Thursday, April 22, 2021

Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Batch 15 - 131.1 Proof

VITALS:
- $60
- 131.1 Proof
- NAS
- Batch 15
- Kentucky

Stagg Jr. seems to have really gained a lot of steam over the past couple years. Of course, people did go after previous releases, as it is good, high proof bourbon from Buffalo Trace. But the chase for Stagg Jr. seems to have gotten significantly crazier than it has been in the past. This particular release seemed to have taken some time to make its way to Illinois, and I swear I saw daily posts for at least two months on Facebook inquiring whether anyone had seen it around. 

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one when it did come in, and in talking to the guy who sold me the bottle, he said that for at least a month he was getting anywhere from 5-10 people a day coming in and only asking for this. I get that it's a limited release, but this seemed to be getting the BTAC treatment as far as the store-stalking went.  So, I did consider myself lucky to have gotten my hands on a bottle. Taterism aside, it is generally pretty great bourbon, and I've loved the batches I've had the pleasure of enjoying in the past (Batch 1 and Batch 7).

The nose on this one conveyed the richness that I was bound to get in the flavor. I got a lot of dark fruit notes, like blackberry, with a backbone of cinnamon. It even had a rich Luxardo cherry note to it. In addition to these rich, dark fruit notes, I also got some earthy notes, like a bit of leather, as well as some rich but sweet notes, like toffee or even molasses.

There's no question that this is a heater. That's what you get with Stagg products. But, what I love is that once you get past the heat, you get just a ton of flavor, and this batch was no different.  It hit me right up front with that familiar Stagg spice, like a sweet but spicy warm cinnamon note, along with a healthy amount of brown sugar. Quite honestly, this batch wasn't quite as "burn-y" as its proof, which made it dangerous.

The caramel notes were prevalent, but I also got those earthy notes I got from the nose. Rather than leather, however, it came across more as oak and pecan. Like wood that tastes good, if that makes any sense.  In fact, on later pours I even got a pistachio note that I loved, and that seemed to go so well with everything else going on.

On the finish, I got almost all amaretto and cinnamon notes. It had that tang along with the lingering spice and that tickle left in the back of my throat. On later pours I noticed a bit of a grapey note, almost like a brandy finish that I found to be unique and very delicious, as well as a slight lingering cherry note.

This batch of Stagg Jr. is rich, complex and decadent all at once, while at the same time providing some unique and different notes, but notes that seemed to really complement those "base" flavors. I really enjoyed this, and the fact that the high proof didn't seem to get in the way made this particularly dangerous/delicious!

Grade: A

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Elijah Craig Common Good x The Beer Cellar Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $35
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 5578805
- Kentucky

In addition to my love for all things whiskey, I do enjoy yummy and delicious craft beer on a fairly regular basis. I don't write up reviews on it or anything, and in fact I don't even really post about beer on social media. But, I do somewhat have my finger on the pulse of greater Chicagoland craft beer community. as a result, I've come to love one of my local bottle shops, the Beer Cellar in Geneva, Illinois.

Not only does the Beer Cellar have one of the best craft beer selections around, not to mention many options to enjoy on tap, but although their whiskey selection is somewhat small, from time to time they get bottles in that I just need to bring home with me. This private barrel selected by the Beer Cellar and Common Good Cocktail House in Glen Ellyn, Illinois was one of those times. I've said it before, I know, but Elijah Craig private picks are always a no-brainer to grab off the shelf, as the value there is great.

On the nose I got a bit of an old fashioned note. I was getting bright orange peel along with a light cherry. There was even a bit of a cola note to the nose as well that I really liked.  It also had this sort of woody and crackery note to it, perhaps like a graham cracker but not really sweet.  I couldn't really place it, but it was something like that.

As to flavor, I was initially surprised at the oak note that I got right up front. I don't imagine this is a particularly well-aged bourbon, so I wasn't expecting much if any wood, but it was definitely there. Kind of coinciding with that was a cinnamon note, though lacking in cinnamon spice. It was more just that flavor, which really seemed to play off the wood notes.

I did get a decent amount of brown sugar sweetness as well, and it reminded me a lot of chocolate chip cookies, just without the chocolate chips. It also had a bit of that orange peel that I got from the nose as well, and this part I really enjoyed.

The finish provided some pastry notes, almost something yeasty. I also got some sweet cinnamon notes, but again, without the cinnamon spice. That graham cracker note that I was getting on the nose seemed to come through on the finish as well.

All in all, I wish this one had a bit more spice. I feel like that would have really provided for a nice balance between the sweet notes and the woody notes. That said, I thought this was still very delicious, and I look forward to more picks coming from these guys

Grade: B+

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Abraham Bowman Gingerbread #2 Virginia Limited Edition Whiskey

VITALS:
- $70
- 110 Proof
- 10 1/2 yrs.
- Release No. 20
- Virginia

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I love free whiskey!!  This bottle was a Christmas gift from an extremely generous colleague.  What I loved about it most is that it wasn't something that I had on my radar. I wasn't out there actively trying to secure a bottle, certainly, and I honestly didn't even know to ask.

But, once I received it I was thrilled! I had a much earlier version, sort of, back in 2017, the Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon, and it's funny looking back at that post. I stated that while it was a fun experiment, it wasn't something I'd be seeking out. I guess that was the truth.  That said, it's been four years, and I couldn't wait to try this one again. I figure it was more likely to get better than worse, right?

On the nose I noticed the gingerbread stout almost immediately. It had that distinct bready note, even with a little bit of yeast, along with notes of baking chocolate and espresso. That roastiness really came through. It also had a bit of unsweetened vanilla to it, and it came across kind of like a cappuccino with cream. It was certainly interesting and much different than anything else I've had in a while.

In the first few pours, I really noticed a sharp bitterness right up front. It was both an oaky and a coffee-type bitterness. Behind that, though, I got that cocoa note that I was getting from the nose, but there some of the sweetness was able to come through to match the bitter notes. It was like an Oreo cookie without the cream filling. 

What was great about this bottle, though, is as I made my way to the bottom of the bottle, each pour seemed to showcase the stout notes form the barrel more and more. I was getting a lot of brown butter notes, along with the cocoa and even a rich molasses note.

On the later pours I got a lot of amaretto notes that I absolutely loves. These went great with the chocolate notes that I was getting throughout, and which seemed to only sweeten up over time. It even took on some cherry licorice notes, which mixed with everything else to create almost a cherry cordial flavor.

At first I wasn't big on this bottle, as the bitterness was a bit overpowering. However, that bitterness subsided fairly quickly, and when it did this turned into this rich, roasty, chocolatey and yet never overly sweet whiskey. It was full of flavors, all of which seemed to complement one another, and it was a the same time different and interesting. This is clearly no experiment.  A. Smith Bowman absolutely nailed this one, and I'm definitely going to be trying to track down future releases.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Buffalo Trace Binny's Small Batch Select #25 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $26
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Batch #25
- Kentucky

As I make my way through any bottle, I keep notes as I go. Just little notes here and there that I keep in my Notes app on my phone. That way whenever I pick up on something or am actually paying attention, I can record that and revisit it later when I'm ready to sit down and write my blog post. However, with this one things didn't quite work out that way.

This bottle I bought right before the pandemic while on a lunch break. So, when I got back to work, I put the bottle in my desk, where it remained.  And thanks to the pandemic there it remains for quite a long time. My pours from this bottle were few and far between, and were, quite frankly, during those few times I actually had over the past year to sit down with colleagues and enjoy a pour. I wasn't exactly engaging in note-taking. When it came down to the last pours, though, the realization hit me that I hadn't taken a single note. So, this blog post is based on what I was getting in those last few pours, and what I recalled noticing in some of my earlier pours (and that recollection must be taken with a grain of salt). 

On the nose I got a bit of a candied orange note, with a nice blend of sweet, bitter and citrus. I got just a touch of cinnamon spice to add to the balance, as well as a bit of a yeasty pastry note. What I liked more, however, and what I remembered being a bit more prominent on earlier pours, though, was the nice vanilla and cola note. 

