Sunday, April 30, 2023

Remus Gatsby Reserve 15 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $250
- 97.8 Proof
- 15 years
- Kentucky

I never did get my hands on the Volstead Reserve that MGP (now Ross & Squibb) had released, its entry in to the super-premium bourbon market. But, I heard some really good things about it. And when I was offered a bottle of Remus Gatsby Reserve, I was really excited . . . and then I saw the price tag. $250 is a hefty price to pay for any whiskey to be sure.  And this was one I hadn't tried yet.  But, I had the benefit of a recent bonus from work, and I decided to splurge.  I was too intrigued by not only the age, but the fact that it was cask strength at only 97.8 proof. So not a heater, but not watered down in any way.

This came in some fancy package with a box that kind of splits open from the top. It's a nice hefty bottle and it came with a solid, really heavy stopper. I normally don't give a shit about packaging, but I tell you all this because, as I was carrying it into my house, I grabbed it by the top of the box, which separated from the base, and the bottle went tumbling, bouncing off a shelf, then my step into my house, and ultimately on to the cement floor of my garage. My stomach sank as this happened! But, the only damage was that the heavy, paperweight of a stopper separated from the cork. While I hate that box, the sturdy bottle held up and prevented what would otherwise have been a costly disaster!!

But, on to the whiskey!  Unfortunately for this bottle, my first couple pours were enjoyed with some other, high-end whiskeys, some very good whiskeys, and this one got lost in the shuffle. However, I did make it a point to give this a go on its own, and it really is a damn good bourbon! The nose was full of brown sugar and caramel, rich and sweet. It also had some delicious cherry notes. But the spice was the most interesting part. I got some black pepper that tickled my noes, but also rich clove spice and even root beer notes.  The nose was very complex and smelled great!

The flavor really seemed to grab ahold of those root beer notes I was getting on the nose. In fact, the first notes that I jotted down were that it tasted like root beer candy. It reminded me of root beer flavored Dum Dums, and certainly brought back some childhood memories. It also had a bit of a butterscotch note to it, which isn't too far of a divergence from root beer, but nonetheless added to that hard candy sweetness.

As the bottle opened up, and as I enjoyed more pours of this, I found that the sweetness did subside a bit, allowing the spice to shine through much more. I got that black pepper spice, particularly on the finish. But the cloves note seemed to eventually make its way through as well, to the point that by the end it was taking more of a center stage.

There were some oak notes, but only in flavor, never in bitterness. And I found that those oak notes lingered most on the finish, along with a rich caramel note and a bit of that clove spice. Despite the low proof, each sip seemed to really coat my mouth in all of these flavors, and the finish was quite enjoyable!

I still hate the price tag on this (and while I try not to let price factor into my final rating, sometimes you just can't help it). I certainly don't see myself spending that on a similar product in the future.  But, this was still a really good whiskey, albeit an expensive one, and I'd certainly urge you to try a pour if you get the chance!

Grade: B+

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Castle & Key The Woolgatherer Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Vino de Naranja Barrels

- $75
- 115.4 Proof
- Kentucky

On my most recent trip to Kentucky I made it a point to do the tour at Castle & Key. I had never been, and I was certainly eager to check out the grounds of the old E.H. Taylor distillery, and, of course, the castle itself.  I will say, that tour exceeded my expectations! The distillery and the grounds are absolutely beautiful!  They did an incredible job restoring that property!  And the history of the property is compelling and made for a really enjoyable tour!

Of course, at the end of the tour we took part in a tasting, and, oddly enough, I found I really liked their gin. But afterwards we perused the gift shop, and I saw this bottle on the shelf. Our tour guide saw me looking at it, and she offered to bring me back into the tasting room to try a sample. Needless to say, I was impressed not only with the flavor but the uniqueness of this whiskey, and a bottle made its way back to Illinois with me. 

This is not a super-high rye at 63%, so some of the sweeter notes were allowed to come through, and that was definitely the case with the nose. Right up front I got sweet notes of brown sugar and, not surprisingly, orange. It definitely had a bit of an old fashioned aroma to it, but with some vanilla added as well. I did not get "orange creamsicle," as the back label suggested, but it definitely had a nice nose.

Quite frankly, I didn't get the "orange creamsicle" in the flavor either, which was just fine by me, as I tend to avoid overly sweet whiskeys. And, quite frankly, initially my reaction to this whiskey was that it was just okay. But, this was one of those bottles that seemed to just get better with every pour.

Despite it not being a high-rye whiskey, it nonetheless had a healthy dose of cinnamon spice, both on the front end and the back end. That cinnamon spice was paired with a rich, brown sugar sweetness to keep it from ever getting either too spicy or too sweet.

Of course the orange was there, but again, not the sweet, artificial orange flavor, but rather bright and even slightly bitter orange peel, and even a bit of burnt orange. It definitely had that old fashioned quality to it, and it did, in fact, make for a pretty tasty old fashioned, leaning right into the Angostura bitters.

