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+

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Eagle Rare Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select "Sky" Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- 40
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 004
- Kentucky

I've got a little bit of a back-stock of Eagle Rare store picks, including a few from Warehouse Liquors, which is a good thing because Eagle Rare picks seem to have dried up a bit. I can't remember the last time I heard of any of my shops getting one in. For that reason, I've been hesitant to open the ones I have.

However, about a month ago I did the obligatory Yellowstone road-trip with the kids, and we stayed in Idaho with family friends, one of which is my old drinking buddy before we both moved. So, I figured vacation is as good of a reason as any to grab one of my Eagle Rare store picks, among a few other bottles, to open and enjoy with good company.  While I identified this as "Sky" in the title, this is not the original "Sky" (Barrel No. 196) that has the almost cult following. This one was released in 2019.

The nose was more or less what I expect from Eagle Rare. I got rich notes of caramel along with a warm cinnamon spice. It also had some dark chocolate notes, adding some richness and even just a touch of bitterness.  I also got notes of peanut and orange peel, which was interesting. It also had a bit of a yeasty quality, like bread dough.

The flavor was very cinnamon forward. It definitely had that spice that I noticed immediately on the tip of my tongue and that lingered at the back of my throat.  Along with that cinnamon spice, I also got a rich amaretto liqueur note. The two worked really well together, along with a nutty hazelnut note that worked very well with the dark chocolate.  It was like a rich, nutty, boozy bonbon.

There was a sort of fruit-forward quality to it as well, though I got a light amount of Maraschino cherry, along with a kind of sweet plum note. On later pours the cherry note seemed to come forward even more, and it became more of a fresh cherry note that I really enjoyed.

On the finish the cinnamon really seemed to dominate. That spicy finished seemed to linger at the back of my throat for quite some time. I also got a really tasty blackberry note that accompanied it. This combo was absolutely delicious, and, despite the low proof, the flavor seemed to stick around forever.

At first this came across as somewhat one-dimensional. But, just a couple pours in, all these fruit notes came in to complement the caramel and cinnamon notes in a way that just worked. And the finish was by far my favorite part, as that cinnamon and blackberry combination was do delicious. I may have to make it a point to get around to opening my other bottles.

Grade: A-

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Maker's Mark Generations of Proof

About a year and a half ago Maker's Mark released this three bottle Generations of Proof set, which, as I understand it, was available only at Costco. This "limited edition collection of our bourbon heritage" pays tribute to the Samuels lineage behind the Maker's Mark Brand. The set includes three 375 ml bottles, all at cask strength, and all showcasing Maker's Mark's most known products. The Maker's Mark Cask strength is in tribute to T. William Samuels, Maker's Mark's founder. The Maker's Mark 46 Cask Strength is in tribute to his son, Bill Samuels, Jr., and the Maker's Mark Private Select is in tribute to grandson Rob Samuels.

When I saw these start showing up on various social media, it was added as a staple to our household Costco shopping list. My wife knew, whenever she was there, to look for this set, and of course I made it a point to seek it out whenever I made a Costco run as well. I was disappointed on so many trips to that store having not found any, and then one day my wife and my son came back from running errands with box in hand! I had a lot of fun with this, of course doing a couple side-by-side tastings, and then eventually finishing off each bottle one-by-one. I had thought about doing individual reviews, but I figured one post should cover it.

Maker's Mark Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon
- 108.8 Proof

I've always been a fan of Maker's Mark Cask Strength since it was first released. While I wouldn't call it my "go-to" bottle (I don't really have one), it is certainly one that I'd push others toward. It's a very good bourbon bottled at cask strength, at a reasonable price, and is readily available. On the nose I got baked goods or pastry notes. It was like a bear claw with baked peaches and cinnamon. I even got a bit of a hazelnut note. I really loved the nose on this one.

As to flavor, it was certainly on the sweeter side with honey and vanilla taking center stage. I did get an interesting tea note that went really well with the vanilla and honey. It also had a brighter note, like crisp, sweet apple (and not that overripe apple note that I get so often in young bourbons).  Carrying through on that "sweet" theme, I also got a candy corn note, as well as some of the baked peaches I got on the nose. The finish tempered the sweetness a bit. I still got a light maple syrup note, but it was balanced out by a sort of pie crust note that made the finish very enjoyable.

Overall, while I did enjoy it, it leaned a bit more on the sweeter side than I generally prefer.

Grade: B

Maker's Mark 46 Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon
- 111.2 Proof

I've picked up a few 46 Cask Strength bottles here and there. There once was a time that it was a limited release only available at the distillery, but eventually Maker's Mark realized there was real money to be made off the stuff, and now I'm seeing it fairly regularly on the shelves, which is a good thing!  The nose on this one was a stark contrast to the regular cask strength. I immediately noticed a sort of damp or musty wood note. I know it sounds weird, but it wasn't off-putting, and it seemed to work really well with the other notes I got on the nose, including a rich fig or raisin note, and even a bacon note. It had just the slightest bit of sweetness.

