Monday, January 30, 2023

Highland Park Cask Strength Release No. 2 Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $120
- 127.8 Proof
- Orkney

As I've grown to love the wonderful combination of sweet and peat--peated Scotches matured in wine barrels--I've received various recommendations from my whiskey buddies over the years.  This was one such recommendation. A good friend of mine is a big fan of Highland Park, and after trying their 12-year, he insisted that I needed to have a run at their cask strength.

So, despite the somewhat hefty price tag, I relented and grabbed a bottle off the shelf. While I'm not sure what the combination of barrels were that went into this product, I was assured that a portion of the whiskey was matured in sherry casks, which would give me that sweet and peat that I love, but with a whole lot of kick with it coming in at 127.8 proof.

The nose was full of aromas to the point that I felt I was going overboard with my notes. I got an interesting blend of citrus and cinnamon right up front. That had a sweet wheat bread backing, as well as a bit of a graham cracker note. I also got a sweet tea note that I loved, and most surprising was a strawberry shortcake note, but heavier on the cake notes. I'm guessing that's where the sherry cask influence came in.

In the flavor I did get some of those fruit notes. Notably, I got some sweet raspberry and a bright plum note, some of the flavors I've come to expect from a sherry finish. However, those fruit notes weren't nearly as prominent as I would have liked.

I also got more earthy notes, including a distinct oak note, but without any bitter tannins.  I also got a sweet tobacco note that I really enjoyed, as it added a sort of richness to it without being in any way dessert-like.  The smoky note from the peat was certainly there, though on the lighter end, which allowed room for a nice cinnamon spice note, which was particularly noticeable on later pours.

Given the proof, it was no surprise that this carried a decent amount of heat with it. It also provided for a very oily texture and an exceptionally long finish. Those cinnamon, oak and just a bit of the raspberry notes seemed to coat the mouth, and I found myself taking time between each sip to just enjoy.

While I personally would have dialed up the sherry influence, I still really enjoyed this bottle, which seemed to get better and better with each pour, and I still can't get over how much I loved that finish!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Benchmark Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $18
- 125 Proof
- Kentucky

The last time I spent any decent amount of time in Indiana I made it a point to stop by a liquor store for the purpose of grabbing some of the relatively newly released Benchmark line. I can't get these in Illinois (for reasons I don't understand), so it was one of those rare times that I headed into a liquor store looking for one particular thing.

I was able to pick up both the Single Barrel and the Full Proof while I was there. They had the entire lineup, but it just didn't seem necessary to get all five. These were the two I was most interested in, and what I loved even more was the price! I couldn't remember the last time I grabbed a bottle of bourbon for under $20.  I ended up really enjoying the Single Barrel much more than I thought, so once that one was finished, it wasn't long before I then cracked into this Full Proof. 

The nose gave off some of those traditional flavors that made me fall in love with bourbon in the first place. I immediately got a sweet and spicy cinnamon note along with some dark chocolate. That sweetness was boosted by some brown sugar notes, and I got a distinct chocolate chip cookie note. There was also a rich amaretto note to it as well, and it really did smell delicious.

Much like the nose, the flavor was very cinnamon forward. It was sweet and spicy, but also with a bit of earthiness to it, like a woodiness but not a traditional oak note. That brown sugar cookie note also came through as well. I didn't necessarily get the chocolate note I was getting on the nose, but it still had that note of chocolate chip cookies, but without the chocolate chips.

It had that earthy, woody note as well.  It wasn't the typical oak note you get from aged bourbons, and it didn't add any bitterness (this was certainly on the sweeter end of bourbons), but instead just added a sort of woody flavor. It reminded me of that taste I get in my mouth when I fill the hopper of my smoker.

The finish was loaded with the brown sugar and cinnamon spice, but there was a bit of a black pepper spice as well, something that stuck around at the back of my throat. The finish was shorter than I would have liked, though, which was a bit surprising given its proof.

Simply put, at $18, this is an absolute buy.  As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best values out there.  If only I could get it on a regular basis. 

Grade: B+

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Four Roses Single Barrel Liquor Barn Private Selection Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OBSO

- $90
- 106.2 Proof
- 10 Yrs., 7 Mos.
- Barrel No. 4-1R
- Kentucky

Whenever I go to Kentucky, I almost always make it a point to stop by multiple liquor stores, including Liquor Barn, just to see what they might have in stock that I can't get here in Illinois.  I'm not deluded into believing I'm going to find something rare, but each time I've been able to find something different, whether that's simply a store pick of something decent or something that just doesn't make its way to Illinois shelves.

On my last trip I went to the Liquor Barn I'm familiar with hoping to find at the very least a decent store pick, perhaps a Russell's Reserve or a Four Roses pick. But, after perusing the aisles, each and every end cap and even the "rare and limited" cabinet, I was uninspired and resigned myself to the fact that I was leaving empty-handed.  I grabbed some whiskey glasses as a gift, and when I was checking out, I happened to look up and there, sitting on the top shelf behind the register, were the last two bottles of one of their Four Roses picks. My trip was salvaged, and I cracked it open that night!