On the finish, the cinnamon spice certainly came through, and that burnt orange note lingered as well. But it was here that, while I don't believe this is a very aged whiskey, it provided some oak notes, a bit of earthiness and bitterness to continually balance the orange and brown sugar notes. 

I don't know that I'll come across this again, but this was a fun bottle to enjoy.  It was not only something different and unique, but it was really good! And by the time I got to the end of the bottle, I was a bit disappointed that it was over.

Grade: B+ 

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Batch A120

- $60
- 136.6 Proof
- 12 Years
- Batch No. A120
- Kentucky

I've said it before, and, quite frankly, it doesn't need to be said, but Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is consistently some of the best whiskey out there. And, given that it's a tri-annual release, while it is an allocated product, it is far from impossible to find. Plus, the price hasn't jumped (yet) like we've seen with so many other products.

In fact, I've managed to collect a bit of a backlog of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bottles between the normal releases and store picks. And the other day, I questioned why I wouldn't have at least one of them open at any given moment. So, rather than ponder the question, I decided to just go ahead and open one, starting with the oldest one on my shelf, this Batch A120 from January 2020.

As soon as I popped that cork I was hit with aromas of oak and cinnamon, along with a rich, dark sweetness that was like a molasses note. In addition to the cinnamon spice, there was also a black pepper spice to add some kick, along with some sweet vanilla notes. This was a great combination!

When I took my first sip, right away I was hit with a healthy dose of sweet, dark caramel, calling back to that molasses note from the nose. It also had a bit of that black pepper bite immediately on the tip of my tongue. There was a layer of richness as well, kind of like a dark chocolate note, keeping it somewhat sweet but nowhere near a dessert whiskey.

There was also something earthy or nutty, kind of like a mix between peanut and walnut.  There was also a bit of a tea leaf note that was interesting and added a bit of tanginess to the profile. These flavors all worked great with the caramel, black pepper and dark chocolate that persisted throughout.

The finish reminded me very much of tiramisu.  The tea note kind of took on more of a coffee liqueur note, and was accompanied by notes of vanilla and dark chocolate. That black pepper spice also found its way into the finish, adding some spice and giving me a reason to quickly go back for that next sip!

This certainly reminded me of just how well these releases are done, and, quite frankly, I think as soon as I'm done writing this I'll go pop open the next one!

Grade: A

Thursday, April 13, 2023

One Eight Distilling Untitled Whiskey No. 17

- $80
- 115.8 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch 1
- Washington D.C.

When One Eight Distilling's Untitled Whiskeys started hitting shelves a couple years ago, they got decent enough hype that I certainly became curious. I remember seeing private select single barrels, and their batches, such as this one, had some incredible finishing combinations, usually with bright, fruity and rich finishes such as sherry, port or cognac. What I had up to this point was all really good and, at the very least, really interesting.

It wasn't long after that initial run that I picked up this bottle, Untitled Whiskey No. 17.  This one is a blend of a 10 year old wheated bourbon that was finished in rum, Calvados and Cognac casks along with a 14 year high rye bourbon finished in Amontillado sherry butt. That's a whole lot going on inside this bottle. I wasn't sure if it would all work together or if it would be too much, but I was certainly willing to find out!

The nose on this was impressively rich. I feel like I use that word a lot in these blog posts, but this is quite possibly the richest nose I've ever nosed, bull of dark chocolate mixed with various dark fruits, including blackberry and cherry, fig and raisin, and even plum. It even had a bit of clove to it that made all those fruit notes come across like a spiced wine.  I couldn't get enough of this nose. I want to make a candle out of it!

While the flavor was very rich itself, it seemed that the spicy notes came through a bit more. I definitely got the dark fruit notes. Blackberry and dark cherry seemed prevalent, even with a bit of a sour note accompanying that cherry flavor.  

But, what took center stage was the spice. Cinnamon and black pepper spice seemed to dominate this. At times I feel like I even got a chili pepper note. This certainly gave that spice-wine character, just heavy on the spice. Dark chocolate notes also came through, providing a bit of a backbone and somewhat tempering the spice notes.

Towards the back end, the dark chocolate notes carried through as the cinnamon and black pepper subsided a bit. I also got some nutty, earthy notes, like walnut and almond. And it was on the finish that the sweetness came through, kind of a molasses note.

There was a lot of really good "stuff" happening here. I liked those wine notes, the dark fruit notes, and the dark chocolate notes.  Something about this blend, however, just didn't quite work. I'm not sure if one of the finishes had more influence than others. Perhaps it's the rum finish that I didn't like, as I have yet to find a rum finished rye or bourbon I've liked. But there was something about this that just didn't work, just didn't quite bring all of those great flavors together into something cohesive. 

