Saturday, February 19, 2022

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

- $70
- 114 Proof
- 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


- $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

- $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

- $25
- 90 Proof
- 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-