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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 100 Proof
- 4 yrs
- Tennessee

Who loves free whiskey??  I do!!!  Last November my wife took me out to celebrate my birthday, including a great dinner at RPM Steakhouse followed by drinks at one of my favorite whiskey bars in Chicago, Untitled.  She even invited a few close friends to meet us there for drinks, and we enjoyed some fine pours and good times.

My buddy brought this bottle along with him as a birthday gift for me. He grabbed this particular bottle because he knew it was one that I had never had before. That, right there, is the greatest consideration anyone can give when buying a bottle for a whiskey drinker. Quite frankly, good, bad or otherwise, I always love getting something I've never had or tried before. So, I was very excited to get into this one!

On the nose I got sweet and woody notes of cinnamon and walnut. It also had a sort of sugary sweetness to it, perhaps like a burnt sugar, as well as a brighter honey sweetness. Notes of oak and vanilla seemed to come through as well, which I particularly noticed on my last few pours.

As for flavor, my initial impression upon my first sip is that this is definitely on the sweeter end. Oddly enough, I got a bit of an agave note, kind of like a sweeter tequila note.  That was a new one and it threw me off a bit, though I didn't dislike it. That was accompanied by notes of cane sugar and pear to kind of round out that experience.

That note really was only noticeable on the first few pours. After having this open for a bit, the profile seemed to change significantly, and it got well-away from that tequila note. It always maintained that sweet, cane sugar-like profile, but it also developed an earthy, more nutty note. It was kind of a mix of peanut and walnut in that sense.

On the finish it was the walnut note more than the peanut note that seemed to really stick around. The finish was actually dryer than expected, too, with much of the sweetness subsiding. I even got a bit of a graham cracker note on the end.

Of course, in the end I do love free whiskey! This one was good, but at times a bit weird and nothing that ever blew me away. That said, I'm certainly never going to turn down a pour.

Grade: B-

Thursday, May 12, 2022

E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2020

VITALS:
- $90
- 130.3
- NAS
- Kentucky

While I really enjoy the E.H. Taylor line-up, I've come to absolutely love the Barrel Proof Taylor. I'm not sure why it hits me differently, perhaps it's just the great combination of high proof and lack of filtering, leaving all the goodness in the bottle. Whatever it is, while I like the single barrel, these Barrel Proofs have always been amazing to me.

And apparently I'm not the only one that has taken notice. Of course scarcity and the fact that it's a Buffalo Trace product have something to do with it, but the secondary pricing on these bottles is just nuts, hovering in the $600-800 range. Though I'd never bring myself to pay that much for something I'm just going to end up drinking, it tells me I should consider myself blessed to enjoy these when I do stumble across a bottle.

On the nose I got a lot of cinnamon and chocolate. It was a spicy cinnamon, though, and it reminded me of Mexican chocolate. That chocolate note was actually quite strong and really dominated the aroma. There were also some cherry notes buried in there as well, which, mixed with that cinnamon, gave of a sort of cloves aroma.

Right as the first sip hit my tongue, I was hit with a blast of flavor, full of caramel and cherry. It even had a sort of tangy amaretto note to it as well. It was certainly sweet, but had a rich fruitiness to it and even a bit of an earthy note to keep it grounded.

It also filled my mouth with a nice, warm cinnamon spice. it wasn't biting, but rather just there to be enjoyed. That warm cinnamon spice stuck around long through the finish as well. And it wasn't just heat from the high ABV. In fact, this wasn't overheated at all, regardless of its proof, making it very drinkable.

The finish, as mentioned, was full of that delicious cinnamon note, but there was also some sweet butterscotch on the finish. Almost as though someone took that caramel note from the front end and melted some butter right into it. There was also a bit of nutmeg as well, which again kept the sweetness from going too far.

Everything about this bottle was right down my wheelhouse. I hesitate to give an A+ grade too freely, but the fact of the matter is that as far as my ideal bourbons go, this bottle was it! This was absolutely superb and more than deserving of the grade.

Grade: A+

Friday, May 6, 2022

High West Double Rye! Warehouse Liquors Select White Port Finished Blended Rye

VITALS:
- $55
- 97.4 Proof
- NAS
- Finished 1 yr., 1 mo.
- Barrel No. 20810
- Utah

I love that the High West store picks are so varied with their finishes. On top of multiple types of wine finishes, not to mention everything else from rum to tequila to barrel-aged cocktail finishes, the variety has been unparalleled, and, quite frankly, a lot of fun! Some have been, in my book, not good, and some have been, in my book, absolutely amazing!

This one intrigued me though. I've had plenty of port finished bourbons or ryes, and I have generally enjoyed them all. I loved the 1792 Port Finish, and I really liked the more recent Thomas S. Moore port finish (enough to buy a backup bottle).  This, however, was a white port finish. White port is the same as regular port, fortified with brandy, only it's made from (of course) white grapes as opposed to red grapes. I've never had white port on its own, but I was certainly down to try a white port finished Double Rye!  And, of course, I have a soft spot for Gene's picks at Warehouse Liquors to begin with.

The nose certainly gave off a jammy aroma, full of sweet blackberry notes. It had an accompanying cocoa note along with some cinnamon. The rye also provided a light pine resin to add a bit of earthy funk to the mix. It all seemed like a great mix of what I like most from a rye and a port finished whiskey.

On the palate I was immediately reminded of a spiced or mulled wine. It had notes of a sweeter red wine along with cinnamon and cloves.  The fruit-forward notes were that same sweet and rich blackberry I got on the nose along with a lightly tart plum note. There were also some white or green grape notes. 

As anticipated, this was a very fruit-forward whiskey. However, other notes made their way through, including a sort of candied or caramelized pecan note. There was also a peppery spice that made its way to in on the backend and really stuck around on the finish.

The finish allowed more of those caramel and cocoa notes to come through as the dark fruit notes faded just a touch. The finish was actually the most balanced part, giving me fruity, sweet and spicy notes all at once.  

While this wasn't necessarily my favorite finish, gauging by how quickly I finished this bottle, it certainly was a far cry from bad. The somewhat lower proof I'm sure added to that, but all in all I just found this to be a very easy drinker, particularly for when I was in the mood for something on the sweeter end.

Grade: B

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Binny's Private Select Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 101 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #19-0118
- Kentucky

It's been a while since I've had a Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel store pick. It seems that typically these hit the shelves at the same time Russell's Reserve picks are hitting the shelves, and I always go for the latter. After all, those come with a higher proof, not to mention they usually carry an age statement. 

That said, I've always been a Turkey fan, and I've really enjoyed the Kentucky Spirit picks I've had in the past. Those picks came in the old-style bottle with the shape of the fanned out turkey feathers. I always dug that bottle, and I really wish they hadn't changed it. I'm sure it was costly, but comparatively, this new bottle and label design is fairly drab and boring. Luckily, though, that will have absolutely zero effect on how it tastes!

The nose was exactly what I'd expect from a Wild Turkey product. I got a healthy amount of unsweetened cinnamon layered over a light oak note. There was a sweetness to it, but it came from a sort of burnt sugar note. There was also a nice hazelnut note that I really enjoyed, and I found myself keeping my nose to my glass just to keep getting whiffs of that hazelnut.