Grade: B-

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Smoke Wagon Malted Straight Rye Whiskey

- $90
- 119.54 Proof
- Batch No. 26
- Indiana

I have certainly been a fan of Smoke Wagon ever since they came onto the scene.  It started with the Desert Jewel release, which was absolutely fantastic. From there I tried the Uncut & Unfiltered Bourbon as well as the Small Batch Bourbon, and I really enjoyed those as well.  Generally speaking, their bourbons have been fantastic and I've encouraged many a drinker to give them a try.

Being the rye guy that I am, I was naturally excited when Nevada Distilling began releasing Smoke Wagon ryes. They released some experimental ryes, but I wasn't willing to pay the price that those were commanding (just south of $300 if I can recall correctly).  But, the Bottled-in-Bond Rye and this Malted Straight Rye were at least a bit more approachable in price, though, admittedly, even the $90 price tag on this one is a bit steep.  But, I really wanted to give it a try, so in my cart it went.

The very first note that I jotted down in my Notes app when I brought this to my nose was "weird smell." Right up front I got pine nuts and black pepper. But, there was something mossy to it, almost damp smelling, like walking through a forest after a few days of rain. That wouldn't be so bad, but I also got a bit of a nail polish remover smell that really put me off.  I was not a fan of the nose on this one at all.

As to flavor, luckily that nail polish remover note wasn't there at all. There was, however, that pine note, along with a bit of a malt note, almost like there was a some Scotch blended in.  I guess that's not too surprising given the mashbill of 51% rye and 49% malted barley. That pine and malt, however, was mixed with something sweet, kind of like a maple syrup but not quite as sugary. This, again, was weird in that it kind of worked and kind of didn't.

On the finish I got a spicy and sweet cinnamon note, kind of like a cinnamon schnapps (taking me back to the days when it was fun to drink Goldschlager--I shudder at the thought now).  The maple syrup persisted as well, giving it that sweet and spicy profile.  In a weird way (apparently weird is the theme here), I kind of liked the finish.  The damp, mossy note went away, and even the pine notes faded letting the rye notes finally shine through. 

But, by the time I got to the finish, it was a bit too late. While it did get progressively better from nose to finish, in the end this just came across as, you guessed it, weird, and I certainly didn't feel it warranted the $90 price point.

Grade: C-

Monday, April 3, 2023

Eagle Rare 17 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2020

- $120
- 101 Proof
- 17 Years
- Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I felt luck to have been able to obtain. It is Eagle Rare, after all, that really opened my eyes to the bourbon world. Having started my whiskey journey in the Scotch world, it wasn't until a local liquor store clerk suggested that I give Eagle Rare a try that I really started trying out and learning about bourbon.

Eagle Rare is still one of my favorite under $50 bottles, and it's always one of the top three whenever I'm asked for that recommendation. This bottle, of course, takes that up a notch or four. It obviously ups the age from 10 years to 17 years, which is no small jump. But, it also punches up the proof from 90 proof  101 proof.  It's a much older and stronger Eagle Rare, and I couldn't wait to try it. Although I opened this bottle immediately when I got it, I held onto the last three or so pours for a really long time, simply not wanting it to be gone. But, all good things must come to an end, so finally the other night I shared the last few pours with good friends and called it a day.

The age on this bourbon was immediately noticeable on the nose. I got healthy oak notes right up front, but there was also a soft sweetness to it as well. I got notes of caramel and dark chocolate, reminding me a bit of a turtle bar. It even had some rich walnut notes to it.  It smelled decadent and delicious, very much like something you'd get from a good chocolatier, even if the nose wasn't all that pungent. 

As to the flavor, right up front I got a sweet but smooth caramel note, like that good, soft caramel used in Godiva chocolates--sweet, rich, smooth and creamy. It also had an oak note tagging along, but, given the prominent oak note on the nose, it was surprisingly nowhere near as oak-forward on the palate. Rather, it seemed to add a sort of a light roastiness, kind of like a coffee note but without the bitterness. Perhaps like a coffee ice cream?

The wood influence was certainly there, but it was almost a sweet wood note, if that makes sense. Kind of like almond or pecan or even hazelnut, where it has that soft sweetness to it, along with the nutty, earthy note and even a touch of bitterness.  But the caramel was always the backbone to everything, always bringing it back to the traditional bourbon notes.

It wasn't until the finish that the cinnamon spice finally kicked in. This was the one thing I felt was missing, but on the finish it came through along with an amaretto liqueur note, to add just a bit of that tanginess hitting the sides of my tongue and lingering in the back of my throat. There was also a healthy amount of vanilla that seemed to linger, which really didn't show up anywhere other than on the finish.

I'm so happy I got to try this bottle. It didn't necessarily blow me away like I had hoped it would, but it is certainly still a fantastic bottle.  And it does the trick as an older, punchier Eagle Rare. I have no regrets over finally finishing off those last few pours.

Grade: A-