Friday, February 24, 2023

Benromach Binny's Hand Selected 10 Year Single Cask First Fill Sherry Hogshead Speyside Single Malt

- $90
- 121.2 Proof
- 10 Years
- Cask No. 719
- Speyside

I certainly have a professed love for sweet and peat, or, in other words, peated Scotch aged in ex-wine barrels. Fortified wine barrels, particularly, always seem to add that sweet, fruity, jammy note to the smoky notes from the peat that just make my mouth water.

So, when Binny's got a couple Benromach picks in, one of which was aged in a first fill sherry hogshead, the manager at my local store, knowing my love of sweet and peat, made it a point to let me know. Not only did she let me know it had come in, but she had tried it and declared it to be an incredible pour. At that point there was no way I was going home without a bottle.

When I popped the cork, I was immediately hit with those jammy notes I fully expected. I got great aromas of strawberry and cranberry, along with a bit of a bread note, almost like a pie crust. There was a bit of spice on the nose as well, kind of a clove spice, that seemed to tag along with the smoky note. It was like a spicy, smoky strawberry pie, and my mouth watered each time I took a good whiff.

As to flavor, I'll describe the over all experience like this: it was like a smoked raspberry strudel (something I may have to search out a recipe for, as it sounds delicious as I type it) on top of a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream. This was absolutely a dessert whiskey, and it was delicious!

The creamy vanilla persisted and seemed to blend perfectly with the ever-present smoke. The bright raspberry notes were front and center, and they seemed to be sweetened up a bit by a honey note. It even had a solid malt backbone to give it that crumbly strudel flavor.

While the spice from the nose didn't seem as present, everything else was so good together I didn't seem to miss it.  The high proof provided a great viscosity and completely coated my mouth and throat and made for an incredibly long finish of raspberry and barbecue, with that same undercurrent of vanilla.

I could not get enough of this single cask! This is one of my favorite pours that I've had in quite some time.  I have no idea if there are any more of these sitting on the shelves anywhere. I'd be surprised if there were. But, if I happen to come across another, it's going straight into my cart.

Grade: A+

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2021

- $160
- 104 Proof
- 12 Years
- Kentucky

I've been lucky enough to try Birthday Bourbon pretty much every year for the past seven years or so, mostly because I've had friends that have been lucky enough to snag a bottle, and I was, in turn, lucky enough to have them share with me. A couple years I managed to try a pour at a bar. But, I've never actually purchased a bottle for myself.

I've had opportunities, but I've passed and let friends get one instead.  And I've found that some releases have been way better than others, so I never really felt like taking the chance. But, for 2021's release, it was offered to me and I finally bit the bullet, despite the relatively steep price. I certainly made this bottle last a while, but the other night I was itching for something from the top shelf, and, despite having nothing to really celebrate, I finally finished it off. 

I popped the cork and was immediately impressed by the nose on this bourbon. Right up front I got loads of cinnamon spice, along with rich and sweet chocolate and cherry. There was also a very distinct oaky note, but without any bitterness to detract from all the other great, mouth-watering aromas I was getting.

Much like the nose, the flavor was also very cinnamon forward. That seemed to be the predominant note, along with a healthy amount of dark chocolate, bringing with it a little bit of bitterness.  The oak note that I got off the nose was also present, but it, too, brought with it some tannic notes contributing to the bitterness.

The cinnamon note seemed to turn, at some point, into more of a cloves note.  It developed a cherry note as well that complemented the cloves well. That cherry note seemed to land somewhere between an artificial cherry note and a fresh cherry note. There was also a distinct cereal note as well, kind of like plain Cheerios. 

The viscosity was off the charts, and this had a very oily texture, which provided a nice, long finish. There I got even more of that Cheerios note, coupled with the cloves and cherry notes. That combination of flavors seemed to linger in my mouth and at the back of my throat forever between pours.

All in all, this was a good bourbon, but it just had those sharp tannic notes which, while not overpowering, nonetheless detracted from everything else going on. I also wasn't super high on the cherry note. Given the price point, I think I'll be a try-before-I-buy guy going forward on Birthday Bourbons.

Grade: B

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Wigle Phil's Shadow Rye Whiskey Finished in Maple Syrup Barrels

- $30 (375 mL)
- 92 Prof
- 3 1/2 years
- Pennsylvania

The timing of this post was almost appropriate, as Groundhog's Day was only a week or so ago. Had I made the connection, I would have made it a point to finish this bottle and get this post up that day. But here I am, a week late, and now it's just another review on any given day. I really screwed that one up.

In any event, this was a bottle that I had seen on the shelves many times, but was simply never interested in buying it. The fact that it's finished in maple syrup barrels tells me right away it's going to be too sweet for my taste.  And I know very little about its maker, Pittsburgh Distilling Co.  But, when a buddy of mine decided to be generous and gift me a bottle, well, who am I to turn it down! So I gave it a go!

On the nose I got a ton of (you guessed it!) maple syrup.  This is probably going to be a trend here.  Of course I expected a good amount of maple syrup, but this was all maple syrup. It did have some notes I identify with a younger whiskey, particularly a green apple note, but even that was lost behind the heavy aroma of a waffle house floor.