The flavor hit that cola note as well, and the orange note seemed to come through as well, though it didn't come across as "candied" or overly sweet at all. There's a German drink called spezi (pronounced spet·see). It's basically equal parts orange soda and cola, with a little bit of lemonade. I used to make a poor man's version as a kid whenever we were at a restaurant where you got to pour your own fountain drinks.  That's what this reminds me of (surely completely unrelatable!!).

It, of course, had those traditional notes you'll find in Buffalo Trace--toffee and cinnamon, a light amount of vanilla. This one did have a bit of a cocoa note to it as well that I thought set it apart a bit from standard Buffalo Trace.  The chocolate note worked really well with the graham cracker note that I was getting as well. It also had a lightly sweet cookie note to it, like a sugar cookie but with not so much sugar. 

I feel like this is a short and sweet review. But, the fact of the matter is that this was a very good Buffalo Trace store pick. You can never go wrong with these in the first place, and this was one of the better ones that I can recall enjoying. It made for a great desk whiskey, and it never disappointed whenever I brought it out.

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Old Pepper Distillery Binny's Private Selection Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey


VITALS:
- $50
- 110 Proof
- 4 yrs.
- Cask 1076
- Indiana

I have never had anything from Old Pepper Distillery before.  I've certainly seen it, and I've even had bottles in my hand, contemplating bringing one home from the store, only to put it back on the shelf and move on. Having now finished this bottle, I'm wondering if that was a mistake (spoiler alert: I really liked it!!).

Binny's recently got in a number of single barrel picks from Old Pepper, and of the ones available at my local shop, two were MGP-sourced and one was Kentucky-sourced. I figured at $50 for a nearly cask-strength MGP rye, the risk of a clunker was relatively low.  While it would have been fun to perhaps compare this cask against the other MGP pick that was there, that just wasn't in the cards, or more accurately, in my budget.

The nose was good, even if not overly remarkable. I immediately noticed a certain grassiness to it, or perhaps even an herbal quality. There was even a cracker quality to it. Nothing bold, more like saltines or those relatively plain wafer crackers. Behind all of this, though, was a layer of vanilla that added a touch of sweetness, even on the nose.

I went into this expecting to get some of those usual flavors I tend to get from MGP ryes -- a bunch of cinnamon, some spearmint and even maybe a little bit of dill. However, when I took my first sip, the first thing I noticed was all the vanilla that came out. It was certainly on the sweeter side, and it was kind of like vanilla bean ice cream, though not quite that sweet.

Almost immediately following that was a healthy dose of spearmint. In fact, I would have described this as a "vanilla bomb" if it weren't for all the spearmint behind it. Paired together, this whiskey really reminded me of one of my favorite seasonal treats that has once again gone away -- a shamrock shake. It sounds weird to associate Shamrock Shakes with whiskey, but that's where my mind when when I drank this, and I absolutely loved it!

Beyond that, there was a sweet butter cookie note to it, as well as some butterscotch. Again, it was no doubt on the sweeter side, but it never got too sweet with these notes. It also had a light herbal or even grassy note to it, not unlike what I was getting on the nose. On the finish, while it remained sweeter and the vanilla lingered, the cinnamon that I was expecting did finally make its way into the picture, along with a light black pepper spice as well. 

I loved everything about this whiskey! I was practically shoving glasses of this in friends' faces when they came over, telling them they had to try it. That was perhaps more due to the fact that I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this rye. This was one of those bottles that once I opened it, it was gone within no time, because it was all I wanted to drink. I'm not sure where the credit goes here, whether to Old Pepper Distillery, to MGP, or to the folks at Binny's that picked this out, but whoever deserves the credit did an amazing job with this barrel!

Grade: A+

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon finished in Armagnac, Sherry and Cognac Casks


VITALS:
- $150
- 127.02 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 33
- Indiana

The Joseph Magnus line certainly intrigues me.  They seem to get at least decently aged MGP whiskey and finish them with the types of finishes that I generally like, often with sherry or cognac. From what I've had so far, I've enjoyed those deep, rich flavors that those finishes impart. However, I've always been turned off a bit by the steep price tag. After all, their standard offering along will set you back $100.

This past year the Cigar Blend, which I've never had before, hit one of my main stores two different times. It was offered to me the first time, and I was very much on the fence given the $150 price tag. Ultimately I passed, and then, of course, I kept coming across review after review telling me how good it was. Talk about instilling FOMO! So, when it became available again just a couple months later, I didn't consider passing on it a second time. I will say, I'm glad I made that decision!

The nose, not unexpectedly, was full of rich fruits. I was getting a healthy amount of dried apricots as well as baked pears with cinnamon. It also had a bit of a blackberry note to it as well. Layered under all those fruit notes was a nice, earthy nutty note, like almonds. Yes, this smelled fruity and nutty, and it was delicious.

The flavor on this bottle really seemed to develop and change over time, and the last 5-6 pours were incredible. The first half of the bottle wasn't so bad either. I was getting super rich notes of cinnamon baked pears, almond and walnut. It was like a biscotti with pear. It also had this nougat note to it that added some sweetness as well as almost a creaminess that I really enjoyed. 

I also got some light anise notes to add a bit of punch to the flavor. The only thing that was missing was the blackberry that I was getting on the nose. The alcohol was strong (as expected given the proof), but the flavors were even stronger, to the point that the kept the high alcohol at bay, making this very drinkable. 

Towards the end of the bottle, the Armagnac and Cognac finishes really seemed to take over. While it was still nutty with notes of baked pears, it was those nutty notes that took center stage, as I was getting a rich mix of almond and walnut. I also got some sweeter notes of fig and raisin. It was almost like a minced meat pie (the kind that's not actually made with any meat). It even had a bit of a grapey sweetness to it. 

I really liked the first half of this bottle, and I absolutely LOVED the last few pours. It's been a while since I had a bottle open up this much, and it was such an enjoyable experience. I'm certainly glad I went ahead and grabbed this one, and I won't be passing on a bottle of this again.

Grade: A

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Eagle Rare Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select "Wing" Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Barrel No. 001


VITALS:
- $28 (375 ml)
- 90 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 001
- Kentucky

I have to say, I really to like the 375 ml bottles. I'm constantly buying something new, very rarely picking something up I've had before. The smaller 375 bottles allow me to try something new, even something like a private pick of something I've had a thousand times before, but at less of a cost. It also allows me to finish a bottle that much faster to allow me to write my review on it. So, for me, the 375 has plenty of perks.

Now granted, the only reason I ended up with this 375 ml bottle is because by the time I got there, Warehouse had already sold out of all their regular-sized bottles. So this was more of a consolation price, but my love for the smaller bottle remains. It seems like it's been a while since I've gotten my hands on a Warehouse Eagle Rare pick, and I've loved every one I've had so far.  But now these things are gone from Warehouse's shelves as soon as they hit. So, I find myself cherishing the few I've managed to accumulate.

The nose was soft, somewhat light and hard to find. Perhaps I've been drinking too much of the cask strength bourbon lately, but I was a bit surprised. What was there was, as expected, pretty vanilla forward. It also had a light bitter cocoa powder note to it, as well as something almost tart, like candied cherries. I did get a nice black pepper spice off the nose as well.

As to flavor, I got those expected notes of caramel and vanilla and the back end tingle of a nice cinnamon spice--all of which I've always associated with Eagle Rare. However, this one hit a little different, which is what I typically hope to get in a store pick, as long as that "different" is a good different and not a gross different.

The candied cherry that I got off the nose really carried forward to the flavor profile. It paired really well with the strong toffee note that I was getting to provide a nice balance of flavor, while at the same time never getting too sweet. It was almost more on the dry end, actually, like it was teasing with the sweetness of toffee and cherry, but it just never quite got there.

Perhaps aiding in that effort, there was a distinct nutty quality, like unsalted peanuts and maybe a little bit of pecan, that added a bit of earthiness to the whiskey. This was most noticeable on the finish, where the pecan really came through along with a spicy cinnamon note.