The flavor was rich and spicy, and seemed to have the kind of depth I'd expect from a much higher proof whiskey. It had a nice heat right up front, not from alcohol, but rather from black pepper and cinnamon spice. There was a nice, rich dark chocolate note that really helped balance that heat, along with a pecan-type nuttiness to add some additional flavor and depth.

As the heat died away, a sweet cola note seemed to take over, along with a nice dark caramel note. While the initial heat seemed to die away, some lingering spice remained throughout, working well with the sweetness. There was also a slight char note that seemed to come in from time to time, just to make things a bit more interesting.

On the finish the spice really came back, leaving a lingering black pepper spice to tickle my tongue and the back of my throat. Here is where the burnt sugar and hazelnut from the nose really came through, leaving a long-lasting sweet hazelnut note coating my mouth.

I don't know why I automatically reach for the Russell's Reserve aside from the reasons noted above. Every time I've had a Kentucky Spirit store pick, I've thoroughly enjoyed it, and this one was no different.  I'm going to have to change my mindset, I think.

Grade: B+

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Old Soul 15 Year Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $125
- 102 Proof
- 15 Years
- Kentucky

On my last trip to Louisville, I of course made it a point to hit up the closest Liquor Barn to find whatever store picks I could find, or just any bottle that I couldn't get by me. After immediately grabbing a Russell's Reserve pick off the shelf, I eventually found my way to the "rare spirits" cabinet. In perusing the selection, there were mostly high-priced bourbons of questionable origin, and I wasn't really blown away.  But, I wanted to come back with something.

I saw this Old Soul there, and I know I had seen Old Soul 14 in Illinois, but not the 15 year.  I did some quick Googling on my phone, and the rumors were that the 15 year was sourced from Jim Beam (from what I understood, the 14 year that was available in Illinois was Barton, but don't quote me on that).  So, while this bottle carried a hefty price tag, the idea of 15 year Beam bourbon at cask strength for $125 really isn't that out of whack.

The nose was excellent on this. I got sweet, creamy caramel and dark chocolate. That was topped with a sort of caramelized banana. The Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao does a baked banana that is incredible, and this reminded me of that. There was also a woody nutty note that likened to walnut.

On the flavor, I was immediately hit with those traditional notes of caramel and brown sugar. There was also a layer of unsweetened vanilla, kind of like vanilla extract. There was also a rich, almost tangy note that was kind of like an amaretto liqueur.

I also got this sort of sour candied cherry note. It was sweet but tart all at once. It also had that liqueur quality to it, like the cherry found in the middle of a cherry cordial. The dark chocolate from the nose also came through, and this seemed to fit perfectly with that cherry note. 

The finish was almost all cinnamon and brown sugar. But, I also got the dark chocolate and the type of nutty note that I associate with Jim Beam bourbons. It wasn't totally peanuts like some bottles I've had. It leaned more towards a walnut note. But, if I were tasting this blind, I'd like to think that I'd have pegged this as a Beam product.

All in all, this was a very good bourbon. I'm not mad at the price, as it's probably in line with the age and proof, if not on the low end.  It held up with solid, traditional flavors, and gave a nice sweet, but not too sweet, profile.

Grade: B

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Weller Full Proof Binny's Single Barrel Select Barrel #323 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 114 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #323
- Kentucky

I have never been a Weller "fanboy." While I certainly do enjoy Weller products, I've never been one to chase after the 12 year, or even the Single Barrel or CYPB, for that matter. That said, for some reason I have loved Full Proof from day one. Perhaps that proof just does make that much of a different. Before Full Proof was a thing, I did prefer the Antique at 107 proof, so it does kind of make sense.

Binny's has had a number of private picks since the Weller Full Proof private barrel program started. I think they may be up to Batch #4 or #5 by now. But, that's just it.  Up until this bottle was released, they had all ben "Small Batch Select" bottlings.  This was the first "Single Barrel Select" Binny's pick, so I was very eager to try to get my hands on a bottle. Plus, I heard that this particular bottle was phenomenal, so the FOMO hit me hard on this one. Luckily for me that was a fear I never realized.  

On the nose I got a great combination of cinnamon liqueur, cherry and dark chocolate. It was sweet but not sweet all at once. In that sense it kind of reminded me of a cherry cordial, where any sweetness is balanced by the booziness of the liqueur and the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  There was also a distinct oak note on the nose, something I don't necessarily recall getting from a Weller Full Proof before. But, it was a sweet oak note, not the kind of tannic note you get from an over-aged bourbon.

The flavor, interestingly, seemed to go a slightly different direction. There I was immediately met with a rich caramel or toffee note that was paired with lush, dark fruit notes. I was getting blackberry and raisin, along with a sweet but lightly tart cherry note. It almost had a Cabernet to it (but did not at all taste like a wine-finished bourbon).

It also had a pastry like quality to it, bready and sweet. Perhaps like a sweet cinnamon roll or perhaps a cinnamon and chocolate chip muffin, but more just the top where it's sweeter. It had that slight yeast note to it, but it paired so well with the toffee and dark fruits as well as that cinnamon. So well, in fact, I would love to have it for breakfast.

The oak did show up on the finish, but again it was a sort of sweet, nutty oak, and not the tannic, drying oak that you sometimes get in old bourbons. The toffee and cinnamon, however, were the main event on the finish, and those flavors remained on my tongue and at the back of my throat seemingly forever.

I didn't want to finish this bottle, because I know once it was gone it was gone for good.  But, once I got down to just a few pours left, I just couldn't help myself, and next thing I knew it was gone. The early reviews on this bottle were dead on. This was a fantastic bourbon!

Grade: A

Monday, April 25, 2022

I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Cabernet Sauvignon Casks

VITALS:
- $40
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

I.W. Harper is one of those brands that occasionally I have to be reminded that I like. I think that's more due to their limited line-up than anything. Their standard Kentucky Straight Bourbon is one of my favorite lower shelf bourbons, something I was surprised to learn in a blind tasting.  Of course they have their 15-year bourbon that comes in the fancy decanter as well, but that's a limited release and certainly somewhat pricy.

So, when a new "standard" made its way to the shelves, I figured I had to at least give it a try. The price was certainly approachable at $40, though I wish it could have had a bit more proof. But, you throw a wine finish on it, and I'm going to at least give it a go.  

The nose is, quite frankly, exactly what you'd expect from a wine-finished bourbon. It was brown sugar and caramel layered over red wine notes. The fruity notes from the finish added raisin and plum, even some dates to the aroma.  It even had an oatmeal raisin cookie at times. It was sweet, but it was as soft sweetness that didn't offend.

At 90 proof, I didn't expect this to be a heater or anything. But, it came across as more watered down and thin than expected. And I'm not just talking about the texture. Unfortunately, there was just no boldness in flavor. Nothing really stuck out.  Certainly nothing smacked me in the face with flavor. And with a wine cask finish, that's kind of the point--to add flavor.

Here I did get notes of vanilla mixed with slight notes of dark fruit, again plum and raisin like on the nose. There was a slight cherry note at times, which was really enjoyable. But, I almost had to go searching for it. 

There was a light earthiness in there somewhere as well, kind of like a tea note, and at times more like a sweet tobacco leaf note.  I really enjoyed these notes as well, but everything was just so soft and watered down, I really just couldn't pinpoint anything that particularly stood out.