The flavor didn't quite follow the nose. It certainly had the sweeter, rich notes of fig and raisin. But, along with that I got a significant pecan pie note. It was buttery and full of brown sugar, but also had a certain nutty quality to balance it out a bit. On the finish I got a rich dark cherry note and the nutty note seemed to lean more towards an oak note. Both flavors on the finish added some bitterness that balanced out the sweetness I was getting in the pecan pie flavors. It also had a bit more bite on the finish, with a spicy cinnamon note that lingered for quite a bit.

I enjoyed this one more than the regular cask strength but not by a lot. It did add the spice component as well as a bit more complexity that I would have desired in the regular cask strength.

Grade: B+

Maker's Mark Private Select Rob Samuels Personal Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon
- 110.2 Proof
- 2 Seared French Cuvee; 4 Roasted French Mocha; 4 Toasted French Spice

This was the one I was most excited about, primarily because every Maker's Mark private selection I've had has been its own unique experience, and I was very curious what experience a personal selection from Rob Samuels himself might provide.  This one gave off aromas of black pepper and oak. The oak at times leaned more towards a walnut flavor. It also had a light smokiness, kind of like a burnt sugar note, as well as a sweet, creamy nougat note.

Interestingly, the first note that I made while tasting this one was that it tasted like an older bourbon. It seemed to have significantly more oak influence, with some tannic bitterness coming through. I particularly enjoy a little bit of tannins, so long as it's not overdone (it's what I love about Elijah Craig 18 year), and here it was done very well. Rather than detract from the bourbon, it added to its complexity and character, complementing the sweet toffee and brown sugar notes. This one was a bit on the earthier side as well, with nutmeg and even a bit of leather. It had a healthy amount of cinnamon spice as well, which, along with that toffee note, lingered for quite a while on the finish. 

Of the three, this was certainly the one I enjoyed the most. But, that said, given the profile, I'd imagine plenty of others had one of the other two pegged as their favorite. This one, however, had complexity and even a touch of funk that I loved.

Grade: A-

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Castle & Key Restoration Kentucky Rye Whiskey

- $40
- 99 Proof
- 3 Years
- Batch No. 2
- Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I've been looking forward to without actually knowing that I was looking forward to it.  I've been following the story of Castle & Key distillery on social media for the past few years, particularly their restoration of the E.H. Taylor distillery. The work they've done is amazing, and it will certainly be a destination the next time I go to Kentucky to do some distillery touring.

But, I wasn't really following their releases. After all, I figured it'd be some time before their stuff was aged enough to put into a bottle, and even more time before I saw distribution to Illinois. But, on one of my stops into a random liquor store, just checking the shelves in case there was something new or different there, I cam across this Restoration Rye. The bottle and label is not only eye-catching, but also impressive. Even the topper carried some heft. At first I didn't even realize what it was, but when I saw it was from Copper & Key, I knew I had to give it a run.

The nose was a bit funky on this one. I got what I could only describe as a wet newspaper smell. It's not a horrible smell, just a bit odd and yet familiar. It certainly had something sweet and crackery to it as well, perhaps like a shortbread. It also had a note that reminded me of rum. It had that sugarcane sweetness to it.

And when I tasted it, it certainly landed on the sweet end of the spectrum. I did get the wafer cookie type note to it, but it also had that cane sugar quality I got on the nose. It even had a touch of molasses to it, to give it a darker, richer sugariness.  In this way it reminded me very much of rum finished ryes I've had in the past, though this wasn't rum finished. Unfortunately, I've never been a big fan of rum finishes in whiskey, because they just come across as too sweet for me.

Aside from the sweetness, that cracker quality persisted. At times it was more like shortbread, and at other times it was more plain, like a saltine without the salt. It did have a crisp pine note to it that let you know that it was definitely a rye.

The finish was where the rye spice really stuck out, though. There I got a lot of cinnamon coupled with a touch of anise just to provide that bit of tang or bite. However, that cinnamon spice was still accompanied by the rich, sugary molasses note, and even with the spice finally coming through, this rye just couldn't escape the overt sweetness.

Everything about this rye reminded me of a rum finished rye, from the nose to the flavor to the finish. And yet it wasn't rum finished. It was just a very sweet and sugary rye. Unfortunately, that is not what I go for. However, there are those out there that love those super sweet, rum finished whiskeys, and perhaps this would be for you.  Unfortunately, it was just too sugary sweet for me.