This was, quite frankly, what I look for in a good store pick, something that takes the standard profile and adds to it or does something a bit different, but in a good way. This had all the traditional hallmarks of standard Eagle Rare, but there was something more to it that added to its complexity and uniqueness. I love standard Eagle Rare, and I liked this particular bottle even more. 

Grade: A-

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Jeppson's Binny's Barrel Select Single Barrel Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey


VITALS:
- $32
- 124 Proof
- NAS (5.5 Years)
- Indiana

When CH Distillery in Chicago first released Jeppson's Bourbon, I, like so many others, was very hesitant to pick up a bottle for no other reason than that it looked like Malort. I'm not entirely certain what Malort is, but it's one of the worst things I've ever put in my mouth, and for some reason buying shots of the stuff is a bit of a Chicago tradition. And of course my simple mind told me if it looks like Malort, it must taste like Malort.

However, I did eventually pick up a bottle of the regular Jeppson's Bourbon, and I found it to be much better than expected.  So, when Binny's got in a round of cask strength picks, including barrels from Dickel and MGP, as well as a sherry finished, and only at $32, I figured I'd be a fool not to pick one up. Of course, I simply grabbed the oldest of the MGP picks (again, simple mind), figuring more age on an MGP product could only go right.

On the nose I got a lot of sweet, rich caramel along with a natural dark cherry flavor. It had light wood notes that was a bit unexpected given the age, along with a sort of unsweetened cocoa note which added some richness but also added some bitterness.

As to flavor, the first three notes I wrote down, not unlike the nose, were caramel, cherry and chocolate. It really came across as dessert-like, maybe even gourmet chocolate-like. It wasn't overly sweet by any stretch, but it was certainly that good, sweet MGP bourbon with just a bit of kick.

I know the word is somewhat forbidden, but this was very smooth, to the point that I would almost have described it as creamy. It had minimal burn and minimal harsh edges. The sweetness of the caramel was well rounded, and it was balanced out by the dark chocolate as well as a light smokiness that was unexpected but nonetheless very welcome.

That texture also provided for a very long finish. After each swallow my mouth and the back of my throat were coated in dark caramel notes. It was also on the finish where the spice really kicked in. While I would have preferred a bit more spice up front, this certainly made up for it. It was like a warm candy coating that was left behind, and it had my reaching very quickly for that next sip. 

All in all, I've had enough MGP bourbon at this point in my life to have a general understanding of what to expect in the flavor profile. I happen to enjoy that profile very much, and what I was most pleased about is how well this nailed that profile even at only five and a half years. I also enjoyed the slight twists of the prominent cherry note and the subtle smokiness to it.  Bottling this bourbon at cask strength was clearly the right move, and this was an absolute value at only $32!

Grade: B+

Sunday, March 7, 2021

New Riff Winter Whiskey Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $50
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I was unaware of this release coming out from New Riff towards the end of 2020. At least until I heard all about it from my local drug dealer (i.e. liquor store manager). He had recently made a trip down to New Riff for a private barrel pick, and he got to sample this Winter Whiskey. When he came back from the trip, he couldn't shut up about how damn good it was. And when he described it as a bourbon made with oats and chocolate malted barley, I was, at the very least, intrigued.

So, of course, I now had that FOMO planted firmly in my brain, and I let anyone that would listen to me know I really wanted to get my hands on a bottle. When that time did come, I didn't realize just how limited this release would actually be, as many stores only got a few bottles. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle, though, and I was even more surprised at the price! New Riff has always been awesome about keeping their limited or special releases moderately priced, and this was no exception. 

The first whiff was interesting. I don't know what I was expecting, but it was clear that this was something unique and different.  I was immediately hit with a nice roasty note, along with notes of chocolate and almond. It actually reminded me a bit of Hershey's chocolate almond bars, perhaps the dark chocolate ones. It had a sweetness to it, but it was a darker, richer sweetness, like molasses. I also got a sort of spiced, baked goods note, like gingerbread 

On the first sip I was hit with deep, rich malty notes. It definitely had that dark bread type flavor to it. However, many of those other notes from the nose were present as well. I got a lot of rich dark chocolate, along with those nutty notes, somewhere in between almonds and walnut.

What I think New Riff was going for here, though, and what I think they absolutely nailed, was the nice roasty flavor that I got that reminded me a lot of a porter. It was all chocolate and toasted walnut, all layered over a coffee note that wasn't super bitter but was more like a mocha (one made with good coffee). That roasted coffee and walnut note gave it just the slightest smokiness as well.

On the final pours, this drank very much like a coffee porter. It was rich and full of those roasted chocolate and coffee notes (yes, I've used the word "roasted" a lot here), pairing that rich sweetness with a light bitterness, yet all layered over a soft dark chocolate note. 

On the label it states, "This unique whiskey was inspired by our brewing background." I've had many other beer-related or beer-inspired whiskeys, and I've never found one that truly impressed me . . . until now. New Riff absolutely hit the mark here with what they were going for, and, even better, the end result was a unique and absolutely delicious whiskey!!  I hope they don't shelve this product and that at some point I can get my hands on some more

Grade: A

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Ezra Brooks 99 Proof Kentucky Straight Whiskey


VITALS:

- $23
- 99 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I've noted in past posts that lately Luxco has been putting out some very solid products. I'm pretty sure the last time I made note of that it was in the context of reviewing some Binny's private selections -- either Rebel or Ezra Brooks single barrels. I can't remember which, but both were great, so it doesn't really matter.  In fact, I noticed that just these past couple weeks Binny's got another round of those picks in.

So, when Luxco announced that it'd be offering a regularly available, moderately proofed low-cost bourbon to the Ezra Brooks line, I was pretty pumped. I liked the idea of having a 99 proof whiskey, from someone that's been making very good stuff lately, and only at $23!! I'm always on the lookout for those value picks, not just for myself, but as recommendations for others.

The nose had a pretty health dose of cinnamon spice to it, as well as an oaky bitterness. This is a non-age stated whiskey, but it had hints of just a little bit of age in this respect. Surprisingly, contrary to past experiences with Ezra Brooks products, I seemed to get very little sweetness on the nose.

However, that wasn't the case at all on the palate. This had quite a bit of sweetness, actually, and I was taken back a bit on my first sip given the nose. It was full of rich brown sugar and butter, and even a maple syrup note. However, it also had something bright and rich at the same time, kind of like black raspberry. There was certainly a layer of rich, dark fruit to it.

Most notably, though, I got this great cinnamon and biscuit note, and I swear it tasted like monkey bread. While talking about this experience on Twitter, I came to learn that not everyone knows what monkey bread is. For those people I feel sorry, and if you are reading this and happen to be one of those people, please click on this link and plan on making it for breakfast some time for you and your family:  https://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/monkey-bread-with-caramel/4a92932f-f795-4813-9800-d6e35e8d5a49.  I assure you it's worth a try!

In addition to that cinnamon, caramel and biscuit flavor that I absolutely loved, I also got some rich amaretto notes, adding a little bit of tang to the overall sweetness. It had a long, sweet finish with loads of caramel and vanilla and just the slightest bitter note. It reminded me a bit of a caramel latte.

All in all, this was absolutely on the sweeter side of whiskeys. However, the flavor profile worked so well with that sweetness. Perhaps it's the way it brought me back to fond memories of my childhood enjoying that sticky, gooey pull-apart caramel-cinnamon biscuit breakfast my mom would make, but I really loved this whiskey. It is certainly right at the top of my $25 and under whiskeys.

Grade: A

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Michter's Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Rye - 2020

VITALS:

- $70
- 109.2 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 20H1738
- Kentucky

Three years ago Michter's followed up their annual Toasted Barrel Bourbon with their Toasted Barrel Rye. Up to that point, I had only heard about the Toasted Barrel Bourbon, but had never gotten my hands on it. When I got my chance to grab a rye, I remember being thrilled at the chance. And once I opened it, I was even more thrilled at just how damn good it was!! Even three years later I still remember that bottle and just how much I really loved it.

Of course, from there Michter's went back to the Toasted Barrel Bourbon, and they even released a Toasted Barrel Sour Mash. But this past year, they went back to the Toasted Barrel Rye well, and I couldn't have been more thrilled. Once it was announced I put all my feelers out there to make sure that I got my hands on a bottle, and luckily for me it paid off. It's not every time that I get a new bottle that I open it right away, but that was absolutely the case here.