It may be that going forward I avoid any wine-finished bourbons that are under 100 proof. Perhaps this one is an anomaly, but it seemed to really not benefit from the wine finish, not because it didn't complement the bourbon well, but rather because it wasn't allowed to. I wanted to like this more, and I think a bit more viscosity and heat could have accomplished that.

Grade: C

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Blanton's Straight From the Barrel Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $150
- 127 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 538
- Dumped on 6-15-18
- Kentucky

This bottle represents a "first" for me.  Perhaps that's why it took me so long to actually finish it.  This was the first bottle I purchased on the much maligned secondary market. Back in 2018, when there was a prolific Facebook group that since got shut down, I got my first taste of access to bottles that I could never get my hands on otherwise. Granted this bottle is now available in the United States. But, back then it was only available in other countries, and not being much of an international traveler, the secondary market was my way of obtaining one.

I actually purchased this along with a gold version.  I subsequently purchased a black and a red version available in Japan only, and my work friends and I did a complete vertical of Blanton's, with the regular single barrel, two different store picks, black, gold, red and two Straight From the Barrel bottles, including this one. That was a hell of a tasting, and this particular bottle was the near-unanimous favorite among the group.

The nose was rich, sweet and spicy, with everything I've come to love about Buffalo Trace's Mashbill #2. There was a sweet and crackery graham cracker note, along with a light chocolate note. That paired perfectly with a nice cinnamon spice and even a touch of red pepper flake. I also got a slight tea leaf note off the nose that added the slightest bit of earthiness to it.

As to flavor, the cinnamon was front and center. It offered both that sweet cinnamon flavor I associate with cinnamon rolls, but also that spicy cinnamon I associate with cinnamon flavored candy. Up front I got a light black pepper spice on the tip of my tongue as well. There was also a light layer of anise that was just the right amount that I found it enjoyable.

The anise and black pepper seemed to fade pretty quickly and made way for the real star of the show. I got an incredible buttery caramel flavor that seemed to coat my mouth and worked to drown out everything else, and for good reason. That note had me wanting more and more and more of this bourbon, and I didn't want it to leave.

Luckily, it did hang around for a really long time. This bourbon had a nice, viscous quality that made for a really long finish, and it was that buttery caramel note that seemed to invade every nook and cranny of my mouth. It also had a slight cinnamon spice on the finish as well, just hanging around at the back of my throat.

This was far and away better than any other Blanton's bottle I've had. It was fun, it was interesting, it was delicious, and it had me constantly wanting more.  I'm salivating as I type this just thinking of that butter and caramel flavor.

Grade: A+

Friday, April 15, 2022

Jack Daniel's 10 Year Tennessee Whiskey

VITALS:
- $80
- 97 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch No. 10-001
- Tennessee

While it may have occurred in the past (I didn't bother to research, so feel free to Google it for yourself), I have never seen an age-stated Jack Daniel's. So, given that their single barrels and their limited releases have all been hitting home runs the last few years, when this release was announced, I put my feelers out everywhere to make sure I got my hands on a bottle.

I've never really considered myself a Jack Daniel's fan. I've certainly never drank it with any sort of regularity. Heck, I've never even tried the Gold or the Sinatra's Select releases. But, those annual limited edition cask strength releases, both the bourbon and the rye, have been phenomenal. I've also had some amazing store picks. So, while I don't proclaim to be a Jack Daniel's fan, I think deep down inside I just might be. 

I absolutely loved the nose on this. It was very dessert-like.  I immediately got notes of rich toffee and chocolate, along with a sweet nutty note, perhaps like cashews. It wasn't just a nutty Heath bar, though. There was this other aroma there, and the note I wrote down was "kind of a liqueur-soaked yellow cake note."  I don't know if I've had liqueur soaked cake before, but if I did, I'd imagine this is what it would smell like!

As for the flavor, it seemed to go a bit of a different direction. Right away I got sweet wood notes. It didn't have that tannic quality you sometimes get with older whiskeys. This was just the oak influence, but it paired with notes of sweet vanilla and rich caramel.

I thought this actually drank at a higher proof than is stated on the bottle. It had a healthy alcohol burn, even on the final few pours. I found myself double-checking the proof on the label more than once. That said, that heat dissipated quickly and the flavors made themselves noticed.

After having this open for not even a week, it developed an ice cream dessert like flavor. One of my favorite milkshake flavors is chocolate-banana. This reminded me of just that. It, of course, had notes of chocolate and banana (not an uncommon tasting note in a Jack product), but with the vanilla notes and even a bit of a cherry syrup note, this reminded me of a banana split.

In fact, that milkshake/banana split note was all that lingered on the finish as well.  And, while the proof on this didn't break 100, the finish still lasted much like a higher proof whiskey.  

This bottle simply took Jack Daniel's and made it better . . . way better.  While it is certainly on the sweeter end and, in my personal preference, could have used a bit more spice, it is nonetheless one of the better Jack Daniel's products I've had.

Grade: A

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Longrow Red Malbec Cask Matured 13 Year Peated Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch

VITALS:

- $150
- 102.6 Proof
- 13 Years
- Campbeltown

The "Red" series from Longrow is hands down my favorite series among whiskeys.  Every single one has been absolutely fantastic, finding a great balance between the salty smoke of the peat and the rich fruit-forward notes provided by the cask finish. 

This particular one, released in 2017, was matured in Malbec casks. I don't drink wine any more, but when I did, I gave Malbecs a try a few different times. I just did not enjoy them, for whatever reason. So, while I, of course, grabbed this one nonetheless, figuring how bad could it be, I went into it thinking this might be the first one that didn't blow me away. I couldn't have been more wrong, though. This was an incredible dram!

On the nose, the wine notes do seem to overpower the peat smoke, making the smokiness of it almost secondary. The aroma is dominated by rich blackberry and dark cherry, along with a good amount of oak offering a balancing bitterness. The peat is there, but comes across as more of a char note.

The flavor, though, was everything I could have hoped for. This bottle was all sweet, fruity smoke, and I loved it. Cherry and fig dominated the fruity notes, providing a dark and rich sweetness.  And yet, it was never a super-sweet whisky. There was a lot of balance to it, as it also had a cranberry note that added some tartness, and that same oak from the nose to add a bit of earthiness and a touch of bitterness.

What stood out with this bottle, though, was something rich and almost meaty. It reminded me of cherry wood smoked barbecue, or perhaps a reduced cherry barbecue sauce. It had smoke, it had sweet cherry, it had sweet brown sugar and it had barbecue spice. I've never had something like this before, and I wonder how much of that was the Malbec influence. I certainly don't get notes like this from the sweeter Port or Sherry finishes.

This might just be one of my favorite whiskeys I've ever had. The nose was just good, but whatever. It's the nose. The flavor absolutely floored me, with an incredible balance of rich sweetness, peat smoke and spice that made everything go perfectly, like each note had a purpose, even down to the cranberry.  I saved the last pour for quite some time, not wanting to finish the bottle, but now I just may have to track another one of these down.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Carl T. Huber's Binny's Private Select Cigar Batch Bourbon Finished in Brazilian Amburana Barrels

VITALS:
- $80
- 112.6 Proof
- 4.5 Years
- Barrel No. FB144-1
- Indiana

I am unapologetically a fan of Starlight Distillery. For a long time I've been enjoying their ryes, and I love that in the last couple of years they are finally getting their due! Starlight has been producing quality whiskey for a long time, and they appear to have been having fun while doing it, offering all sorts of unique or experimental expressions, as well as developing a robust and accessible private barrel program.

