Thursday, October 28, 2021

FEW 10th anniversary Four Grain Straight Bourbon

- $45
- 93 Proof
- Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Glen Scotia Double Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $50
- 92 Proof
- Campbeltown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Batch V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 21, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

Sunday, October 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

Friday, October 8, 2021

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Small Batch Rye - 106.8 Proof

- $60
- 106.8 Proof
- 4 Years
- Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-