Saturday, January 22, 2022

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

- $32
- 94 Proof
- 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

- 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

- $50
- 104 Proof
- 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

- $30
- 90 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $22
- 95 Proof
- 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