This particular bottle falls within both categories, and for that reason alone my interest was certainly piqued.  However, I had no clue what Brazilian Amburana barrels were, and I had to google it while in the whiskey aisle at Binny's just go get some understanding. Apparently Amburana is a very spicy type of wood, one known for imparting all sorts of spice and flavors into whatever is stored in its barrels. It's been fairly big in the brewing world, but this is certainly the first Amburana barrel finish I've seen with whiskey. 

Once I opened this bottle I knew this was something different and unique. I was hit with just a big pile of warm cinnamon raisin bread.  It had all those sweet, bready and cinnamon notes. I also got some hazelnut, but it was more artificial, kind of like a hazelnut candy. There was a thick layer of vanilla, as well as some sweet pipe tobacco and even tea leaves.

The flavor was also very much cinnamon raisin bread. It was just the memory or the recall I had with every sip that I took. The only twist would be that these raisins had been soaked in red wine. There was just a bit more to it.  I also got some sweet caramel notes, and even a sweet bran muffin note from time to time.

As this whiskey opened up, though, the flavor seemed to narrow a bit, focusing on that caramel, on that vanilla from the nose, and on the sweet tobacco note. All of this was layered over a hickory note to add a bit of earthiness to it as well.

On the final pours, I couldn't help but be reminded of hazelnut coffee. Once I got that in my head it was all I kept coming back to. It was that flavor that I couldn't quite put my thumb on, but once I did I couldn't notice anything else.

My take from this bourbon is that this is one of the most interesting and flavorful whiskeys I've ever had. There was so much going on here, and it all worked together, almost as though it was intentionally themed. I don't see this necessarily being for everyone, but this absolutely hit a home run for me, and I definitely want to pick up more of these "Cigar Batch" bourbons from Starlight.

Grade: A

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Four Roses Binny's Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OBSQ

VITALS:
- $90
- 122.6 Proof
- 10 Years, 8 Months
- Barrel No. 244V
- Kentucky

The last time I reviewed a Four Roses private pick, it was the last of the recipes that I needed to try. Now that I've been able to get my hands on and try all ten recipes, I'm no longer on the lookout for any in particular. While I did have my favorites, given that for most recipes I've only had one bottle of each, it's hardly the kind of sampling that can establish a "favorite" recipe.

So, I can now just grab store picks as I find them, starting with this OBSQ that was aged for almost 11 years. I feel like that kind of age hasn't been found in these single barrels lately, so when I had the chance to grab it, I jumped at it. The fun part about having this blog is I can look back at what I thought about prior bottles. The last time I had an OBSQ was back in 2016, and I thought it was pretty good. Rich, sweet and spicy was apparently the takeaway then. I'm not sure this one was all that different in that respect. 

The nose gave way to that rye spice immediately, as I noticed a healthy amount of cinnamon spice right away. There was also a sort of breadiness to it that reminded me of cinnamon toast. It also had other rich and sweet notes as well, including chocolate and even a light, sweet tobacco leaf note. 

The cinnamon carried through on the flavor as well, though it was more like a rich, candy-like cinnamon flavor that was mixed with an amaretto note. The combination was really good and while very rich (I feel like I'm using that word a lot here), it never got to be too sweet.

I also got a slight anise note that at times seemed to come across as more of a candied cherry note. There was an accompanying chocolate note as well, and paired with that amaretto note, it somewhat reminded me of a cherry cordial. 

The finish was, you guessed it, rich. That amaretto note seemed to stick around the longest, which I'm quite alright with as I love amaretto.  The spicy cinnamon also lingered for quite some time at the back of my throat. The finish on this bourbon really seemed to last forever, and I found myself savoring each sip long after I had swallowed.

This was, once again, a very good Four Roses single barrel pick. I have yet to have one that has disappointed, regardless of recipe or who picked it. 

Grade: A-

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Elijah Craig Binny's Private Select 10 Year Single Barrel Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:

- $70
- 127.5 Proof
- 10 Years
- Barrel No. 6088347
- Kentucky

There's no doubt that I, along with pretty much any other bourbon fan I know, love Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.  While I can't keep up with every release, I tend not to hesitate to grab one whenever I get the chance.  It has that nice mix of age and proof, with the quality backing of Heaven Hill making the whiskey. And the price has always remained relatively reasonable.

When Binny's started getting in single barrel picks of the Barrel Proof, I was all over them. In fact, I ended up getting three different picks, all different ages and proofs. I've had a blast comparing them all side-by-side, and this bottle just happens to be the one that I finished first.  Whether it's my favorite of the three, the jury is still out. I've really liked them all. This one is certainly in the running, though.

The nose was rich and sweet and tangy all at once. I immediately got toffee and orange peel. There was a light smoky or char note, but it remained sweet, like burnt sugar. It also had this spicy but chocolatey note, kind of like a Mexican dark chocolate. 

As to flavor, much like the nose, this was very toffee forward. It was richer than a basic caramel note, and not quite as sweet, though it was still plenty sweet.  It also had a delicious vanilla bean note that kind of underscored everything else. The chocolate note from the nose also came through, though it was sweeter, more like milk chocolate, and it didn't seem to be accompanied by any spice. It did, however, work incredibly well with all the other flavors that were happening.

The heat was certainly present, which is not surprising given the proof. But, it seemed to give way to the other flavors relatively quickly. That said, the spice that may have otherwise been masked then came to the front. I got a distinct black pepper spice that mixed with a root beer note. That combination lingered in the back of my throat long after each sip, and it gave that great sweet and spicy mix.

The toffee note persisted through to the finish as well, though at times it seemed more like a butterscotch. While the spice lingered at the back of my throat, the sweetness lingered on my lips, giving it a nice sweet, lip-smacking finish as well.

Priced about $10 higher than the regular barrel proof releases, though a couple years younger, this was a great buy. The whiskey is fantastic, the pricing is still fair, and the differences from barrel to barrel are fun. I can't wait to keep scooping these up as I find them!

Grade: A

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Smooth Ambler Founders' Cask Strength Series Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $60
- 123.6 Proof
- 5 Years
- Batch 1
- West Virginia

The only rye I've had from Smooth Ambler was their 7 year rye from from their Old Scout line, and more recently, their single barrel rye from a couple years ago.  Of course, those were famously ryes sourced from MGP. Those older ryes are now highly sought after and command a pretty penny on the secondary market.

While this is certainly different whiskey than what was previously bottled, I was nonetheless very excited to see sitting on the shelf a 5 year, cask strength rye from Smooth Ambler, this time of their own making! I'm a sucker for cask strength ryes as it is, but to get an initial offering from an established distillery and with 5 years of aging behind it, there was no way I wasn't buying a bottle.  How I missed any news about this as an upcoming release escapes me, but getting those surprise finds is still a lot of fun!

The nose was a spicy, sweet and rich blend of cinnamon and toffee. It also had a light peppery spice to it to kick it up a bit. There was a rich licorice or anise note on the nose as well, but it wasn't dominating. I also got a bit of sweet tobacco leaf, something I usually get from a single malt, not a rye.

On my first sip, right away I noticed that this doesn't drink up to its proof, which is usually very dangerous. It led with a peppery caramel note right up front, and at times that leaned more towards a burnt sugar note, with a light smoky accent. 