Grade: C

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Russell's Reserve 13 Year Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $75
- 114.8 Proof
- 13 Years
- Kentucky

What can I say about this release? When it was announced, I was very excited at the notion of one of my favorite distilleries putting out a limited release of one of my favorite brands aged for 13 years and bottled at cask strength!  What's not to love about that?  This was one of those few times where I got genuinely excited for a release and I certainly wanted to make sure to get my hands on a bottle.

And yet, I wasn't even aware that it had started hitting shelves in Illinois until my local store manager asked me if I wanted a bottle.  Seemed at the time to be a bit of a silly question, and I'm sure she knew the answer before I asked it. But, I was caught off guard, of course said yes, and excitedly brought the bottle home with me. Somehow, though, I managed enough restraint to not open it that night, but rather to wait a day until I could enjoy it with others.

When I took my first whiff of my glass, I knew I had something good here. I got a decent amount of oak, but certainly nothing overpowering. For me it was the right amount. Along with that I got sweeter notes of caramel and brown sugar, and it was very cookie-like. I also got a slight coffee note, and it came across almost like a mocha.

While the nose was very good, the flavor was even better.  I immediately noticed rich dark cherry notes that seemed to complement the oak that was certainly prevalent (but again, not overbearing by any stretch). I also got sweet vanilla and caramel notes that really worked well with the cherry and oak, and at times I got a burnt sugar note which added just a touch of smokiness to the mix.

On later pours I picked up some other notes, including orange peel, which gave it a bit of an Old Fashioned flavor. I also got notes of pie crust that really made the cherry notes come across as cherry pie filling. The wood notes I was getting earlier somehow seemed to temper what little bitterness they provided and even sweetened up a bit.

This had a great, long finish with a nice oily texture that coated the mouth in flavor for a long time. On the finish I got cherry cola, and later on it seemed more like a Dr. Pepper. There was a bit of black pepper spice, as well as a lingering anise note. 

I really loved everything about this bourbon. It hit on all cylinders for me, providing more wood influence, but only enough to be one of the notes in the mix, rather than the stand-out flavor. Every single flavor seemed to complement the others perfectly.  I really hope that Wild Turkey continues to put out these releases. I will grab any that I can get my hands on.

Grade: A

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Springbank Cask Strength 12 Year Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $120
- 114.2 Proof
- 12 Years
- Campbeltown

One of my buddies, who also happens to work at a liquor store, is well-aware of my relatively recent fascination with all things Campbeltown. As a result, I've been fortunate to get first shot at some of the more allocated Campbeltown releases when they come in. Luckily for me, the demand on those isn't nearly as high as it is for allocated bourbons.

Recently his store got in the Kilkerran 8 year cask strength and this Springbank 12 year cask strength. I had only planned on getting one bottle that day, so I went with the one with more age. The fact that I've so far loved everything Springbank certainly made it an easier choice as well. This was also the first time that I've seen the 12 year cask strength on the shelves, so I wanted to make sure not to pass up the opportunity.

On the nose I got a light smokiness along with black pepper, both which seemed to tickle my nostrils. Underneath that spicy smoke note, though, was smooth salted caramel, along with rich dark chocolate. It even had a touch of bitterness to it to balance everything out. There was a lot going on here, but it all worked together.

As to flavor, much like the nose, I got a light smoke up front. This certainly wasn't a heavily peated whisky, but it didn't necessarily shy away from it. I also got a distinct earthy note, something almost musty and funky. It was oaky and almost piney. It sounds a bit weird as I write this, but I actually loved it. That earthy note gave it a lot of character and funk.  It also had that black pepper bite up front.

I think what I liked most about that earthy note is the fact that it was immediately followed by a great balancing sweetness. This whisky was full of butterscotch and brown sugar. It also had this consistent chocolate covered almond note. Yet it never got anywhere close to being too sweet, and remained very well-balanced.

The light smoke seemed to really complement the butterscotch notes, particularly on the finish, where both notes seemed to linger forever. This had me diving back into my glass for the next sip. That combination was so incredibly good and provided for a rich and tasty finished that was capstoned by that black pepper spice just to keep it interesting.

Springbank has done it again for me with this one. Even if the Sherry influence wasn't strong, the well-roundedness and the combination of otherwise great flavors made for one enjoyable dram! I understand it's a twice a year release, and I'm absolutely going to have my eye out for future releases.

Grade: A

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Highland Park 12 Year Viking Honour Single Malt Scotch

- $60
- 86 Proof
- 12 Years
- Orkney

I've been continuing my foray into and exploration of peaty fruit in the Scotch world. I've learned that I absolutely love the combination of a peated Scotch with a wine finish, and lately I've been grabbing pretty much whatever I can get my hands one in an effort to try everything.