The nose on this one was soft and mellow. I got the traditional notes of brown sugar and vanilla. There was also the anticipated light note of pine, as well as a decent amount of cinnamon spice. I did get a sort of salted caramel note, however, that seemed to take over more and more as I made my way through the bottle, which I really enjoyed.

That caramel note really seemed to carry over to the flavor, but with a slight twist. It was almost like a spiced caramel. In addition to the rich, sugary sweetness of the caramel, it also had a nice spicy mix of black pepper and cinnamon. It was a great mix of sweet and heat, something that to me defines a good rye.

It had a light woodiness to it, that betrayed some age, though not a lot, and it certainly wasn't enough to dry it out at all. It was, without question, a sweeter rye whiskey. However, the light notes of pine and that mix of pepper and cinnamon was enough to keep it from being overly sweet.

On the final few pours I was consistently getting a flavor that was familiar to me, but I just wasn't able to place it. Eventually, though, it hit me, and I was definitely getting a prominent note of pancakes with maple syrup. It's at this point that the spice really took a back seat and that it truly became a sweet rye. It was still delicious, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't quite what I loved about the first 3/4ths of the bottle.

It's possible I built this one up to much in my mind. It's also possible that this one simply wasn't as good as the first run. That said, that first run set the bar very high, and I can't say that I was necessarily expecting it to get over that bar. That said, this was still a fantastic whiskey, one which I had a hard time saving, despite how much I may have wanted to. I hope Michter's continues to make this, as, at least in my mind, it's the best of the toasted barrel offerings.

Grade: A-

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Waterford Irish Single Malt Whiskey - An Experiment in Terroir?


You may have noticed a recent addition to the Irish Whiskey aisle at your local retailer. In fact, given the bright blue package and very sleek and modern look, the Waterford Irish Single Malts really stick out amongst all the other earth-toned Irish whiskeys. They really are eye-catching. But, when a friend of mine offered to send me some samples to try, I had to admit I didn't know much more about Waterford than that.

So, while I waited for this package of sample bottles to arrive, I checked out what Waterford was all about, and, quite frankly, it's worth a look -- www.waterfordwhiskey.com.  Waterford is not just a distillery, but a whiskey "project."  According to their website, Waterford sourced 86 Irish farms, including organic and biodynamically run farms, growing barley on 19 different soil types. While sourcing this grain, Waterford is tracking and recording it every step of the way, taking note of everything from the date of harvest to the date of distillation and even the soil type. The goal appears to be to establish or, perhaps better stated, to demonstrate each whiskey's terroir--something traditionally associated with wine, not whiskey.

What I didn't realize until I actually had these samples in hand, however, is that each whiskey comes with its own "Teireoir Code." By entering each code on Waterford's web site, I then was completely inundated with information about that whiskey and the grains used to make it. I was honestly floored at just how much information is made available to the consumer. For instance, the very first piece of information is the name of the grower of the barley, followed by information relating to the date the barley was harvested, the date the whiskey was distilled, the length of maturation down to the day, and the number of bottles produced.

As you scroll through each page, you get background on the particular farm where the barley was grown, audio of the wind blowing and birds chirping at the farm (not sure that it was necessary to hear the farm, but a fun little interactive aspect), and even a complete timeline of the barley from the date sown to the date harvested to the date of distillation to the date of bottling. You even get a picture of a cross-section of the soil.  Admittedly, this was certainly more information than I have ever asked for or felt I needed. And some of the farm descriptions come across as a bit hokey and fluffy. But, there is no question that what Waterford is doing differently from everybody else is not only tracking every detail of their whiskey, from grain to bottle, but providing all of that information to the consumer. And it really was fun looking up each Teireoir Code as I sampled each of these whiskeys.


But of course, all the information in the world doesn't mean much unless the product is good.  Each of these whiskeys is fairly young, with none being over 4 years, and they come with a healthy price tag approaching $100 per bottle. So, going in I felt each of these whiskeys had some work to do.


Dunbell 1.1
 - 100 Proof
 - 3 yrs., 8 mos., 26 days
 - 6,000 Bottles
 - Single Farm Origin
 - Terroir Code: F022E01-01

This was the first of the whiskeys that we tried, and it was the last one I went to when I re-visited them. The nose on this one was absolutely delicious, and I probably spent more time nosing this one than any of the others. It had delicious rich aromas of apricot and brandy, with a brown sugar and honey sweetness. It also had a bit of a cereal note, like Cheerios, as well as some light smokiness.

The flavor, unfortunately, wasn't quite as good. Right away I got notes of white peppercorn spice and that Cheerios flavor I got on the nose. It was very grain forward in its profile, and many of those notes I loved on the nose, like the apricot and brandy, were missing from the flavor. There was also something a bit off-putting, like a garlic note. This one really could have used more sweetness on the palate to provide a little bit of balance or nuance. Instead it came across as a bit of a one-trick pony, and that one-trick wasn't that impressive.


Dunmore 1.1
 - 100 Proof
 - 3 yrs., 11 mos., 17 days
 - 13,000 Bottles
 - Single Farm Origin
 - Terroir Code: F017E01-01

This was the second whiskey I tried, and the first thing I noticed was the difference in the nose. Rather than sweet and rich, this one actually had some earthiness to it, almost like coffee grounds. It still had that honey sweetness, but also a bit of a blackberry note. There was also a sweet, cashew-like nuttiness to it, as well as just a bit of peppery spice. 

The flavor on this one was more Scotch-like to me and was certainly barley forward. The most prominent notes were honey and graham cracker, and my immediate thought was that I liked this one substantially more than the first. It had that earthy tone that I got on the nose, kind of like coffee grounds but without the coffee bitterness. The finish provided some nice pepper spice, as well as a bit of a tree-fruit flavor, like baked pear. It seemed to finish off with a light and crisp lemongrass note. This one was my favorite for most of the night, that is until I revisited the next one.


Rathclough 1.1
 - 100 Proof
 - 3 yrs., 11 mos., 26 days
 - 13,000 Bottles
 - Single Farm Origin
 - Terroir Code F016E01-01

The nose on this one was even more earthy than the Dunmore. The coffee ground note was more prominent, but it also shared space with rich brown sugar and baked apples. It had a nice black pepper spice that tickled my nose, but really it was that earthy scent that set this apart from the other three whiskeys, and noticeably so.

When I first sipped this whiskey, I immediately noticed something funky, almost medicinal and smoky all at once. I likened it to Agricole rums, which honestly, I'm not much of a fan of. It even had what I described as a musty flavor to it, like a damp forest.  Behind that, though were brighter notes of banana, along with counter-balancing notes of orange peel and chocolate. This all sounds weird, I know, but it was intriguing and the one that I most wanted to re-visit. Upon revisiting, I ultimately determined that this was my favorite whiskey of the four. That mustiness somehow worked really well with the banana and the bitter orange peel. It had great balance of sweet, smoke, bitter and earthiness, and it was unquestionably interesting and intriguing. This was the most funky of the four whiskeys and the most fun. 


Gaia 1.1
 - 100 Proof
 - 3 yrs., 9 mos., 20 days
 - 24,000 Bottles
 - Arcadian Series - Organic
 - Terroir Code OR01E01-01

The nose on this one was very much fruit forward, and it was more in the citrus family of fruit. I got a healthy dose of caramel, immediately followed by bright notes of apricot and orange. There was a bit of graham cracker and, much like the others, a coffee note (pretty much the one consistency among all of these).  However, it was very sweet, like a coffee latte or a caramel pastry. 

Though it may be splitting hairs a bit, the sweetness in the flavor was more of a brown sugar note than a caramel note. I did get a bit of cherry as well, along with some orange peel, and that gave of a bit of an old fashioned flavor. However, it definitely was the sweetest of the four whiskeys, and I even got a vanilla frosting note.  I think it was that sweetness that really appealed to some of my colleagues who loved this one. On re-visiting this one, while it remained very sweet, the orange peel came across a bit solvent-like to me. 