There was also a grain-forward cereal note to it. That note seemed to be complemented by a cinnamon note that reminded me of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, but with a little bit more kick. It was almost like a cinnamon liqueur note, rather than a cinnamon sugar note. 

The finish was dominated by the cinnamon note, almost like I had just finished eating cinnamon flavored hard candy, like a fireball.  That note that reminded me of a cinnamon liqueur seemed to linger long after every other flavor had dissipated.  

All in all, this gave me the spice and the punch that I usually want from a good, cask strength rye. But, it seemed a bit one-dimensional, with nearly every note being some play on cinnamon. If this had just a touch more complexity or finesse, it would have been excellent.

Grade: B

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Weller Full Proof Binny's Small Batch Select Batch #3 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $60
- 114 Proof
- NAS
- Batch #3
- Kentucky

The prevalence of private picks of cask strength whiskey is my absolute favorite outcome of the bourbon boom. With Buffalo Trace now offering Stagg Jr. and Weller Full Proof in their private barrel program, and Heaven Hill joining in with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and with Wild Turkey and Four Roses having already been part of that high proof barrel picks pool, I've found I have more barrel strength or, at least, high proof bourbon on my shelves than anything else.

So far every single Weller Full Proof I've had I've absolutely loved. I find that interesting, because I'm not the biggest Weller person. I like a bit more spice than sweet, and Weller products certainly lean towards the sweeter side. Perhaps the extra kick of the full proof counters some of that sweetness, or at least adds some extra heat to the mix, giving me more balance.  Whatever it is, I'm a huge fan of this blue label.

The nose on this one was delicious!! It smelled like a bakery, with notes of cinnamon coffee cake. It also had great aromas of brown sugar and allspice. There was even a bit of chocolate and cola. There were also some dark fruits on the nose, like blackberry and something that reminded me of a cabernet.

When I took my first sip, my initial impression was that this was a fairly hot bourbon, both in spice and in alcohol burn. The alcohol burn certainly faded from that initial impression, but the loads of cinnamon that hit me right up front stayed there through the end of the bottle.

It also had a decent amount of yeast or bread notes, kind of like a hearty wheat bread. It didn't have that same coffee cake sweetness that I got off the nose. However, other notes came through to provide that sweetness, as well as a bunch of other delicious flavors. I got that chocolate I got on the nose, though not necessary the cola. There was a rich cherry note, as well as a walnut liqueur note, and by the end of the bottle I was getting a distinct cherry pie flavor, with the pie crust notes. In fact, this cherry pie note was predominant in the last few pours.

The finish was spicy, but more of a black pepper spice than a cinnamon spice. It also had a rich sweetness to the finish, almost like dulce de leche, that creamy caramel that lingers in your mouth forever.  Those cherry notes also came through a bit on the finish to brighten it up a bit.

Not surprisingly, the Weller Full Proof came through for me once again. This was an absolutely delicious pour!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

New Riff 6 Year Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Malted Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $45
- 100 Proof
- 6 Years
- Kentucky

One thing I have loved about New Riff is the approachability of their whiskeys from a pricing standpoint.  Not only have they been able to keep their mainstay bourbons in ryes at a very reasonable price point, but even their special or limited releases have always come in lower than what I believe they could command at retail.  Whether it was the Backsetter Rye, the Balboa Rye or the Winter Whiskey, they've always been right in that $45-55 price range. And while they're not bottled at cask strength, New Riff has a proclivity for keeping it bottled in bond and at 100 proof.

This malted rye proved to be no different. The price stayed the same, even when the age statement increased to 6 years! This one is certainly different from their typical rye products, though, as this is 100% malted rye. No secondary grains to be found. That was far from a deterrent for me, though, and I jumped at the opportunity to grab a bottle. 

The nose on it was rich and sweet and spicy. I got spiced cherry and cloves. That seemed to match up perfectly with a rich brown sugar note that even leaned towards molasses at times. I didn't expect such a bold and rich aroma to come from my glass. 

The flavor, much like the nose, also provided a nice mix of sweet and spicy, along with some added heat. The sweet part came across as caramel and brown sugar. It had that same level of the sweetness as the nose thanks to a noticeable amaretto note.

The spice was, not unexpectedly, a nice cinnamon spice, but certainly on the sweeter end. It was more like cinnamon candy than cinnamon sticks. It also had a bit more oak to it than expected. At 6 years, I wasn't expecting any at all. But, it just added another layer without detracting in any way.

The finish was what I liked most. For whatever reason, it was only on the finish that I got a nice, rich chocolate note. It wasn't sweet and it wasn't bitter. It was somewhere between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. On top of that, it also had some heat, almost like a chili pepper heat that went great with the chocolate.

Once again New Riff has produced a limited release whiskey that is different, fun, and most importantly, really damn good! I'm glad I happened across a bottle!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Old Scout Binny's Private Select Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 120.4 Proof
- 5 Years
- Barrel No. 24425
- Indiana

Old Scout was one of those bourbons that really introduced me to bourbon. Years ago the stuff that was being put into these bottles was absolutely incredible. Back then I didn't necessarily have an appreciation for the well-aged MGP bourbon that Smooth Ambler was bottling, but I thoroughly enjoyed what was inside.

More recently, though, it seems as though what's being bottled was chasing that previous love and coming up short. I'm not sure if MGP barrels became more expensive, but at one point they pivoted to Dickel-sourced whiskey. While well-aged, it didn't meet that standard that had been set. Even more recently, though, Smooth Ambler appears more focused on releasing its own distillate, and these sourced single-barrels may be fewer and farther between. So I picked this one up for (possibly) one last go at it.

The aroma on this one was different from the start. I don't know that I can compare it to prior Old Scouts I've had as it's been too long, but it definitely was different. I got great notes of chocolate and toffee that were rich and sweet. After that, though, I got notes of apple and peanut. It was almost like a caramel apple with the crushed peanuts liberally sprinkled over it. 

As to flavor, at first I got an interesting blend of cinnamon, chocolate and even coffee flavors. In a way it kind of reminded me of a spicy and slightly bitter Skor bar. It even had a bit of black pepper spice that would linger at the back of my throat.

On the finish I got a lingering chocolat and salted caramel note that I really enjoyed, along with just a touch of cinnamon heat. It also had kind of a wafer cookies note on the finish, too. I can't say I've encountered such a note in the past, but I kind of liked it.

Towards the end of the bottle, though, this bourbon seemed to transform a bit, and the last five to six pours were very peanut forward. I even made note that where once was a Skor bar was now a Payday.  The peanut note really took over the flavor, both up front and on the finish. It was almost as though I had remnants of a fresh spoonful of peanut butter stuck to the roof of my mouth. I don't mind a peanut note, but this was a bit overdone.

At first I really liked this bourbon, but those final pours were just not my cup of tea.

Grade: B-

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Doc Swinson's Exploratory Cask L'esprit Straight Bourbon Finished in Cognac Casks

VITALS:
- $70
- 114 Proof
- NAS
- Release No. 21-003
- Indiana

I wasn't sure when the next time I picked up a bottle of Doc Swinson's would be. I'm not casting aspersions or anything. I've only had one of their products before, their Triple Cask Bourbon Finished in Sherry & Cognac Casks. That was a somewhat weird experience, though, as I really enjoyed that bourbon up until the finish, at which point I didn't. That one literally and figuratively left a bad taste in my mouth.

