Monday, May 30, 2022

Caol Ila Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 13 Year Single Malt Scotch

- $100
- 90 Proof
- 13 Years
- Batch 18/002
- Islay

I really do love all things peat and sweet. I have yet to find a wine barrel matured or finished single malt that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed. There's something about that fruity and smoky combination that just hits right. So when this bottle popped up on Binny's shelves, it wasn't much of a decision to be made. I knew I'd have to give it a try.

This particular bottle was initially matured in first fill bourbon and refill American casks. After that, it was finished in Hermitage casks for an additional 3 years. I had to look it up, but Hermitage is a French red wine made from Syrah grapes, which notably tend to be a bit more earthy and tannic. I could only hope that would mingle well with delicious Caol Ila peat.

On the nose I immediately got char notes mixed with spicy dark fruit, like blackberry and pepper.  Of course I got a health amount of smoke from the peat, as well as a sweet brown sugar note. This all really reminded me of a sweet and spicy barbecue, the kind that makes your mouth water just smelling it.

The flavor was absolutely bursting with the dark fruit notes from the wine finish. I was immediately hit with a ton of dark cherry, blackberry, fig and even raisin. It was vibrant and rich, and even managed to overtake the peat. This was one of the "juicier" whiskies I can recall ever having.

Those dark fruits were accompanied by the same brown sugar and black pepper that I got on the nose, offering a nice sweet and spicy background to go with those fruit forward notes. Of course the peaty notes made their way in eventually (they can't really be denied), and it again leaned towards a delicious barbecue flavor.

On the finish the pepper spice really stuck around, including at the back of my throat. There as also this soft vanilla note that came through, which seemed to balance out a lingering cherry note that had coated my mouth. 

This was a fantastic bottle, and two friends and I killed half the bottle just the first night opening it. I wanted to slow myself down, but I couldn't help but go back, and that bottle was killed within a couple weeks, which is always a mark of a great whisky!

Grade: A

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Evan Williams Master Blend Kentucky Straight Bourbon (Gift Shop Exclusive)

- $60
- 90 Proof
- Kentucky

Whenever I go to Kentucky, I always feel like I have to come back with something special, something that I can't get in Illinois. Of course, it's always easy to go the route of a local store pick, but it's the stuff that's only available at the distillery gift shops that I really want to try to bring home. Luckily for me, during my last trip to Louisville I had a brief moment to swing through the Evan Williams Experience, and I was able to snag a couple bottles of this Master Blend (I passed on the over-priced Evan Williams 12-year).

This is a blend of five different Evan Williams products, including their Signature Black, the Bottled-in-Bond, 1783 and Evan Williams Single Barrel, as well as some of the 23-year-old! Of course, how much of the 23-year-old is in this blend is not disclosed, but I think it's a fair assumption that it represents a very small percentage of the blend. Nonetheless, this came highly recommended to me, and I was eager to give it a try.

The nose came across as sweet but earthy. My first note was sweet tea. It had that honey sweetness to it, but also a light bitter and dry note from the tea leaves. I also got some sweet oak as well. In that sense the nose was interesting in that it had a balance of bitter and sweet, though it did lean a bit more to the sweeter end, so perhaps "balance" wasn't the correct word.

Despite the lower proof, there was a certain unexpected richness to this whiskey. It still had that sweet wood note I got off the nose, but it was more of a mix of dark molasses and rich oak notes. The combination worked fairly well.  

There was also a bright and bitter note, kind of like an orange peel note, that I really enjoyed. It seemed to cut through the rich notes while adding further depth of flavor. It also had the tea leaf note from the nose, but it didn't come across so much as a sweet tea. Rather, the unsweetened tea note seemed to stand on its own.

On the finish I got a nice cinnamon spice that seemed to almost appear out of nowhere.  That was a pleasant surprise. That and the orange peel note seemed to stick around the longest, while the oak and molasses notes seemed to fade away a bit. The finish wasn't very long and it didn't exactly coat my mouth, but that's to be expected given the proof.

If you're in Kentucky and are looking to bring something back that you can't get in your home state, this is a good grab. At $60, it's far more accessible than many other gift shop exclusives (though, for Evan Williams products, a bit on the higher end), and it was quite tasty.

Grade: B

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Chattanooga Whiskey Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon

- $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

- $90
- 130.3
- 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

- $55
- 97.4 Proof
- 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

- $60
- 101 Proof
- 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

- $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