Final Thoughts . . .

Though each one is different, when you're in a setting like I was, with four different people trying four different whiskeys, you can't help but compare and rank them. It's only human nature. For me, I ended up absolutely loving the Rathclough, and the Dunmore was a close second. The Dunbell just didn't do it for me.  And yet everyone in my group seemed to have different favorites. One other guy agreed with me as to the Rathclough. However, one absolutely loved the Gaia, yet hated the Dunmore. And the fourth guy picked the Dunmore as his favorite. As always, different strokes for different folks.

But, it was absolutely fun going through each of these whiskeys, learning all there is to possibly know about each, and even finding new whiskeys that I absolutely enjoyed! It appears as though Waterford plans on churning out new whiskeys on a regular basis, and, if our little tasting demonstrates anything, it's that there is something to terroir in whiskey. Each of these, despite being distilled at the same place, by the same people and matured for the same amount of time, was completely distinct, some with almost no similarity to the others. I know I'm not going to love them all, but if this sampling showed me anything it's that Waterford can produce some really interesting and delicious whiskey.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Lot No. 40 Binny's Custom Blended Cask Strength Canadian Rye Whisky


VITALS:
- $70
- 114 Proof
- NAS
- 3rd Edition
- Canada

I'm not necessarily a Canadian Rye enthusiast. I've certainly enjoyed plenty a pour of the stuff, from Whistlepig to Collingwood to even regular Lot No. 40.  Admittedly, I've never considered myself a big fan of Canadian rye. To me it has always been on the sweeter side, and I tend to prefer rye for its spiciness. I also find that I frequently get almost an artificial brown sugar note, enough so that it's a flavor I now associate with Canadian ryes.

That said, even though it may not be my most favorite profile, I do actually like regular Lot No. 40 rye. It's softer, for sure, but it generally has good flavor and just a touch of soft spice. So, when I saw a bottle of the Cask Strength on the shelf, the first I've ever come across a bottle, I figured what the hell and grabbed one. The reviews I've read were mixed, but to be fair, those reviews were posted in bourbon groups, so there was no doubt some inherent bias there. I wanted to see for myself just how good the cask strength version is.

On the nose, the first thing I noticed was that brown sugar note. Like I said above, it's kind of an artificial brown sugar. Kind of like brown sugar and peanuts. It also had a rich, earthy molasses type sweetness to it, along with some cinnamon spice. That cinnamon spice actually reminded me of those heavily scented pinecones they sell at the grocery store around Christmas.

The flavor was a bit different than expected, however.  I did get a brown sugar note, but it didn't come across as artificial. In fact, it came across more earthy, like brown sugar and leather. It also came across a bit buttery (at least in flavor, not necessarily in texture).

What struck me most about this was that it had a very rye bread quality to it. The rye was there, but it was almost yeasty, like a good, rich, dark bread. In fact, on later pours it reminded me a lot of a nice thick stout.

The finish had some light wood tannins as well as a warm cinnamon spice. The leather was there on the finish as well, along with a slight smoky note which was quite welcome. This was all well and good, but there was also a strange note that lingered on my tongue for a bit, kind of like orange flavored hard candy.

All in all, this was a good whiskey, albeit a bit odd. However, what was odd about it was actually kind of enjoyable. It was like a dirtier version of a typical Canadian rye, and I mean that in a good way. It may seem odd as you read this. Heck, it seemed odd as I wrote this, but it really was pretty good in its own funky, earthy way. At the very least, it was pretty unique.

Grade: B

Saturday, February 20, 2021

High West A Midwinter Nights Dram Blended Straight Rye Whiskey - Act 8, Scene 3


VITALS:

- $90
- 98.6 Proof
- NAS
- Act 8, Scene 3
- Utah

Let me just start by saying that the Dram is my jam! In fact, when I reviewed Act 3, Scene 2 nearly five years ago, I thought it was one of the best things I had ever tasted! Of course, since then people have caught on, the price has gone up (though not too much compared to other products) and the demand has certainly increased. That's no surprise given that it's a limited release, that it's done so well, and that it's probably priced just about right.

I honestly haven't been out hunting for these bottles when they've been released. I've had the Midwinter Nights Dram many times, mostly while skiing in Utah. But, my local manager knows my preference for rye whiskeys, and she was kind enough to set one of these aside for me, without me even asking, knowing I'd appreciate getting my hands on one. And appreciate it I did! After all, it's been almost five years since I got to enjoy my own bottle!

As would be expected from a port finished whiskey, the nose was rich and pungent. The wine notes really came through, with notes of blackberry and plum. There was also a distinct raisin note. Aside from those fruit notes, I also got some rich dessert like notes, like dark chocolate and brown sugar. In one word, this smelled rich, and I could tell I was headed for more of a dessert-like whiskey here. 

The flavor very much followed suit. Those rich, dark fruits absolutely took center stage. I was getting all sorts of these flavors, from plums and dates to black raspberry to currant. It had a richness and a brightness to it all at once. What's more is these fruit notes did not make it overly sweet, but rather provided some good balance in that sense.

The dark chocolate from the nose also came through pretty heavily, offering a very light sweetness, but more of a richness balanced out by some much needed bitter notes. I also got an earthy walnut note that seemed to fit in perfectly with everything.

The finish was not as long as I had expected or hoped. However, it was on the finish that I found myself thinking of Christmas. I was getting brown sugar, raisin and even a bit of maple syrup. It definitely had a fruit cake character to it. 

If I have one knock on this, though, is that the rye notes didn't seem to shine like I remembered them doing in the past. What I've normally loved about this whiskey is that balancing of the spicy rye with the sweet and rich port flavors, and here the rye spice just seemed to take a back seat. Don't get me wrong, this was still a fantastic whiskey, and once I popped the cork I couldn't put the bottle down. I just wanted a bit more of the rye to come through is all

Grade: A-

Friday, February 19, 2021

Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Special Release Barrel Proof Tennessee Rye Whiskey


VITALS:
- $70
- 132 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 20-06945
- Tennessee

It's been a while since I've been truly excited for a new release to the point that I put my feelers out there early that I was after a bottle. It was to the point that even my local liquor store guy commented that he hadn't seen me chasing after a bottle quite like I did for this one. But, those efforts paid off, as he let me know as soon as this came in and he set one aside for me.

I've had the Jack Daniel's Heritage Barrels in the past. That was their typical annual limited edition release, and that was absolutely delicious! For 2020, it is almost as though Brown Forman had been listening to its fans, who have been clamoring for the Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Ryes to be released at cask strength. Even before I got my hands on my bottle, I saw a lot of hype and love for this bottle, so I was pretty amped to give it a try.

On the nose I got a lot of pine notes along with a healthy amount of soft vanilla. It had a certain sweetness to it as well, like honey. But it also had a darker, richer sweetness as well, like molasses, which I thought was kind of interesting. I also got a darker cherry note, kind of like a Luxardo cherry. It smelled good, but nothing mind-blowing here.

However, what it may have lacked on the nose it made up for in the flavor. I immediately noticed the nice, thick, viscous texture of this whiskey. My mouth was immediately coated with an almost oily residue of flavor. I also immediately noticed that this rye was on the sweeter end of the rye spectrum, but yet it still had that punchiness that I love.

It was a very caramel forward rye. I got some of those pine notes from the nose, as well as a rich cinnamon note that you'd expect from a good rye. But the caramel note seemed to take centerstage and the other flavors were complementary. I also got a consistent undercurrent of soft and not really sweet vanilla.

On the finish the spice really came through. The sweet caramel seemed to take more of a back seat and I was left with delicious notes of cinnamon and black pepper spice. It wasn't anything that burned or was offensive in any way, but rather it simply made my mouth water a bit and made me eager for that next sip.

On later pours, some of the more traditional rye flavors seemed to pop a bit. I got a bit of a tannic oak note, and the pine and cinnamon seemed to come forward a bit. But it always had that undercurrent of soft caramel to balance everything out.