But, when I saw this Cognac finished bourbon sitting on the shelf, I once again considered it, and in my cart it went.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for those Cognac and Armagnac finishes. As an added note, I looked at the back label and it had this note set off in red text: "Easy-Cracking Wax, Simply Twist to Open."  Had I not already made the decision to buy this bottle, that alone might have persuaded me. My interest was even further piqued!

I cracked this bottle open (yes, with just a simple twist of the wax top--why don't more brands have this?!?!), I got notes of raisin and brown sugar. It was like a rich dessert, perhaps even like baklava.  The nose was soft, but buried in there were also notes of orange and burnt sugar. On later pours I could swear I was getting waffle batter. 

The flavor was where this whisky shone. The texture was nice and viscous, really coating the mouth in flavor. More significantly, though, was that the alcohol burn was nowhere to be found. This was dangerously easy to drink, and it was all flavor. Right away I got rich candied pear and brown sugar, all on top of a healthy amount of vanilla.  Again, it was like a rich dessert in many ways, but it managed to never get too sweet.

It always kept some of those more savory qualities, at times reminding me of fig newtons or candied pecans, pairing a bit of earthiness with the sweetness.  It also had a slight oakiness to it as well that help keep the sweetness from taking over. The one thing I'd say was missing was any real spice, but given how well everything else worked, I certainly didn't miss it.

The finish was long and just carried forward those rich dessert notes, but perhaps with the pecan notes taking more of a center stage. If anything it finished with less sweetness which kind of made me love it even more. It also had a bit of tea note that lingered and just the slightest amount of cinnamon spice was left on my tongue.

This bottle certainly renewed my interest in other things Doc Swinson's may be doing. I loved this bottle and I'm glad I took a chance on it. And that easy-crack was still impresses me!

Grade: A

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Kilchoman Binny's Private Select 9 Year STR Finish Single Cask Islay Single Malt Scotch

VITALS:

- $130
- 11 Proof
- 9 Years
- Cask No. 153/2012
- Islay

I do love me a good, peated Scotch, particularly one finished in a wine cask. I've also found that I'm not the biggest fan of toasted barrel finished bourbons. They just haven't done it for me. Nonetheless, I was intrigued at the idea of a toasted finish on a peated Scotch. This Kilchoman private pick from Binny's gave me the chance to quash that intrigue. 

This single malt is labeled as an "STR" finish. What that means is that Kilchoman took this peated single malt that had been matured in ex Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels and finished it in red wine cask that had been scraped or shaved, toasted and then re-charred--hence the "STR."  It was finished in this STR barrel for 18 months. So, whatever influence that barrel was going to have should certainly be prevalent and noticeable.

As expected, the nose is very smoke forward. I didn't get very much bright fruit or any wine notes as I had hoped for. But I did get something more earthy, along the lines of fig or maybe even raisin. It also had a bit of a resin note, along with something meaty, almost bacon-like.  This all sounds weird, I realize, but it all kind of worked together in a sort of sweet barbecue sauce kind of way.

As to flavor, right up front I got that great mix of sweet and peat that I absolutely can't get enough of. Here the bright fruits did come through, as I got red raspberry and some dark cherry. I even got a bit of currant adding just a touch of tartness.

There was also a caramel note, though richer. Perhaps more like a toffee note with a touch of dark chocolate. The peat smoke, of course, carried through out, but was always complementary rather than overpowering. It never slapped me in the face but always took a back seat.  There was also a certain spice to it, almost like cloves but not as strong, that provided a great balance to the smoky sweetness.

What made this bottle an absolute stand-out, though, was the finish. After each sip my mouth was coated with flavors of cherry pie filling, along with this sweet dessert-like note of brown sugar and butterscotch. That butterscotch note seemed to almost come out of nowhere and it just stuck to the back of my throat like I had just eaten a butterscotch candy. On the finish the peat continued to be there but again more in the background, letting all these other delicious flavors linger around seemingly forever. 

Up until the finish, this was a very good whisky. As soon as that finish hit, though, even on my very first sip, I knew this was an outstanding single malt! If you can still find it on the shelf, grab it!

Grade: A+

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Traverse City Whiskey Co. Binny's Private Select Single Barrel 8 Year Straight Rye

VITALS:
- $80
- 115.4 Proof
- 8 years
- Indiana/Michigan

I really haven't had much experience with Traverse City Whiskey. In fact, including this bottle, all I've had have been MGP-sourced store picks. Just over a year ago I was able to get my hands on a 10-year single barrel selected by Pride Stores. And more recently, I made sure to get a bottle of this 8-year single barrel rye picked by Binny's.

The price seemed to be right in line with what I've been seeing recently for cask strength, single barrel MGP rye in the 6-9 year range. Of course some bottles are a bit pricier, and they get passed on for that reason. But this one at 8 years and 115.4 proof seemed right in my wheelhouse. Sure, it's more than I'd like to pay, but at this point it seems the market is what it is.

The aroma is soft, but very cinnamon and vanilla forward. In fact, it was so sweet and soft and delicious smelling, I noted that I would love to make a candle out of this. There was also a light saw dust note and a touch of that pickle note I sometimes get from MGP rye. There was also something herbal, but I couldn't quite place it. Perhaps something between basil and mint.

The flavor was likewise soft and sweet and spicy. Despite being cask strength, this wasn't one of those slap you in the face with spice ryes. Rather, it was more nuanced and subtle, and it leaned a bit more on the sweeter side. Notes of caramel, vanilla and cinnamon were prevalent from start to finish, providing for an absolutely delicious base.

On top of that I got interesting notes of honey and sweet tobacco leaf. There was also something nutty and woody, perhaps like a walnut. In addition to the cinnamon spice, I also got a bit of black pepper spice. There was even a light smokiness to it that I loved, perhaps a flavor picked up from the time with the barrel.

The finish was almost all cinnamon and caramel, but the cinnamon spice seemed to really come forward. In fact, it left a taste in my mouth not unlike a good Manhattan. That sweet and heat at the end just made me want that next sip right away. While not necessarily unexpected, this bottle turned out to be very delicious, and I couldn't help but keep pouring it into my glass.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Buffalo Trace Binny's Single Barrel Select Batch #29 Kentucky Straight Bourbon


VITALS:
- $25
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Batch #29
- Kentucky

Over the years as I've picked up various private picks of Buffalo Trace products, I've noticed that some are labeled "Small Batch Select" and some "Single Barrel Select."  The distinction would seem a bit obvious.  Those labeled as "Small Batch Select" are from a larger batch of multiple selected barrels.  This would theoretically mean that the store has more bottles of this to offer.  "Single Barrel Select" would seem to indicate that it is just that, a single barrel, and thus a small yield than a "batch."

This particular bottle made me question just how obvious a distinction that is. After all, this has the best of both world. While it's got the "Single Barrel Select" sticker, it's identified as "Batch #29." So, which is it?  Of course, if this were a real blog and I were a real whiskey writer, I might actually ask the hard-hitting questions and get to the bottom of it. But, rather than go through all that, I just decided to drink it and see if I like it, regardless of whether it's a single barrel or small batch (sorry for the cliff-hanger).