My buddy suggested that I give this Highland Park 12 year a try. According to him, it was a bit more subtle with both the peat and the wine finish. I was told it wasn't going to be nearly as smoky as an Islay Scotch, but that the Sherry cask influence really balances perfectly.  I am admittedly still a neophyte when it comes to Scotch. There's just so much to try. And I still feel like a neophyte when talking strictly about peated Scotches aged in wine barrels. But, I am learning what I like and I was eager to give another one a go.

While subtle, the sherry notes still dominated the nose. I got a lot of bright and dark fruits, like blackberry and blueberry. I also got a bright strawberry note as well. It had a light smokiness along with a light salinity. What stood out, though, was a distinct breadiness to it that was almost donut-like. The nose was soft, but it still had a lot going on and it smelled delicious.

As to the flavor, my buddy was right. The peat didn't hit me like an Islay. It was a light smokiness, and at times it seemed as though it could almost pass as unpeated.  Almost.  Accompanying that light smokiness, though, were those bright fruit notes I want out of the Sherry cask. I got raspberry and dried strawberry that really stood out.

Beyond those somewhat expected flavors, though, were some interesting and unexpected notes that I enjoyed. I got a certain citrus note, almost lemony, as well as a certain salinity that seemed to come with the peat.  It also had a certain sweet note that was kind of a honey-like note. That honey note seemed to lean towards that bread note at times, but it added a sweetness to this beyond the Sherry influence.

The finish was short-lived, as this whisky was relatively thin in texture. However, I did get some nice, warm dessert-like spices. I got baked, spiced pear on the finish along with cinnamon spice and a nice black pepper bite. I also got a sort of peach liqueur on the finish as well that was a pleasant surprise.

Overall, I do like a bit heavier peat, and I wish the texture wasn't so thin. I think there were some great and fun flavors here, but it all seemed a bit muted. A bolder version of this would be outstanding. This was good, just not as good as it could have been.

Grade: B

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Sonoma Distilling Co. Oak + Swine Single Barrel Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey

- $55
- 118 Proof
- 4 Years
- Barrel No. 17-0858
- California

I've been a member of a Facebook whiskey club called the Fox Valley Whiskey Society since its inception a couple years ago. Its founder, Michael Verive, has been incredibly diligent in putting together events for members, and more recently he has been tirelessly arranging for private barrels for the group.

For this particular bottling, he worked with a local barbecue joint, Oak + Swine in Batavia, Illinois to pick a single barrel, cask strength rye whiskey from Sonoma Distilling Co.  It's a four year rye whiskey distilled by Sonoma Distilling, and its the first Sonoma single barrel picked in Illinois. Of course, when the opportunity to get my hands on one of these came around, I had to grab a couple. I just couldn't pass up a cask strength single barrel rye at a reasonable price.

The nose was very pungent, the kind where you can smell the whiskey from across the table when you first open it. I got rich and spicy notes of pine and plum. It also had some darker fruit notes as well, like fig and raisin. Those notes were accompanied by a rich molasses sweetness.  I've now used the word "rich" twice to describe it, but that's kind of a theme here, as this smelled very rich. That was tempered a bit by the significant cinnamon spice I got on the nose as well.

The flavor really hit the pine note, however. Up front  I was inundated with pine and resin notes. It almost had a "dank" quality to it. That pine note was accompanied by a heavy hit of cinnamon which bit the tongue right up front and stuck around well through the finish. It was the pine and cinnamon combination that really defined this rye, that and the fact that it was incredibly punchy. It seemed to smack you in the face with flavor.

In addition to the pine and cinnamon, though, I got a nice layer of unsweetened vanilla that seemed to underscore everything else. It also had a slight cornbread note to it, which I found interesting as there was no corn in this. The mashbill was 80% rye and 20% malted rye, which explains the bold and punchy rye spices and flavors, but not the sweet cornbread note I got.

This rye had a great viscous quality to it, really coating the mouth and lending to a very long finish. Of course I got the spicy cinnamon that just never seemed to go away, but along with that I got a vanilla and molasses combination that really provided some sweetness to counter some of the rich but not-so-sweet flavors. The finish was probably my favorite part of the experience.

For their first pick, the guys at Oak + Swine selected a really damn good barrel, one that is absolutely full of punchy flavor. There's nothing subtle about this whiskey, and that's what I love most in a rye. Give me that bold spicy rye over the softer, more wheat or corn forward ryes any day.

Grade: B+

Friday, August 13, 2021

Sazerac Binny's Single Barrel Select Straight Rye Whiskey - Barrel #011

- $30
- 90 Proof
- Barrel #011
- Kentucky

I think one of the best things out there in the bourbon world are the inexpensive private barrels. Store picks of Buffalo Trace, Knob Creek, Elijah Craig and Larceny, just to name a few, can provide some incredible bang for the buck. And as far as being priced right, I'd throw the Sazerac Rye in the mix as well. 