As to flavor, I got notes of vanilla and caramel and a hint of raspberry . . . just kidding!  I got maple syrup.  Lots of maple syrup!  At times I thought I might have caught notes of something else, like a hint of oak, some black pepper spice, maybe even some vanilla. But I'm fairly certain that was my imagination, because whenever I re-focused, all I ever got was maple syrup . . . and cavities. To be fair, as I wrote my notes, I did get a cereal note a couple times, kind of like corn flakes.  Still breakfast, though.

I don't think I need to go into the finish. I'm guessing given the pattern here you can fill in that blank.

Some people love whiskey finished in maple syrup barrels.  I am definitely not among them. Not only does it sweeten up the whiskey to the Nth degree, but, unlike some honey barrel finishes that I've actually enjoyed for what they are, the maple finish overpowers with flavor as well.  It's like making out with a Canadian.  If it's your thing, go nuts. But it's not for me (the finished whiskey, that is, I'm completely on board with making out with Canadians).

Grade: D

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Uncle Nearest Straight Rye Whiskey

- $65
- 100 Proof
- 4 years
- Canada

I was fairly excited to try the newest rye product coming from Uncle Nearest.  I've been hit or miss on some of their other products, but I do love rye. So, I was eager to give this a try, figuring at the very least I'd like to see what Uncle Nearest can do with something other than bourbon.

As soon as I saw it on hit the shelves in my area I grabbed a bottle to come home with me. I popped it open and was immediately taken back by the nose, not necessarily because it was bad but because it was unexpected. I got a very strong caramel apple note right from the start, almost as though I had just opened up and bitten into one of those pre-packaged caramel apples. It also had a bit of nutmeg on the nose, as well as some black pepper. I certainly wasn't getting the typical rye notes I'm used to, but I was looking forward to that first pour. 

However, the flavor on this one didn't hold up its end of the bargain. It came across as very weird to me. The caramel notes from the nose took a back seat and the green apple note came right to the front. It had that typical flavor I get with young bourbons, what I've described in the past as an over-ripe apple note. That was paired with a sort of candy corn note, and the two just didn't work together.

This was just strange to me, so I inspected the bottle a bit more closely only to learn that this rye was sourced from Canada. I was completely duped, figuring I was getting a rye, albeit a younger rye, that was actually made by Uncle Nearest. That's one me for not reading up on this a bit more before buying, but at the very least it explained why I was getting such an odd flavor profile and just wasn't really enjoying it.

I decided to try decanting it, so after the first couple of glasses I poured the remainder of the bottle into a glass decanter, hoping that maybe a bit of oxygen would open this up a bit. And to some extent it did. I started to pull other flavors, including some rich caramel notes and even a dried apricot note.

However, what never seemed to go away was that green apple note that just stood out among and apart from the other flavors. I couldn't escape it.  I also got a lot more brown sugar, a note that I typically associate with Canadian whiskeys.

What I didn't get was any spice whatsoever, though, and to me, what's the point of drinking a rye then? This was an overly sweet mess, which tasted young and lacked any of the rye qualities that make me want to drink rye in the first place. Other than an enjoyable nose, I found minimal enjoyment in finishing this bottle.

Grade: C-

Thursday, February 2, 2023

High West Binny's Barrel Select American Prairie Bourbon Finished in Brandy Casks

- $45
- 101.6 Proof
- Finished 1 year, 1 month
- Barrel #18910
- Utah

Although they don't seem to be coming out as frequently as they once did, I still love finding new High West barrel selects on shelves. They've tried all sorts of finishes, including wine finishes, barreled cocktail finishes, and even finishes in barrels previously used to finish whiskey. And for the most part they've been really good!

The ones I've found I gravitate toward the most, however, are the brandy finishes, including Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados finishes. For whatever reason, it's a finish that High West has done well.  And while my preference tends to be their ryes, I wasn't about to pass up this bottle of American Prairie Bourbon finished in brandy casks for just over a year. 

The brandy influence is fairly heavy on this one. Right way I was hit with orchard fruits. It was a nice mix of peach and pear, along with some sweet but rich brown sugar. It was kind of like a pie, particularly with an added note of pecan pie filling. It smelled like a rich and delicious peach and pear pie (is that thing?).

Right in line with the nose, the flavor was packed full of cooked peaches and pears. I couldn't get over how fruit forward this bottle was. It was sweetened by the same brown sugar note I was getting on the nose, and it even had a little bit of cinnamon spice to kick it up a bit. 

I also got that pie crust note. It wasn't strong, and it didn't necessarily make the whole thing taste like a pie, but there was certainly a flaky, buttery crust flavor going on here. It also had a nutty note, but it leaned sweet like a candied pecan.

The finish was syrupy and sweet. Whatever minimal heat I got from the cinnamon notes didn't quite make it that far. It certainly coated my mouth but it left that feeling in my mouth like I had just eaten waffles with maple syrup.

I certainly liked the flavors going on here, but I feel like the bourbon itself got somewhat buried. This seemed to be dominated by the brandy notes.  Perhaps a rye would have held up better against the finish, and if I come across a Double Rye! finished in brandy casks, I'm sure as hell buying it. But this one didn't quite do for me what I had hoped it would.

Grade: B-