This really was everything I look for in a rye--nice viscous mouthfeel, high proof, and a great balance of spicy and sweet. In fact, after opening this bottle and trying it, I made it a point to track down a backup bottle, something I rarely do. But I just had to have one of these in reserves, it was that good.

Grade: A

Friday, February 12, 2021

Four Roses Small Batch Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $45
- 104 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

It's not often that a bottle will have particular sentimental value to me, but when one does, it seems to stick. It's often tied to a memory or event, good or bad, that that particular bottle is forever associated with. George T. Stagg has always been one of those bottles for me, tied to events and circumstances in my life that I'll forever remember. And every time I come across George T. Stagg, I'm brought right back there.

In this particular instance, I got to try Four Roses Small Batch Select back when it was first introduced to the market. In fact, it was even before it was available here in Illinois.  I had the luck to score tickets to a tasting with the late, great Al Young at Warehouse Liquors in Chicago. The event was, in part, to promote some new barrel picks that Warehouse had just gotten in, but it was also part of Al's tour promoting the new product. We got to taste this bourbon, as well as four different private picks and the 130th Anniversary Small Batch. Needless to say it was a hell of a night and one that I'll never forget. I had so much fun spending time with Al Young, and seeing this bottle actually makes me a little sad because it just reminds me that he passed away shortly thereafter.

However, a good friend of mine gave me this bottle (I actually never bought my own), and now I finally have the chance to give it the review it deserves.  The nose had a lot of cinnamon, providing a sweet spiciness, along with a nice layer of vanilla. It had some chocolate notes as well, and, oddly enough, I swear I got the aroma of a snack cake, like a Twinkie.  It smelled absolutely delicious.

On my first sip, the first thing I noticed was the texture. I noticed this when I had it the first time as well, and that is that this bourbon does not drink at its proof. The alcohol burn is almost non-existent, which is surprising for a 104 proof whiskey. That may appeal to some and not to others. To me, it was simply dangerous, as that proof tended to hit me harder than expected.

As to flavor, it was a bit different than what I was getting on the nose. I got a decent amount of the traditional toffee and vanilla notes. I did get the chocolate I got from the nose, but it wasn't nearly as sweet. It was more of a dark chocolate note, even with a touch of that bitterness.

It had a light cinnamon note to it, like cinnamon candy. But, what struck me more was the ginger that I got out of this. It had a distinct gingerbread note to it that, once I noticed it, I couldn't not notice. There was also a bit of oak to add to that bitter, dry quality as well.

The finish was even a bit different still. There I got a cherry note that I didn't find elsewhere. It was a sweeter cherry, and even with a touch of liqueur, kind of like a cherry cordial. It was on the finish that the cinnamon spice seemed to really come through as well.

This bourbon was unquestionably complex, and it did seem to go in a number of directions.  When I had it the first time, I was, admittedly, a bit underwhelmed. However, that my have been due to the fact that this pour was immediately preceded by the 130th Anniversary, which was incredible. This time around, while it still came across a bit more watery than expected, it also had a lot more going on from a flavor standpoint, and I certainly enjoyed it a lot more. It's certainly one I'd recommend to anyone that hasn't tried it yet. 

Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Widow Jane Whiskey Distilled From a Rye Mash Oak & Apple Wood Aged


VITALS:
- $35 (375 ml)
- 91 Proof
- NAS
- Batch #33
- New York

This was the second bottle from the two-pack of 375 ml bottles that my wife bought me a short while back. The other one was the 10 Year Blended Bourbon.  I do love that my wife bought me this two-pack. Honestly, I don't know that I would have ever gotten around to grabbing a bottle of this off the shelf. While it sounds interesting, aged in oak and apple wood and all, it's just not so interesting that I've felt I needed to try it.

But, when someone gifts me a bottle, my curiosity is going to get the best of me every time, and I'm going to give it a whirl. If nothing else, it gives me something new to write about here. So, despite that I never really had a great desire to try this in the first instance, and despite that it came in a weird little skinny bottle, I, of course, nonetheless cracked it open and enjoyed it pour after pour until it was gone.

The nose on this was actually pretty good. It was light and crisp, with notes of caramel and vanilla and a consistent undercurrent of pear. It did have a bit of a bread or cracker note to it, like a plain wafer cracker, but it also had a touch of black pepper and cinnamon to tickle my nose a bit and keep it interesting. 

The first thing I noticed upon my first sip was that it was very drinkable and, dare I say, smooth. The proof is somewhat low, but not so low that it should come across as completely watered down. But, it was certainly a softer whiskey, with few sharp edges and also not a lot of punch. So, good and bad.

The flavor was very vanilla forward, kind of like a French vanilla flavor. I'm not sure what makes French vanilla different from regular, but there's definitely a difference, and that's what I noticed here. Along with the vanilla, the other more prominent note was a crisp fruit note. But, it wasn't that apple note that I so often get with a young whiskey (I have no idea how old this one was), but rather more of a pear note. I think this is what made it so drinkable, because it was crisp and almost refreshing.

What was disappointing, though, was the lack of any rye spice. If I'm grabbing a rye off the shelf, I'm doing so because I want a rye. I want those flavors and spices that I get from a rye. Give me the pickle and pine, the cinnamon and brown sugar. Here, all I got was vanilla and pear. I did get some nice cinnamon and pepper on the nose, but that was noticeably absent in the flavor.

The last few pours of this were very sweet, almost as though the nectar from the pear had somehow settled at the bottom. And those sips were almost entirely that pear note. I don't know if it came from the apple wood that it was aged in or the unnamed source of the "rye mash" itself (the label doesn't actually call this a rye whiskey), but that was nearly all I got.

Again, this was very easy to drink, but that only gets me so far. I want flavor, I want complexity, and with a rye, or even something "distilled from a rye mash," I want spice.  And this had none of that. So, I was glad I got to try it, but I'm also glad that I was justified in not reaching for it sooner.

Grade: C-

Monday, February 8, 2021

Old Fitzgerald 15 Year Bottled-In-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $160
- 100 Proof
- 15 Years
- Kentucky

I think these may be the fanciest bottles on the market. They're certainly up there. And while my brain tells me that it's just fancy packaging that doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the whiskey inside, nonetheless when I walk up to the counter and see this bottle on the shelf behind the clerk, I'm still immediately drawn to it. So that fancy packaging apparently works.

That said, I also felt very comfortable that the whiskey inside was going to be very good as well. Not only has each release received great reviews generally, but the ones I've actually tried I've really enjoyed, particularly when I've had the pleasure of trying some of the older bottlings. So, I went ahead and grabbed this one, the oldest of the releases, despite the very hefty price tag it carried.

The nose was light and soft--I'd almost describe it as fluffy. It was full of soft vanilla and smooth milk chocolate aromas.  There was a bit of cherry licorice, which combined with the vanilla and chocolate, certainly had this smelling like a sweeter bourbon. That said, I also got some light oak and even some peanut flavor to add a touch of earthiness. It was, without question, though, on the sweeter end.

The flavor was much the same, though the chocolate really came through. This is what the cool kids would call a "chocolate bomb." That soft, creamy milk chocolate note was really at the forefront whether on the front end or the finish, whether on the first pour or the last.

There was certainly some vanilla as well, along with some cherry notes. But, the cherry came across more as real cherry than the fake cherry licorice note, which certainly was an improvement in my book. At times I got sweet notes of white chocolate as well to really help round this out as a dessert whiskey.

Most notable with this bourbon, though, was the texture. It had such a soft and silky texture that it seemed to make those other notes that much more enjoyable. Giving that silky feel to the notes of chocolate and vanilla really made those flavors seem more decadent. It also helped those flavors stick around for a while, as it left an almost buttery coat of flavor behind.

Other notes came through, including a light bready or yeast-like note that was kind of lingering in the background, and on later pours I was noticing some nice amaretto and anise notes that were light and subtle but certainly worked with everything else going on here.

As I'm making notes while working through any given bottle, I have a grade I plan on giving that bottle in the back of my mind, and it's not always static. In this case, with every pour I seemed to like this bourbon more and more, and by the last few pours, in my mind this was an absolutely killer bottle. This is well-worth seeking out a pour, in my estimation.