Now, I've only recently begun seeing and trying Sazerac Rye store picks, so the jury is still out as to whether they provide the same "bang."  But, at only $30, it is certainly one of the more affordable ryes in any private barrel program.  Plus, Sazerac generally has a good, easy-going flavor profile. So, of course, once Binny's got their initial batch of single barrel selects, I quickly nabbed one off the shelf.  

The nose was full of light and smooth caramel notes.  I also got a sweet nougat note that fit with that creamy profile. It had a light nuttiness to it, kind of like almond. It all blended together to create this sort of breakfast pastry note. It even had a light touch of cinnamon spice to round it all out.

Given the nose, the flavor kind of took me back. I got notes of pine and sweet cherry right up front. It wasn't punchy, though, and my initial impression was that it was very good.  I also got a little bit of that cinnamon right up front, noticeable on the tip of my tongue on each sip. 

Those up-front flavors quickly gave way to flavors more consistent with the nose. I got that sweet, creamy nougat, as well as a touch of chocolate. While the caramel didn't really come through, the almond certainly did, but more in the form of amaretto liqueur. It added just a touch of richness and depth to the whiskey.

The finish did not leave much of an impression. It primarily consisted of that sweet nougat note, perhaps a touch of caramel, and a trace amount of cinnamon. It was actually a bit fleeting, and this was really the only negative that I have. While some of that is attributable to the low proof, even for the proof I found the finish to be lacking.

That being said, while I took some time getting around to actually opening it, once I did, I found that I made my way through it fairly quickly. It was basically a better version of Sazerac Rye, and what more could you ask for out of this? At $30, this absolutely provided that bang for the buck that I wanted, and I'll certainly continue to add these to my shelf when I come across them.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Maker's Mark Wood Finishing Series FAE-01 2021 Limited Release Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $60
- 110.6 Proof
- Kentucky

These Maker's Mark Wood Finishing Series Limited Releases have really been hits. I really enjoyed the last two releases, so when I randomly came across this bottle in a small liquor store that I stopped into in my various travels, really wanting to get something, I decided to give this newest release a go. 

This particular release was aged with ten Virgin Toasted American Oak Staves. On its face that means very little to me.  The front label does provide tasting notes, indicating that it's "A fruit forward expression with notes of tobacco and wood." That said, tasting notes on a bottle also mean very little to me. After all, it's not as though the distiller is going to tell the consumer that this tastes like band-aids and dirt. And I've found that my tasting notes frequently do not match up anyway. So I decided to give this a try simply on the fact that Maker's has done a great job with their prior releases, and it's worth a try on that basis alone.

The nose was sweet, rich and full of dark fruits. I immediately got notes of raisin and fig, along with a healthy amount of brown sugar. It reminded me a bit of an oatmeal cookie. I certainly got a light char note as well. It also had this kind of woody spice to it, perhaps a bit like cinnamon sticks.

The flavor followed suit to some extent, but also brought out some additional notes that really made for an interesting, complex and delicious bourbon. Right up front I got baked peach and cinnamon, like a peach cobbler or a peach crisp. There were also some dark fruits as well, but rather than fig and raisin it came across almost like a mulled wine. It reminded me a bit of Christmas in that respect.

It definitely had some wood notes to it, though it was only in the flavor. It didn't create any sort of bitterness that you often get with wood notes. It also had a bit of char to it as well, but only just enough to add that light, smoky element.

The texture was fairly viscous, which made for a very long finish. Unfortunately, on the finish the bitter tannic notes did some through, surprisingly. Yet, at the same time, it was on the finish that the sweet caramel notes, kind of that traditional Maker's flavor, came through as well. This was not a sweet whiskey, certainly not a typical wheated whiskey in that respect, but it had just enough caramel sweetness to keep it enjoyable and offset that tannic wood note.

Overall, Maker's has put out yet another solid release in the Wood Finishing Series.  Those wintertime dessert notes were a welcome change while I enjoyed this whiskey during the dog days of Summer. It had a richness and complexity that I haven't enjoyed in a while, and my only real negative was that tannic bitterness, but even that was balanced out by the caramel sweetness.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Backbone Bourbon Anniversary Edition "Decade Down" Uncut Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $80
- 110 Proof
- 5 years, 1 month
- Indiana

Backbone Bourbon first caught my attention when the first thing I saw of theirs on the shelf was a 15 year bourbon. I can't remember the source, whether it came from Tennessee or Indiana, and it wasn't on the shelf very long. I sure didn't get a bottle (I don't even remember the price), but a couple friends of mine tried it, and while the reviews weren't raving, the consensus was that it was pretty good.