The nose was absolutely delicious, full of chocolate and peanut butter. In fact the peanut butter note was fairly strong, and it reminded me of nutty buddies (which just happens to be one of my favorite sweet snacks).  I also got a tart cherry note, kind of like a fresh cherry off the tree. 

On my first sip, I immediately noticed that nutty buddy note. I got peanut butter along with a sweet milk chocolate that immediately told me I was going to really enjoy this bottle. In addition to those notes, though, I also got some orange peel and brown sugar. It was kind of like and old fashion with a peanut butter cup shoved in the glass.

I definitely got a bit of cherry but it lacked that tartness that I was getting off the nose. Rather, it was a welcome addition to the peanut butter cup old fashioned flavor I was getting. There was also a bit of an oak note on this, which added some bitterness that kind of replaced the tartness from the cherry. The oak and the chocolate notes seemed to persist the most on what was a long finish, and at the very back end some black pepper spice came through as well, providing just a bit of kick.

The conclusion I reached here is that I need to get more Liquor Barn picks. Whoever picked this barrel has (subjectively) great taste, as this was a delicious Four Roses pick.

Grade: A-

Monday, January 16, 2023

Kilkerran 16 Year Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky

- $140
- 92 Proof
- 16 Years
- Campbeltown

While I feel like I've been grabbing many Islay and other peated Scotches lately, particularly some of the more limited releases from Ardbeg and Laphroaig, I still have a big soft spot in my heart for Campbeltown single malts. They, of course, have that peat that I so desire. But, there's just something else to them that has always drawn them in.

What it is exactly, I haven't yet been able to quite put my thumb on. There's just a certain "dusty" quality, a kind of funk that I don't get out of other peated whiskeys. Perhaps it's all in my head, and in my mind I've built up Campbeltown Scotches to be more unique than they are. But, the fact of the matter is I continue to love everything that comes out of that region. So, I was thrilled when I was finally able to grab one of these 16 year Kilkerran's off the shelf. 

On the nose, that peated smoky noted was present, but certainly not overpowering. It was a bit subtle and allowed other notes to come through. The nose beyond the smoke was lemony and malty. It had a certain graham cracker and honey note to it, even bready at times. It also had some brighter, almost tropical notes, including apricot and a sweet orange marmalade note. 

Much like the nose, the peat wasn't overpowering. It was there, to be sure. But it didn't try to overtake the other flavors that were happening, and seemed to act as more of a complement to the malt itself, including allowing its sweetness to come through. It was a natural sweetness, kind of like honey, but lighter and crisper, if that makes any sense at all. 

The graham cracker from the nose certainly came through on the palate, along with a brown sugar note and some notes of vanilla. In fact, as I worked through my bottle, that vanilla note seemed to come more and more forward with each new pour. The malt notes seemed to shine a bit as well, with the flavor of a fresh, crisp pilsner.

Behind all of that was a brighter, citrus-like note, much like I was getting off the nose. It wasn't as jammy and sweet as marmalade, but it certainly came across as a bright, fresh orange note. In fact, that flavor seemed to stick around for the finish, along with the malt notes and even just a bit of peat, leaving quite a yummy taste in my mouth after each sip.

The price is a bit steep, as it tends to be on just about any Campbeltown offering these days, but I thought this single malt was absolutely delicious, full of flavor and yet subtle all at once.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Weller Special Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

- $28
- 90 Proof
- Kentucky

I actually finished this bottle a couple weeks ago, but I held onto the empty while I debated whether or not to write this review. It just seems weird to me to just now review a whiskey that I've had hundreds of times before. This is not rare or hard to find. While it is loved by many, there's nothing overly special about it. And, as I mentioned, it's one that I've had more times than I can count.

I tend to use this blog as my own personal whiskey journal, allowing me to go back and recall which whiskies I've tried and what I thought about them. It seems unnecessary in this case. But, at the same time, I finished the bottle and I've never reviewed it before, so for the sake of having it officially logged in my journal, here I go with my review. 

The nose comes across as immediately sweet, kind of a brown sugar note as opposed to the typical caramel sweetness.  It also had a bit of an artificial cherry note, which is interesting as I don't typically get that off of Weller products. It also had a woody, almost cardboard note to it that wasn't necessarily off-putting, but was just familiar.

One reason that I don't often reach for Weller is that I tend to like a spicier bourbon. Being a wheated bourbon, Weller products tend to lean sweet, and Special Reserve is no different. It leads with that same brown sugar that I got on the nose, along with a sweet cinnamon note, almost like a cinnamon candy but without the spice.

Immediately behind that the sweet notes continued, as I got a light note of milk chocolate, as well as a bit of that cherry candy that I was getting on the nose. Neither of these notes hung around very long, though, which I'm sure is due in part to the low proof of this whiskey. There's certainly nothing bold here. 

The finish is very reflective of that, as the flavor is gone almost immediately after each swallow. What does linger are the brown sugar notes I got on the front end, as well as a light but sweet oak note.

This is an easy drinker for sure. It's on the sweeter end and it's low proof, which is why I often give it as a gift to my whiskey novice friends. For my taste, though, I want more spice and more heat, which is why I so often leave these on the shelf when I see them, knowing that there are others out there who enjoy finding a bottle much more than I do.

Grade: B-