Grade: A

Monday, February 1, 2021

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye


VITALS:
- $35
- 90.4 proof
- NAS
- Batch 009
- Kentucky

It seems a bit odd that I've reviewed as many different whiskeys as I have, but that I've never reviewed the Woodford Reserve Rye. I love rye, and I tend to drink a lot of it.  In fact, I've had Woodford Reserve Rye many times over the years. Granted, most of the time it's in a cocktail, but nonetheless, it's not a whiskey I'm unfamiliar with. But I've just never had a bottle to myself, one that I could finish and eventually write one of these reviews. At least until now.

Luckily for me, I didn't have to worry about always finding something better to buy. Rather, this bottle came to me, free of charge, as a gift from my father-in-law. While he may have had more selfish reasons for leaving this bottle at my house, it nonetheless became mine and I got to drink it, which is what matter most. So, while this seems like a big gap as far as whiskeys that I haven't yet reviewed are concerns, at least this one gap is now getting filled.

I got a lot of the traditional rye notes on the nose, with a light pine note paired with a healthy amount of brown sugar. It also had a light cinnamon, but not in a spicy way. More like in a cinnamon roll way. In fact, it smelled sweet, almost like a wheated bourbon. However, it also had a certain musty quality to the nose that tended to turn me off -- kind of like a damp basement smell.

I thought it had a sweet nose, and the palate was even sweeter. I still got a lot of the brown sugar that I was getting form the nose. However, I also got a healthy amount of maple syrup. It tasted a bit like the gooey middle of a pecan pie.

It did have a light oak quality to it, to help offset the sweetness a touch, but even that seemed almost on the sweeter side. It also had that same cinnamon note I got on the nose, once again not really adding any spice, just that cinnamon flavor. There was also a good amount of bread notes. I was reminded of a honey wheat bread.

The maple syrup seemed to stick around the most on the finish. Some of oak stuck around as well, and on the finish actually added that bit of dryness that was missing everywhere else. 

Overall, it's a flavor I've known, I just never got my own bottle, and this is probably why. It's just not what I look for in a rye whiskey. When I reach for a rye, I want something that's going to give me some spice, and this simply had none. Rather, it was just a sweet whiskey, and often it proved to be too sweet for my tastes. That said, I do feel like I now need to go and grab all those other "mainstay" whiskeys on the shelves that I just haven't gotten around to buying and reviewing. Perhaps it's time to start filling in those gaps.

Grade: C+

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Elijah Craig Small Batch Single Barrel Hand Selected for Illinois Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $30
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 6191649
- Warehouse: X
- Kentucky

Without fail, whenever I'm at a grocery store, any grocery store, I make it a point to do a quick scan of their whiskey selection. I make trips to my local Jewel at least twice a week if not more, and pretty much every time the whiskey selection remains the same. However, one time I notice that the Buffalo Trace that was there had a gold sticker on it, and sure enough it was a Jewel-Osco single barrel pick. And so, I learned, you just never know.

This time, I was doing a quick run to Meier for a few things, and as I made my obligatory turn down the liquor aisle, I saw a display of Elijah Craig. Nothing out of the ordinary, for sure. But, when I looked at the bottles on each shelf of this display, about half of them were labeled "Single Barrel Selected By: Hand Selected for Illinois."  Now, I have no idea what this actually means. It doesn't say it was selected by Meier. Perhaps by the distributor?  I really have no idea, and admittedly, I have done no research on the issue whatsoever. My research consisted entirely of product testing.

The nose had all the traditional characteristics you'd expect to find from Elijah Craig. I got toffee and a bit of vanilla. It had just a light touch of anise spice and even some dark chocolate notes. It also had some woody notes, kind of a light blend of walnut, oak and char. While it all blended well, the nose was fairly thin and somewhat hard to detect.

The flavor was perhaps even more traditional than the nose. I got heavy doses of caramel and vanilla. In fact, it was almost hard to pull other flavors out. While it was on the sweeter side, it was a bit more subdued than it might initially sound. 

That sweetness, luckily, was balanced by some of those other flavors that, while not prominent, were there enough to do the trick. I got a bit of orange peel that added not only some bright citrus notes to the whiskey, but also a touch of bitterness to help counter some of that sweetness.  I also got a touch of the oak and char that I got on the nose to again add another light component to sort of counter the sweetness.

The finish was very much like an old fashioned for me. It had the caramel notes of the bourbon along with the orange bitters. In this way the sweetness of the bourbon really worked. There was that light touch of char on the finish as well, adding another, almost light smoky layer to the finish.

All in all, this was a decent bottle, and I don't know that it's significantly better than standard Elijah Craig.  That said, it was fun to find the random single barrel selection in a place where I wouldn't have expected it, and I'll continue to make those obligatory detours down the liquor aisle of my grocery store, just in case . . .

Grade: B

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

1792 Binny's Single Barrel Select Batch #3 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $55
- 125 Proof
- NAS
- Batch #3
- Kentucky

I've commented in the past at how I have a nearly impossible time not grabbing store picks of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare or Elijah Craig whenever I come across them. While I wouldn't have necessarily lumped it in with those, looking back on my conduct, I guess I can say the same for 1792 Full Proof picks. I can't think of a time when I saw one on a shelf and thought, "Nah, I'm good."  While it's certainly pricier than those other three, the higher proof certainly makes up for at least a portion of that price difference.  

I guess the only real difference is that I have yet to find one that has really blown me away. Everyone I've had has been good. Probably better than the standard full proof. But I have had private picks of Eagle Rare and Knob Creek that are some of the best whiskeys I've ever tasted.  I have, in fact, had Elijah Craig and Buffalo Trace picks that were far superior when compared to their standard offerings. While I feel like I never can go wrong with a 1792 Full Proof pick, I just haven't yet had that experience with it.  Of course, I still grabbed this one hoping that would change.

On the nose I got a lot of rich, dark caramel. In fact, it even leaned a bit towards burnt sugar. It also had a sort of bitter earthiness to it, kind of like a walnut note. It also had a rich chocolate note, and with all of this together, it really smelled kind of like a turtle--those caramel and peanut chocolates. It smelled really good!

And when I took my first sip, that was exactly what I tasted. The very first thing I noted was turtle. It was all chocolate, caramel and either a pecan or a walnut note. It was actually kind of uncanny how closely the flavor matched the nose in this respect. 

It had a sort of a creamy quality to it, kind of like a nougat. In this respect it was like a richer but a less sweet Snickers bar. The walnut note seemed to hang around throughout, but at times I did get some white wine notes or, perhaps more accurately, a brandy note. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it was rich and fruity but not sweet.

The finish was great and had a lot going on. It had all the same flavors I got on the nose and on the front, including the chocolate, caramel and walnut. However, this is where the spice came in. I got a little bit of cinnamon and black pepper to add a bit of tingle on my tongue. I even got just a little bit of anise, which only added to the complexity and did not take away from any of the other flavors goin on here. But yet, the finish was still just that caramel and walnut combo that I really enjoyed.

As far as 1792 Full Proof picks go, this is honestly the best that I can remember having. Obviously recency bias plays a big part, but I can't think of another example that I enjoyed quite this much. It had its flavor profile and it did that profile very well. Well-worth the "gamble" in picking this off the shelf when I saw it.  Guess I still won't hesitate the next time I see one.

Grade: A-

Monday, January 25, 2021

Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Whiskey (2018)


VITALS:
- $70
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I’m not going to lie, Rock Hill Farms is one of my all-time favorite whiskeys. In fact, I make it a point to always have one in reserve before I open a new bottle of it. So, if you're here looking for an unbiased, objective review of this whiskey, let me tell you up front that that is not what this is--not that any whiskey reviews are unbiased or objective.

That said, given that these are single barrels, and given their ever increasingly limited availability, I figured since I finished this bottle off, I might as well go ahead and give it another review and jot down my notes as to what I smelled and tasted this time around. Who knows, maybe I noticed something different or better, or even worse this time around. But, just as expected, I sure did enjoy this bottle and now I will once again be on the hunt for my back-up bottle before I can open the next.