The nose was predominantly caramel, perhaps a slightly burnt caramel. There was also a distinct wood note to it, though not like an oak barrel that you'd associate with an older whiskey. Rather, it was more of a sawdust type note. It also had a kind of milk chocolate and raisin note to it. Over all it was sweet, but with an attempt at providing some earthy balance.

Right up front I got those traditional Buffalo Trace notes of caramel and cinnamon. However, there was a bit more there, including a great hazelnut and chocolate note. It was like a less sweet Nutella flavor mixed with some cinnamon. This all seemed to mix so well together.

But, there were some other outlying flavors as well. I got a sort of a wheat bread note. It was a sweet note, but yeast and grain forward. There was also a nutty note, again sweet, perhaps like a cashew. It also had a slight bitter note that reminded me of that white stuff you peel off an orange. I think it's called pith.  That's yet another thing I'm not going to investigate, so if I'm wrong, then just go with the white stuff on an orange.

The finish started off pretty good, with a distinct cola note, and hints of that caramel and cinnamon. However, that bitter orange note also seemed to linger a bit, and that was a bit off-putting. That sweet, nutty note seemed to ride along with that bitter orange note as well, and all of it seemed to leave a weird taste in my mouth.

I've certainly had better Buffalo Trace picks. This one wasn't bad, it just wasn't as good as others I've had. At $25, though, you'd be a fool not to continue picking these up as you find them.

Grade: B-

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Elijah Craig Small Batch Tuscan/Hammar's Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $32
- 94 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel NO. 6194298
- Kentucky

On some of these store picks I feel like a broken record when I say, I buy them when I find them. That's the case for Buffalo Trace picks, Eagle Rare picks and, of course, Elijah Craig picks, among others. For the price I have gotten a very good whiskey every single time. Despite all the changes in the industry, new distilleries, new products, new gimmicks, etc, this remains a solid buy.

This particular bottle was selected by the group that owns an unassuming but solid liquor store near me called Hammar's Liquors. It is absolutely one of the best places around to get the fresh drops of craft beer, and while their whiskey selection isn't what you'll find at Binny's, it's still pretty decent and from time to time you can find some of the more hard to find bottles there. And, of course, they do get store picks such as this bottle from time to time.

The nose was great, even if it didn't stray to far from what I typically expect out of Elijah Craig. I got a sweet but slightly toasted note, like a toasted (but not charred) marshmallow. It also had a sweet cinnamon spice to it, as well as a sweeter chocolate note, somewhere between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. 

The flavor did, however, give me a little bit of variation from standard Elijah Craig. Right up front I got the sweet cinnamon, but that was paired with a sweet and rich and tangy amaretto note that I was a big fan of.  Those flavors were also met with a dark chocolate note that gave this a sort of rich and lightly sweet dessert flavor.

There was also something crackery. It was still sweet, perhaps like a graham cracker, but with a bit more of a grain forward note, if that makes any sense. While the more savory, grain-forward part of it seemed to stick out a bit, it still played really well with the marshmallow, chocolate and cinnamon.

The finish was slightly spicy, but here it strayed from the cinnamon to more of a chili pepper note. That, paired with the chocolate note on the finish reminded me a bit of Mexican chocolate. There was also a sort of caramel pastry note, kind of like a caramel iced donut but with the sugar levels tempered way down. 

This was a whiskey that wanted to be a sweeter, dessert-like whiskey, but just didn't have the needed sugar to get there. In that sense I kind of liked it, and I found I really enjoyed this in an Old Fashioned, even if I typically like to use a little higher proof whiskey.

Grade: B

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Yamazaki 12 Year Single Malt Japanese Whisky

VITALS:
- 90
- 86 Proof
- 12 Years
- Japan

Usually I'll have a quick story to start off these posts, talking about how I managed across a particular bottle, why I happened to buy a particular bottle, or something about the bottle in general. With this one, though, I've sat on it so long I'm not really sure when I got it or where.  I think it might have been at a liquor store connected to a gas station, but even that's a little fuzzy.

I do know that, in my various tasting notes that I keep in my Notes App on my iPhone, this was the very first entry. That means it's the bottle in my collection that has been open the longest. I looked and was able to find a laser code on the bottle, but that gave no indication of the year that it was bottled.  My best guess is I bought it around 2017, maybe 2018. Sadly, for a long time it's been the only Japanese whisky sitting on my shelves, and now I have none.  I may need to remedy that soon.

The nose was bright and vibrant. I got sweet notes of candied orange as well as a distinct lemon note, almost like citronella. It was sweetened by a honey aroma, and it also had a crackery note, even with a little bit of wheat flavor. Other sweet notes like butterscotch and caramel came through as well, and there was even a light black pepper spice to it. 

The flavor of this one was interesting in that I could almost separate them into three categories. The first category, and what I noticed first when I took my first sip, was the sweet, candy-like notes. I got honey and butterscotch mingled with a bit of vanilla. That butterscotch flavor seemed to become increasingly prominent from pour to pour.

The second category is the more earthy and grain-forward type notes. I got that crackery note from the nose, a bit buttery kind of like a Ritz cracker. There was also a sweet tobacco note that seemed to go right along with it.  While crackery and tobacco leaf aren't exactly in the same category, here they seemed to fit together and separate from the other flavors.

Finally, there was a certain fruity note to this. I absolutely got the citrus that I was getting on the nose. Thankfully it wasn't that citronella flavor. Rather, it was a bright and sweet orange note.  I also got notes of peach and apricot. In fact, the apricot note really came out in later pours, and it took on an almost sweet and jammy quality that I really enjoyed.

At first this was just a good bottle. The last few pours, however, I thought were fantastic with that apricot note coming forward. It was interesting how I was able to almost compartmentalize the different flavors, and I found I did so almost naturally. This was a tough one to grade, but in the end it's a very good whisky, and one that any whisky connoisseur should give a try.

Grade: B

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Bulleit Mega Liquor & Crocker P/A Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Whiskey

VITALS:
- $50
- 104 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel No. 1-B3-0636
- Kentucky

Anyone who is a bourbon hunter in even the slightest of ways probably has had a similar experience. You're away from home in another state for a few days, so of course you make a field trip to the local liquor store, or perhaps a few different stores, just to see what you might find.  I find myself in this situation every time I'm out of town, whether for work or pleasure.

I'm not looking for unicorns or the highly sought after stuff, but rather simply looking for stuff I can't get every day back home. Sometimes that's local craft whiskey, and sometimes it's whiskeys that don't get distribution in Illinois. More often than not, though, I find myself asking about store picks. And so, that was exactly the case when I was at a hockey tournament staying a weekend at a hotel in Niles, Michigan, just a one-block walk from Mega Liquor. The selection was decent, but mostly everything I see in Illinois. So, I took a shot at their Bulleit Single Barrel pick. What did I have to lose?

The nose was rich and sweet on this one. I got a good amount of dark caramel, perhaps closer to toffee. It had a mix of dark chocolate and hazelnut, however, to add a layer of richness and to temper the sweetness. I also got a tangy note of amaretto off the nose that I really enjoyed. 

The flavor seemed to turn in a bit of a different direction. Right away I got a lot of sweet cinnamon and vanilla. It was kind of like a frosted sugar cookie that was made with cinnamon. However, it had a bit of spice to it that I didn't attribute to the cinnamon. Rather, it was more of a black pepper spice.

