Friday, April 30, 2021

Russell's Reserve Liquor Barn "Quarantine Select #6" Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon


- $55
- 110 Proof
- 9 years
- Warehouse S
- Kentucky

Recently we took a Spring Break trip with the kids down to Louisville. My wife and I have been there a couple times, and, since we had no other Spring Break plans, we decided to do an impromptu family vacation to Louisville. What didn't occur to us, however, is that there's not a whole lot for kids to do in Louisville, and even less for them to do when everything is shut down by a pandemic.

While we struggled to provide entertainment for our kids, I still managed to sneak away one afternoon to get to Liquor Barn and peruse their offerings. After scanning the shelves of their various store picks my eyes landed on a Russell's Reserve pick. I haven't seen any of these around me recently, so without hesitation I made my choice. These are always solid and at a very reasonable price, and even as I was walking to the register one of the clerks gave his unsolicited approval of my choice. So, of the bottles that I brought home with me from that trip, this was the first one I opened.

On the nose I got a lot of cinnamon, more than I can recall ever experiencing from Russell's Reserve. It was almost a fake cinnamon, like Big Red gum. It seemed to mix with a pecan pie, as I was getting the corn syrup, pecans and even pie crust. Between the pie crust and the Big Red, it was really kind of an odd mix.

The flavor, however, didn't strike me as odd at all. In fact, it was quite good! The first thing I noticed was a smooth salted caramel note, and even a butterscotch note, like a Werther's candy.  The cinnamon was there, but it came across a bit like a cinnamon liqueur. I also got a sort of cherry flavor, and I noted that it was like cinnamon candied cherries (not that I've ever had such a thing, but if I did, I'd imagine this is what they'd taste like).

On the finish I got a lot of almond, and with that liqueur note, it came across a lot like amaretto. Interestingly, it was on the finish where the pie notes really started coming through as well. The graham cracker crust note was the flavor that seemed to linger the longest, even after the cinnamon spice had gone away. 

All in all this bourbon just had a bunch of delicious, almost comforting notes. Like a warm pastry topped with a creamy caramel icing and just a touch of cinnamon baked in. Whenever I'd go into my basement to stare at my whiskey shelves for a while trying to decide what to drink that particular night, I found it very hard to pick something else while this bottle was sitting there.  It was yet another excellent Russell's Reserve pick, and I hope to start seeing them more often by me again soon.

Grade: B+

Monday, April 26, 2021

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 112.8 Proof

- $60
- 112.8 Proof
- 4 years
- Kentucky

It seems weird that I'm constantly reviewing the same whiskey.  This has to be the fourth or fifth Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye that I've reviewed. But, unlike most other products released in small batches, these aren't the same from batch to batch. They're all bottled at different proofs, so they're not being proofed down to 94 proof, for example, to maintain consistency.  Plus, I absolutely love these, so I keep buying them, and I keep finishing them, and I, therefor, keep reviewing them.

I wish I had more to say about this particular bottle, but I've now amassed a bit of a horde of WFE 4 year rye, such that I don't remember picking up one specific bottle over the other.  I do know that, while I've seen stores price gouging, I've still been able to snag these fairly regularly at $60, which to me is a no-brainer (even if they were previously priced cheaper than that).  I also know that it probably won't last, which is why I keep buying now.

As with most of the others, on the nose I got a healthy dose of pine forest up front, along rich, dark fruit notes, almost wine-like, but sweeter.  The pine on this one was a bit different, though, as it came through as almost damp or musty. In addition to that, though, I got a very forward toffee note to keep it on the sweeter end of the spectrum. It also had a bit of a creme brulee note to it that was unique and delicious.

As to flavor, that pine note was once again one of the first things that came through. However, it was a sweet pine note. Now I've never had a pine flavored dessert, like ice cream or cake. So my frame of reference here is basically nothing, but it came across as a sweet pine flavor. 

That sweet pine was complemented by all sorts of sweet and rich notes. I got a healthy amount of brown sugar which probably helped with that sweetness I was getting. I also got those dark fruit notes I got on the nose, specifically notes of dark cherry and plum.  It also had some more dessert-like notes, with salted chocolate covered caramel coming through, as well as a sweeter cinnamon.

This had a great, oily texture to it, and in that way it really stood out from others I've had in the past. Not that prior bottles were watery or anything. It's just this one seemed to be exceptionally silky and oily. That provided for a great finish that was all buttery nougat and toffee. It reminded me of the inside of a Snicker's bar. The finish was also where the spice finally showed up. 

While this didn't have that huge spicy rye kick that I've loved in previous bottles, I really didn't care at all. This was outstanding even without that, and it offered so many unique and different flavors that all seemed to go so well together.  This is certainly one of the better WFE 4 year Small Batches I've had in a long time! Can't wait to crack into the next one!

Grade: A

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Batch 15 - 131.1 Proof

- $60
- 131.1 Proof
- 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

- $35
- 94 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $26
- 90 Proof
- 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+