Sunday, March 20, 2022

Smooth Ambler Founders' Cask Strength Series Straight Rye Whiskey

- $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

- $60
- 114 Proof
- 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

- $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

- $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-