I then saw this "Decade Down" Anniversary Edition on the shelf. At first I was excited. After all, given the name, I was under the misimpression that this was a cask strength, 10 year bourbon. However, when I turned the bottle over, I learned that wasn't the case, as it clearly states, albeit on the back label, that it was aged for 5 years and 6 months. But, it was, in fact, MGP whiskey. So, I nonetheless took a bottle home with me to try. 

On the nose I got a healthy dose of cinnamon. That was accompanied by some dark chocolate as well as a light anise note. Altogether my initial impression was this had a rich and delicious aroma. It also had a sort of oatmeal cookie note on the nose as well that provided a bit of sweetness to accompany those rich chocolate and cinnamon notes.

When I took my first sip, I was immediately surprised at the fact that the youth of this whiskey didn't come through at all. It had the kind of character, richness and complexity that you find in bourbons 10 years or older, and none of the rough edges or harsh, grain-forward flavors you get out of younger whiskeys. This was already a pleasant surprise.

I got a lot of rich, smooth caramel, like the good quality caramel you find in the middle of expensive chocolates, like Godiva, maybe. It also had a constant chocolate note, but not the dark chocolate I got on the nose. Rather this was more of a sweet and creamy milk chocolate. I even got some nougat flavor as well, and as I was jotting down my notes I realized I could have been describing a high-end version of a Milky Way.  That's one of my favorite candy bars, so needless to say I was completely on board.

On the finish the cinnamon really came through, which was nice in that it kept this bourbon from ever getting to be too sweet. It had a somewhat oily texture that coated my mouth in chocolate and cinnamon, and it seemed to stick around for quite some time. It was on the finish that I also got some unsweetened vanilla notes (perhaps from the nougat I got up front).

Going in, I honestly wasn't expecting a lot from this, and this is one of the more positively surprising whiskeys I've had in recent memory. I genuinely liked this. A lot, actually.  It ended up being the bottle that I just kept grabbing off the shelf until it was gone, simply because I knew it was delicious and I just wanted more. It really hit a lot of the right spots for me. While the price may be a little high, I've seen far worse for far inferior products.

Grade: A-

Sunday, August 8, 2021

One Eight Distilling Untitled Binny's Private Barrel Selection 14 Year Straight Bourbon

- 140
- 117.7 Proof
- 14 Years
- Barrel No. 362

Untitled, the bourbon label coming out of One Eight Distilling in Washington D.C., seemed to come on as sort of a surprise to me. I had never heard of either the label or the distillery prior to about a year or so ago. But then I saw a couple of these squat bottles, specifically Release No. 11 and Release No. 13, with age statements, high proof and intriguing cask finishes. So I had to try one and lo and behold it was pretty good!

When I learned that Binny's was going to be getting a private barrel from them, I was immediately interested. When I learned that that private barrel was going to be a 14-year cask strength straight bourbon, I was completely sold. Quite frankly, having only seen the exotic blends of finished bourbon poured into these bottles up to this point, I wanted to know how an unfinished, well-aged cask strength bourbon under their label would taste.

The nose was interesting, for sure. It immediately came across as bright and sweet, with orange peel and vanilla right up front. It had a very caramel forward note providing the sweetness, but also a sort of sponge cake type of aroma to it, like that smell of freshly baked cake that fills the kitchen, which I absolutely loved.  It also had a bright cherry note as well. There was a lot going on here, but it smelled delicious, and I couldn't wait to dive into my glass.

The very first note that I wrote down when I took my first sip was "cherry cordial."  It hit on all elements of dark chocolate, cherry, vanilla and event that brandy liqueur note. I was immediately impressed. This was also the note that really dominated the finish. Long after each sip my mouth remained filled with those chocolate and candied cherry notes, and I found myself quickly reaching for the next sip.

It also had a certain amount of oak to it as well, to be expected, I guess, given the amount of time in the barrel. However, that note really just added a bit of an earthy element, and did not take away from the sweet, cherry cordial note. It didn't add any bitterness, just a bit of depth.

Other flavors came through from time to time as well as I made my way through this bottle. I did get notes of dried strawberries at times, adding a different, brighter element of sweet berry  I also got notes of cola, and at times I even got that light pastry note akin to the sponge cake I was getting on the nose. I even got the slightest mocha note, perhaps with the wood showing more influence in later pours and offering just a touch of bitterness.

All in all, this was a rich and delectable whiskey. It never got too sweet, always tempered by the dark chocolate and brandy liqueur notes that I was getting.  That cherry cordial note, which I loved, was prominent in every pour. I almost wanted to make my own dessert using this whiskey. Well, not really, but I enjoyed it that much!