The vanilla layer seemed to be pretty constant throughout, but I also got a sweet cloves flavor, perhaps a transformation of the cinnamon I got earlier on. It also seemed to sweeten up a bit with a brown sugar note, along with the cinnamon stick and black pepper notes

The finish was vanilla and peppery spice, primarily. That pepper seemed to stick at the back of my throat. The sweetness seemed to relax a bit, and in its place I got a light black licorice note that seemed to linger on my tongue. I'm not the biggest fan of black licorice, but I didn't find this too offensive.

I don't know if this is indicative of other picks that Mega Liquor has done, but I think if I find myself in Niles, Michigan again in the near future, I'd be willing to take a flyer on another store pick of their's.

Grade: B

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Sazerac Rye Jewel Osco Single Barrel Select Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $30
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Barrel #063
- Kentucky

There are always those bottles that will almost always provide quality whiskey at a good price. Throw in actual availability, and you've got what I'd call "go to" whiskeys. Sazerac Rye is one of those for me. While it's not the typical rye profile that I like--I tend to prefer a spicier versus a sweeter rye--it's still a consistently good pour.

So, when I hear of any store getting a single barrel pick of Sazerac in, I'm usually up for trying it out. Jewel, though, is not typically on my short-list of stores whose single barrels I make it a point to buy. But, given that they had a good amount on the shelves when I was there, and it was a mere $30, one nonetheless made its way into my shopping cart.

The nose gave off an immediate impression of wheat bread, slightly sweet, grain-forward and somewhat yeasty. It also had a bit of a honey butter note as well.  I also got a bit of orange peel, adding some brightness as well as just a touch of bitterness to the nose.

As to flavor, my first impression was this was very watered down. I realize that it's only 90 proof, so I wasn't expecting fire water, but this seemed even more watered down than it should be. Nonetheless, I was able to pick up initial flavors of cherry and brown sugar, along with a light cinnamon spice note.

There was a certain richness, that was something like an almond liqueur note mixed with a bright citrusy orange note. The breadiness that I was getting on the nose also came through as well, though without the honey butter note that I enjoyed on the nose.

While the forward flavors were good but not great, this one seemed to fall off a bit for me on the finish. It had a certain grassiness to it that seemed out of place compared to everything else I was getting.  I also got the cherry on the finish, except there it translated to more of a cherry cough syrup flavor that I just really could not get past.

While it won't detract me from buying other single barrel Sazerac picks in the future, this one was a bit of a dud for me. The flavors were just okay, and I just didn't really like the finish all that much. While I liked the nose, unfortunately I don't buy whiskey to smell it.  That's what candles are for.

Grade: C-

Thursday, January 13, 2022

High West Double Rye! Binny's Select Grenache Finished Blended Rye

VITALS:
- $45
- 99.0 Proof
- NAS; Finished 1 yr.
- Barrel No. 20079
- Utah

I'm always a sucker for High West picks. Something about their unique finishes always draws me in. Of course, I tend to be partial to the Cognac and Armagnac finishes, but I've had some amazing wine finishes from them as well.  I've also had a few that didn't do much for me, including rum and vermouth finishes. But, I know I'm always getting quality whiskey at barrel strength and with a fun twist. 

Admittedly, I know very little about Grenache wine, other than that it is a red. Beyond that, I couldn't tell you if it's dry or sweet, or what notes I might expect to get out of a glass. I'm just not a wine guy. But, that was part of the allure. I've had many wine finished whiskeys, but I can't say I had ever had a Grenache finish, and I was eager to give it a try.

From the nose, though, I immediately got the impression that this was a sweeter wine. Right away I was getting raspberry jelly on toast. I got that jammy, sweet fruit note as well as a bit of a bread or yeast note. There was also a bit of black pepper spice, though, that provided a nice complement. I'm not sure if that came from the rye or from the barrel finish, but all in all this smelled delicious.

The flavor, much like the nose, was also sweet and fruity. I again got that jammy black raspberry note. It was almost like a pie filling flavor, as though it had the added sweetness from a syrup. It also had a spicy cinnamon note to it--a bit different than the black pepper spice I got on the nose. This had that sort of woody note that you get from cinnamon sticks.

I also got a bit of a dark chocolate note, which was very welcome. It provided a touch of bitterness to offset the sweet fruit notes. There was also a brighter fruit note that seemed to come through more on later pours, something between pear and cantaloupe. Whatever it was, it added a layer of complexity that I really enjoyed.

The finish carried forward everything from the nose, with the jammy, raspberry sweetness as well as that peppery spice that lingered at the back of my throat for a good amount of time. What I noticed most, though, was the lip smacking sticky quality it had. My mouth was coated in that sweetness, and I don't know if it was in my head or not, but I swear it had a certain stickiness to it.

This was a fun bottle! It was certainly on the sweeter side, but in that dark raspberry sort of way. While it wasn't an every night pour for me, I did find myself going back to it relatively frequently once I opened it up. I would certainly grab another Grenache finished whiskey off the shelf should I see one again.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Benchmark Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $22
- 95 Proof
- NAS
- Kentucky

When Buffalo Trace announced their new, expanded lineup of Benchmark products, I wasn't really sure how to feel about it. I loved that they added some new products to the brand, including a bottled-in-bond, a single barrel and a full proof offering, among others.  But, on the other hand, it's still Benchmark, that bottom shelf bourbon that I've stayed away from for so long.

What got me, though, was the limited availability. Rather than simply release these new products distribution-wide, they released them only in select states, and that didn't include Illinois. So now, conflicted or not, I found myself wanting it simply because it was something I couldn't have.  Makes sense, right?  Luckily, one of the states that it did get released in was Indiana. So, all it took was my daughter's hockey tournament in South Bend for me to find my way into an Indian liquor store, where I picked up the Single Barrel as well as a Full Proof Benchmark.

The nose was interesting, mostly in that it wasn't quite what I expected. The first note I got was a light woodiness, usually reserved for older bottlings. I also got some sweet cinnamon as well as an oatmeal cookie aroma. It certainly leaned toward the sweeter side, and I noticed a lot of cereal notes, like frosted flakes or even cinnamon toast crunch.

The flavor certainly followed the nose, as I got the distinct flavor of cinnamon cookie.  It had that baked goods quality, but also that cinnamon note like ground cinnamon, as opposed to cinnamon flavored candy like I get sometimes. It stayed on the sweet end still, not only with that cookie note, but also with a sugar cone flavor as well.

That baked sweets note, particularly that sugar cone note, paired exceptionally well with the vanilla bean ice cream that seemed to follow. Perhaps one led me to noticing the other, like a trick of the mind, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I was also getting that same cinnamon toast crunch note that I got on the nose.

The finish was a bit thin and disappointing, however. It's not an exceptionally high proof whiskey, so I managed my expectations coming in. However, it came across as exceptionally watery and lacing in flavor. I got hints of cherry pie, with notes of both the cherry pie filling and the pie crust coming through. But, I had to strain just to pick those out, and even those were fleeting. 

All that said, for the price, this is absolutely a great value. I got far more flavor, and really enjoyable flavor, off this bourbon than I expected going in. If you were to slap any other Buffalo Trace label on this whiskey it would be flying off the shelves.  I'm glad I got the full proof to try as well, and now I'm kind of wishing I had grabbed the Top Floor release as well.

Grade: B