The nose was full of traditional aromas of caramel and brown sugar, with a nice, warming cinnamon spice to it. I also got some candied orange, with that caramelized citrus note that would really lend itself to a delicious Old Fashioned. In fact, I even got a bit of a Luxardo cherry note to sort of round things out. IT really smelled delicious!

The flavor really followed suit, and those Old Fashioned notes seemed to be sort of a running theme with this bottle. I found those same candied orange and dark cherry notes to be fairly prominent. But, keeping it from becoming too sweet, it also had that cinnamon spice to provide some nice balance.

While there's no age statement, it certainly spent a decent amount of time in the barrel, as the oak notes were noticeable, though far from overtaking all the other delicious flavors. Rather, it provided the right amount of tannic bitterness to, again, provide balance with all the other flavors.

The finish, however, seemed to lean more to the sweeter side. I got a nice, long finish with lingering notes of toffee and dark chocolate. A bit of the drying wood notes also made their way through on the finish and may have been the reason I just kept going right back in for that next sip. There was also just a bit of cinnamon spice on the finish as well, noticeably on the tip of my tongue.

As I said, I've always been a big fan of this whiskey, and the 2018 bottling certainly did nothing to change that. The profile on this whiskey is right in my wheelhouse, and I only wish it were more readily available, though I see no reason to believe that's going to change any time soon. Luckily I've got a 2020 version bunkered away, just in case the mood hits me.

Grade: A

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Michter's 10 Year Single Barrel Straight Rye (2020)


VITALS:
- $160
- 92 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 20E905
- Kentucky

I remember four years ago wanting so bad to find a bottle of this. It was one that I had, at that time, resigned myself to the fact that I'd likely never get the chance to buy one at the store. As luck would have it, though, the one and only time I've ever participated in those online raffles using Powerball, my number managed to hit and this was one of the bottles that I was able to land as a result.

I also remember being somewhat underwhelmed. That was probably the first time that I ever really went after a particular bottle.  Quite frankly, it was the first hard-to-find bottle that I really wanted to get my hands on. And I distinctly remember trying it for the first time and realizing that it just didn't live up to the hype.  Like I said, that was four years ago, and since then I've had various Michter's rye products that I've loved. So, when the opportunity once again presented itself, I decided to give it another go.  And I'm so glad I did!

The nose was full of soft but sweet notes of brown sugar and salted caramel. It also had a fairly strong vanilla note as well, making it smell very dessert-like. At times I even got a maple syrup note and was reminded of pancakes. However, it also had a bit of that pine note letting me know that it was still a rye, despite the lack of spice.

Much like the nose, the flavor was all soft and sweet up front. This does rye certainly does not fall in the spicy rye category, as I was getting a lot of the same notes I got on the nose. It was a confectionary blend of caramel, brown sugar and butter, almost like homemade candies I used to get at my grandmother's house near the holidays. At times I was even getting a sweet vanilla note, like vanilla icing.

It did have a touch of wood to it as well, but it wasn't quite pine. It was more of a sawdust flavor, like the taste of the air when you use a table saw. Not really bitter and not piney, but definitely woody.

The finish was probably my favorite part. There I got more of the traditional rye notes, with cinnamon and brown sugar taking center stage. There was a slight cherry flavor as well as a maple syrup that lingered long after each pour, and in the end I found myself being reminded of spice cake. This finish was dessert-like and spicy at the same time, and I loved it!

While I was underwhelmed the last time, that was not the case this time. This was a fantastic bottle and I already miss it.

Grade: A

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mitchell & Son Red Spot 15 Year Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey


VITALS:

- $150
- 92 Proof
- 15 Years
- Ireland

My Irish whiskey purchases are few and far between. I'm apparently too busy spending all my money on bourbons and ryes (not that I'm apologizing for it). However, when Red Spot was released in the United States, I remember hearing Mark Gillespie review this bottle on WhiskeyCast podcast. While it's been some time, I'm pretty sure he gave it a rating of 96 (I'm sure I could verify this . . . but nah).  Considering that's the highest score I've ever heard him give, I kept it on my radar to look out for a bottle if I ever got the chance. 

Then, when it finally hit the United States, I had read that the majority of the bottles were allocated to Eastern states, with a limited amount to actually hit Illinois. So when I saw it in my local store's case, I immediately grabbed one for myself. This is a 15 year Irish whiskey, the older brother of the popular Green Spot and Yellow Spot whiskeys, and this one was triple cask finished, having been finished in a combination of bourbon casks, Spanish sherry butts and Marsala wine casks. There was a lot going on here and I was excited to pop the cork as soon as I got home.

The nose is, without question, very fruity. I immediately got hit with aromas of raspberry and pears. I also got sweet honey notes, as well as some delicate floral notes.  To balance all of this out, it had a nice black pepper spice on the nose as well. It had a lot going on, but it all worked really well together.

Much like the nose, the palate on this one was very fruit forward. It was a bit sweeter, though, like bright red raspberry along with a vanilla cream. It at times seemed to have a fruit punch note to it. Even some citrus notes seemed to come through from time to time, specifically bright orange notes.

There was also a yeasty, bread-like flavor to it, and it reminded me of fresh bakery bread. Like a nice, fresh loaf of French bread, but with a touch of honey. There was also a bit of a woody note to it that added a bit of a dry, bitter quality.

The mouthfeel was nice and oily, and with the sweet fruit notes and the slight bit of honey, provided for a lip-smacking finish. It seemed all the sweet notes were what stuck around, with raspberry and honey absolutely coating my mouth and not wanting to go away.

This was one of those bottles that I didn't want to finish. When I got to about four inches left in the bottle, it sat on my shelf for quite some time before I went back to it, because I knew I'd miss it once it was gone. This was an absolutely delicious bottle of whiskey, and even at the price, I think I wouldn't hesitate to grab another bottle if afforded the opportunity.

Grade: A

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Widow Jane Aged 10 Years Blend of Straight Bourbons


VITALS:
- $35 (375 ml)
- 91 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch #233
- Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana

Lately I feel like I've been buying nothing but limited releases and store picks. I'm not complaining at all about that. It's great to have access to the whiskey I've been buying. But, I also feel like it's an impediment to actually trying new things. While I can't pass up a Russel's Reserve or Buffalo Trace store pick, and for good reason, I also don't then end up trying that new bottle I'm seeing on the shelf. I try to be more conscious of that, but at the same time, I'm not working with limitless resources here.

Luckily, though, occasionally my wife will randomly buy me new whiskeys, and because she wants to get me something I haven't had before, she often grabs something I likely wouldn't have gone for. In this instance, she grabbed a 2-pack of 375 ml bottles from Widow Jane, which included a rye whiskey aged in oak and apple wood, and this 10 year blended bourbon.  I've previously had the 10-year straight bourbon, but that was four years ago, and a much different whiskey than this one.

The nose was that of a very traditional bourbon, with aromas of oak and cinnamon and a sweet toffee note. It smelled like it had some age on it, as not only did I get a bit of oak but I also got a bit of a smoky char note to it. I even got a bit of chocolate that really seemed to complement everything else going on. Given the sources for this blend -- Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee -- I guess I really shouldn't have expected anything strange to come from this bottle.

When I took my first sip, I immediately noticed cinnamon and dark chocolate. The spice from the cinnamon, along with a touch of sweetness, hit the tip of my tongue immediately followed by the light bitterness of dark chocolate. 

Once I got past that spicy cinnamon and bitter dark chocolate, though, I got a lot of oak and vanilla. It wasn't over-oaked or overly bitter. In fact, that note seemed to carry forward that same dark chocolate bitterness. And it was all balanced by a rich vanilla note, like vanilla bean.

Other notes were noticeable here and there. At times I got a distinct peanut flavor, and even some dark notes from time to time. When paired with the sweetness from the vanilla and chocolate notes, it was almost like a toned down port wine note that I was getting.

All in all, this was rich and sweet and tasty. At $70 for a full sized bottle and only 91 proof, I don't know that I'm necessarily reaching for it. But, it was nonetheless a very good whiskey and I found that this little bottle just didn't stand a chance. It was gone within a week of opening.

Grade: B