Grade: A

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Templeton 10 Year Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

- $80
- 104 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 2779
- Indiana

I knew it had been quite a while since I've had Templeton Rye. In fact, I had to look back at my blog archives to see when the last time was, and it was back in 2015. Without looking back at that, I couldn't have told you now whether or not I liked it (turns out I was somewhat ambivalent).  I think part of the reason I haven't gone back to the Templeton products was the issue from years ago involving their adding a flavoring to their whiskey. That kind of stuff turns me off, and, whether consciously or subconsciously, I'm sure is part of the reason I haven't given it another go.

But then there came the promise of a higher proof, 10 year, single barrel MGP rye packaged under the Templeton label, and that was enough to get me to try it again. I've certainly seen lesser-aged MGP ryes command much higher prices, so for $80, this one seemed fairly reasonable.

The nose was actually softer than what I expected. Given the proof, the age and the provenance, I expected something punch and full of spice.  This, however, leaned more towards notes of sweet wheat bread and honey. It did have a decent amount of wood notes to it, even getting a bit tannic. The one bright spot, though, was the delicious blackberry jam note that seemed to work really well with the honey and bread notes. 

Surprisingly, though, the flavor was much more in line with my expectations. Right up front I got bold notes of pine and cinnamon, with a strong vanilla undercurrent. In fact, that vanilla was more than I've ever noticed in an MGP rye before, dominating the stage right up front all the way through the finish. It wasn't a sweet vanilla, but rather more of a natural vanilla extract note.

I did get some spearmint and even a bit of black pepper spice. I think it's these flavors, mixed with the strong vanilla note, that reminded me at times of a root beer float. It just had that mix of vanilla and spices.  In fact, the spearmint note seemed to get more and more prominent as I made my way through this bottle.

The finish is where the spice in this rye really came through. I certainly got that same black pepper that I was getting up front, but I was also getting something hot. It was almost like a cayenne pepper type spice. There was some cinnamon and even a little bit of nutmeg sprinkled in. 

With that punch on the finish, though, I came to the conclusion that this was one of the spicier whiskeys I've had in a long time, and I found myself reaching for this bottle in particular to scratch that itch when I got it.  It wasn't my favorite rye of all time by any stretch, but it certainly fit a certain mood that I find myself in from time to time, and for that reason alone it was worth having on my shelf.

Grade: B

Friday, July 16, 2021

Elijah Craig 18-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2020

- $150
- 90 Proof
- 18 Years
- Barrel No. 5244
- Kentucky

I've said it before, but I love Elijah Craig 18. There's no question that due to the age, it imparts a certain amount of oakiness into the bourbon. It can be a bit try, sometimes a bit tannic and even a little bitter. But, what I've always loved about Elijah Craig 18 is the way it handles that oak, making it a part of the flavor profile but never allowing it to take over. It's for this reason that this has become one of my favorite whiskeys.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for something sweet, which often leads me to a bourbon, or even a wheated bourbon in particular. Sometimes I'm in the mood for spice, leading me to rye, or smokiness, leading me to my Scotch collection. And, sometimes I'm in the mood for a little bit of oak. That's why I always have at least one bottle of Elijah Craig 18 on hand, to scratch that itch whenever it appears. I don't make my way through these bottles quickly, as I don't get that itch that often, but I certainly do find my way to the bottom of the bottle eventually.

On the nose, I did notice those oak tannins right away. However, it came across sweeter than expected, sweeter than previous bottles I've had. It had a sort of maple syrup and graham cracker quality to it. It reminded me of pecan pie, but toned down on the sweetness.  It also had a bit of cinnamon spice to it, and all of this played really well with the tannins, which really provided more of that pecan nuttiness to the pecan pie than anything.

While the oak was immediately noticeable on the nose, that wasn't necessarily the case on the palate.  In fact, the first thing I noticed when I took my first sip was a delicious milk chocolate note. That was accompanied by a light, nutty bitterness on the tip of my tongue, but that seemed to go away fairly quickly.

In addition to that creamy milk chocolate note, some of the more traditional bourbon notes that I love made their way forward. I got a smooth and rich toffee note, certainly darker and richer than caramel, but with that same softness. It also had a light burnt sugar note that I really enjoyed. 

I even got some fruit notes on the flavor as well, and while I couldn't immediately put my thumb on it, I think I ultimately concluded it was a sort of a candied cherry note that worked perfectly with everything else. In fact, that candied cherry note stuck around on the finish as well, along with some spicy cinnamon and a healthy amount of that milk chocolate that I was getting up front. It was only on the finish that the tannins really re-emerged, but that bitterness seemed to complement everything else.

This is a completely biased review (as they all are, which is why whiskey reviews are stupid). I knew going in I was going to love this, because I've loved every bottle of Elijah Craig 18 I've ever had. Sure, the price is steep, but I'm still grabbing these every chance I get.

