prominent, but rather than peanuts it seemed to accompany a sweet corn note, and even a candied apple flavor. The finish seemed to go in a bit of a different direction in that respect. This bourbon was kind of all over the place in flavor (and aroma), but overall it was sweet with decent spice and pretty good, even if it came across as a weird mish mosh of flavors.

Grade: B

Monday, September 13, 2021

Savage & Cooke Digits Bourbon Whiskey

- $70
- 92 Proof
- 5 years
- California

I've grown a bit weary of celebrity whiskeys. It seems as though every time I turn around, there's another one being release, whether it's from Terry Bradshaw, Peyton Manning, Drake or Bob Dylan, and even John Wayne. But, the '90's Chicago Bulls fan in my was nonetheless excited to see Scottie Pippen with his own brand.  Working with Savage & Cooke out in California, Digits was released, a five year old California Bourbon.

I'm not sure if I would have gotten around to purchasing a bottle or not. I'd like to think that I would have. But, thanks to a very generous friend, I never had to get to that point. Also a big '90's Bulls fan, he made it a point to make an hour-plus drive to see Scottie in person and get not just one bottle signed, but two, with me being the lucky beneficiary of that second bottle! So, not only do I get the keepsake of the signed bottle, but I got to try the whiskey itself as well!

When I took my first whiff off the glass, I struggled to find the aroma. It was fairly soft, but what I did get was fairly corn centric. I got kind of that cornmeal and certainly a cornbread note. It also had some caramel sweetness to it. There was a bit of a fruit note, like plum, but with a touch of sourness.

While I found the nose to be somewhat soft, a lot of what I was getting there carried over to the flavor. My first two notes were plum and caramel corn. It sounds like a weird combination, and it kind of was. The caramel provided some sweetness to counter the light sour but sweet note of the plum. That was all underscored by the grain-forward note I was getting, a popcorn-like note.

On the finish some cinnamon spice came through. The corn note lingered, but I also got a certain peanut quality, and even an almond note. It was perhaps that almond note that gave off a cinnamon liqueur note at times. 

On the last few pours, the cinnamon seemed to come forward more, but that corn grain note never went away. Oddly enough, it developed what was almost a garlic note towards the last few pours, and I had a hard time getting past that. It wasn't terrible tasting or anything, but rather was just a bit weird.

In the end this probably wasn't for me. I do love that this bottle was gifted to me, and that I've got an empty bottle signed by Scottie Pippen as a keepsake. But the flavor, while never bad, was just a bit odd. The flavors just didn't seem to work cohesively with one another, resulting in some weird combinations.

Grade: C+

Monday, September 6, 2021

Bunnahabhain Toiteach a Dha Islay Single Malt Scotch

- $65
- 92.6
- Islay

As it is, I can barely pronounce "Bunnahabhain," and I'm sure I'm still pronouncing it wrong. I certainly still don't know how to pronounce "Toiteach a Dha." But, this particular bottle came highly recommended by my local liquor store guy when he learned of my interest in fruity peat -- peated Scotches finished in wine barrels. 

This particular bottling was finished in Sherry casks, and this is supposed to have greater sherry influence than normal Bunnahabhain (perhaps I should have started there, but oh well).  Either way, it's yet another example of a smoky Islay Scotch finished in fortified wine casks, and I couldn't wait to try another example of peat meets sweet with this Sherry finish.

The nose was, of course, smoky, giving off a bit of barbecue and char. I really didn't get as much of the Sherry that I had hoped to. Rather, what I noticed was something earthy and funky, like the smell of camping in the rain. Later on I did get a nice cherry note, like a fresh cherry off the tree. Perhaps that was the Sherry that I was missing before.

As to flavor, the peat notes certainly hit right up front, but that was immediately balanced out by the Sherry, with bright notes of raspberry and cherry mingling with the peat smoke. This is what I was looking for! 

The raspberry had a bit of a jammy quality to it. It was sweet and rich like a raspberry donut filling. That raspberry also provided a light tartness, and on later pours I was getting a sweetened cranberry note. While it definitely was sweeter, it also had a char note that was a bit like burnt sugar. The peat smoke did provide a bit of that band-aid note that can turn people off, but here it wasn't strong nor off-putting.

The finish let that sweet, fruity smoke linger for a decent while, and it's on the finish that a certain salinity came through. In a way that finish had me yearning for the next sip.  This was in many ways what I love about wine finished, peated Scotches. The only criticisms I had were very minor, and I'd certainly go back to this one in a heartbeat.