Grade: A

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Doc Swinson's Alter Ego Triple Cask Straight Bourbon Finished in Sherry & Cognac Casks

- $65
- 95.8 Proof
- Release No. 21-004
- Indiana/Washington

This is another one of those brands that keeps popping up in my Facebook feed--at least it did for a while.  I'm honestly not sure exactly which bottles were garnering all the attention a short while back, but what I noticed was that while I was seeing this Doc Swinson's brand in my Facebook feed, I wasn't seeing it anywhere on my stores' shelves . . . until one day I did. Apparently I just had to be patient.

I had the choice of this Sherry and Cognac finished bourbon or a rum finished rye. Given that I have found very few rum finished whiskeys I've actually enjoyed, it really was an easy choice for me. Plus, this one sounded really good! It's MGP bourbon (though the age is unknown) that was then finished in Oloroso Sherry casks, Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks and Cognac casks. I have no idea how long, but either way, this resulting blend of those three finishes was bound to, at the very least, pack a lot of flavor.

The nose was full of rich jammy notes of raspberry and strawberry, certainly the result of the two Sherry cask finishes. There was also something rich to it, kind of like a fig note. What I loved, though, was that the bourbon itself wasn't completely buried by the finishing, allowing a great vanilla bean note to come through, as well as a sweet butterscotch note.

As to flavor, as expected, this was a very fruit-forward bourbon. But, I got the influence from both the sherry and the Cognac barrels. Right away I got a bright and sweet raspberry note, and right along side that was a sort of plum and baked pear note, likely from the Cognac influence. All of this seemed to be blended with a rich vanilla undercurrent that all worked very well together.

Rich is really the common theme with this whiskey. On top of those fruit and vanilla notes, there was a  light woodiness to it--not tannic, but rather just the oak flavor. There were also some rich chocolate notes that met well with the raspberry and vanilla.

The finish really highlighted those chocolate notes, which were rich and not overly sweet. There was also a sort of amaretto note to it, something tangy like that to make it a bit interesting. I also noticed the wine notes really coming through, kind of like the aftertaste of an oaked Chardonnay, and this is where the tannins came in.  

I really loved everything about this whiskey, except for that finish. Even that finish had promise with the chocolate and amaretto, but the lingering wine note was a bit off-putting. It literally left a bad taste in my mouth. If it weren't for that, I'd have given this much higher marks.

Grade: B

Friday, July 9, 2021

Preservation Distillery Rare Perfection 14 Year Canadian Whiskey

- $180
- 100.7 Proof
- 14 Years
- Lot #02
- Canada

When Preservation Distillery first released their Rare Perfection and Old St. Nick lines, apparently reviving a couple of older brands, I frequently saw these bottles in my various whiskey-related Facebook groups. I knew nothing about them, but I certainly was intrigued by the cool looking, antique style labeling, not to mention the age statements and the higher proof. I hadn't been seeing any of these in the stores by me, so when I got the chance to buy this and the 15 year at essentially retail, perhaps even less based on what they're being sold for now, I went ahead and pulled the trigger.  Of course now I see them sitting on shelves everywhere, not being bought and just taking up space. 

What I didn't know until these bottles arrived, though, and the reason that these are now just sitting, was that these are Canadian whiskey. Admittedly, I did little to no research prior to purchasing these, which is on me. I do, however, find it interesting that they deliberately left off the word "Canadian" from the front label, only indicating as such in small type on the back. I was immediately disappointed and had a bit of buyer's remorse, but, you live and learn. How bad could it be, though?

The nose on this was actually really good. I got a lot of brown sugar and a light caramel right up front. It also had this sweet cream note to it that reminded me of vanilla ice cream. There was a bready note as well, perhaps like a pie crust. It had all the makings of a good dessert.

As to flavor, though, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the brown sugar flavor. It was easily the most dominant flavor, and any other notes I was getting were slight in comparison. It dominated from the first sip through the finish. That's a lot of brown sugar. And, on top of that, it had a certain artificial flavoring quality to it that I just wasn't a fan of. 

Other notes were there, but, like I said, they were very light in comparison. I did get notes of root beer and at time butterscotch. I even got that pie crust note that I was noticing on the nose. There was even a bit of a molasses note to it, something darker and richer than just that artificial brown sugar. 

However, make no mistake about it, this came across as sweet.  Very sweet.  Overly sweet. And I can handle a brown sugar sweetness, but when it's an artificial sweetness and it's as sweet as this, it just becomes too much. I don't know if artificial brown sugar is a thing, but if it is, this tastes like it had some added directly to the barrel. 

I've had plenty of Canadian whiskeys that leaned toward the brown sugar note, but none that did so quite like this one did. I do have the 15 year, and I will eventually get around to opening that one in hopes for a better experience, but it may take me a while to get around to that.

Grade: C-