Grade: B+

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Jeppson's Binny's Select Cognac Finished Cask Strength Single Barrel Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 119.3 Proof
- 5 Years
- Barrel No. C1
- Indiana

These Jeppson's bourbons are interesting to me. Around Chicago, people are very familiar with Jeppson's Malort, and usually for all the wrong reasons. Despite that negative association, though, CH Distilling elected to release a bourbon that is branded almost exactly like Malort. So, even though it's a completely different spirit, it nonetheless has that association.

That said, what I've had of Jeppson's bourbon so far I've enjoyed. It is MGP bourbon, after all (though they've also sourced from Tennessee), so I guess that's not entirely unexpected. And when Binny's got a cask strength single barrel finished in Cognac casks, of course I was going to give that a try. I do love cognac finishes, and I certainly love them at cask strength!

The aroma was very nutty, full of a pecan or walnut type of note. It also had a sweet and rich cooked peach note as well as a bit of a cinnamon spice. It was kind of like a cobbler. I also got notes of fig and raisin, as well as a bit of a bready note that, with the cinnamon and pecan, gave it a sort of raisin bread aroma.

The flavor very much followed suite, particularly with the cobbler notes  Right up front I got sort of a brown sugar and butter note, sweet and rich. I also got the baked peach as well as some baked pear along with some cinnamon and pecan. It was very much like a warmed up dessert, the kind that would go great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

At times I also got sort of a burnt orange note, perhaps better described as a muted orange note combined with burnt sugar. I also got a pretty good amount of raisin throughout, again following suit with the nose.

On the finish I got orange liqueur and even more cinnamon. I also got a bit of a peanut note, certainly different than the nutty notes I was getting on the nose. This was a bit less woody and a touch sweeter. I also got the raisin that persisted throughout.

I love Cognac finishes because of that rich, dessert-like quality they add. While it's sweet, it's not sugary like rum finishes. Rather, they tend to have more depth and richness along with a ton of different flavors to be pulled. This bottle was no different. Once I finally opened it, I made my way to the bottom of the bottle fairly quickly.

Grade: B+

Friday, September 3, 2021

Barrell Seagrass Rye Whiskey Finished in Martinique Rum, Madeira and Apricot Brandy Barrels


- $90
- 118.4 Proof
- Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee & Canada

This is an interesting bottling, and one that I was on the fence about buying, quite honestly. There's a lot going on here.  Not only is this a blended rye sourced from Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Canada, but the finishes are kind of crazy and unique. It all sounds like it would make for a very sweet, almost sugary whiskey, particularly with the Madeira and apricot brandy finishes. What makes this interesting, though, is the Martinique Rum finish.

I've had rum Agricole one time in my life. It was very well-aged, and I absolutely hated it. It wasn't a sweet rum, and to me it had the very distinct taste of burning paper. The idea of a whiskey finished in such a barrel certainly did not appeal to me. However, I know that the Agricole influence wouldn't be anywhere close to what I tasted then, and the fact that it doesn't necessarily lend to the sweetness told me it might actually help temper the influence of the Madeira and apricot brandy barrels. In the end, the intrigue got the best of me, and I decided to give this one a try.

Not unexpectedly, the nose was very sweet up front, with the apricot being very noticeable, particularly dried apricots. I also got a bit of sweet orange peel. But, behind those sweet citrus notes was a layer of smoke, I'm guessing from the Agricole rum finish, that oddly worked very well with the apricot. It also had a bit of a black pepper spice to it to remind me that this is a rye whiskey.

On my first sip, my initial thought was, "Holy apricot!"  It was nearly all I could taste on the tip of my tongue, this strong apricot jam flavor. It was very tasty, but it was also very sweet and almost syrupy in flavor. I also got some baked apple and a bit of a pie crust note, which was very enjoyable, but again, very much on the sweet side.

The sweetness, however, isn't necessarily a sugary type of sweetness. It comes across more as rich and jammy. I got a pastry note that reminded me of an apricot Danish, with a bit of a powdered sugar icing kind of flavor to follow.

Beyond these sweet citrus and pastry notes, though, I did get notes of pine and cinnamon, again reminding me that the base grain here is definitely rye. Also, I didn't get it at first, but about halfway through the bottle I started noticing this smoky note that I really enjoyed. It added another layer and a bit more complexity. Plus, the smoke was delicious with the apricot. I've never had smoked apricot before, but if I were to try it, my hope would be that it comes out tasting like this.

While this was a very sweet rye, it nonetheless scratched a certain itch. Sometimes I get in the mood for something on the sweeter side, and this whiskey found a bit of balance with the spice of the rye and that funk from the Martinique rum barrel influence. I found that I really liked it for something different and unique, and I would absolutely get this again.

Grade: B+