Monday, July 24, 2023

Charleston Distilling Co. Vesey's Liquor 'n' Wine Single Barrel Select Straight Bourbon Whiskey

- $50
- 94 Proof
- 4 Years
- Barrel No. 52
- South Carolina

This is one of those bottles where I had never even heard of Charleston Distilling Co., let alone considered trying their products, prior to seeing it on the shelf. Even on the shelf it wasn't something that stuck out to me, and if it weren't for the clerk behind the counter handing me a sample as I perused the shelves, I probably would have never given it a thought.

But, as I stood in that bourbon aisle, I tried that sample he gave me, and it was pretty good. It wasn't great, and it didn't knock my socks off or anything. But, here was this single barrel bourbon, aged at least four years, distilled by the same company bottling it, and it was a private pick. So, for the $50 price tag, I figured this was worth giving a chance.

The aroma carried many of those traditional bourbon notes, including caramel and brown sugar. There was a rich dark fruit note, kind of like a cherry but without the tartness. It also had a nutty note, like walnuts. Altogether, it all made for a surprisingly great nose!

Right up front I got that traditional caramel note, but this was immediately followed by a note that caught me off-guard a bit. At first I thought it was something vegetal, and then it hit me that what I was getting was a coffee note. It wasn't bitter, but it definitely had that flavor.  I was also getting notes of walnut and baked apple, and a whole lot of corn, kind of like corn bread.

On later pours, the apple note took on more of a Granny Smith apple note. It did develop not only some tartness, but also some brightness in the flavor. The caramel persisted, though, which was a nice complement to that Granny Smith note.  It was different, but it was a good different.  With young whiskeys I often get an over-ripe apple note, and that's not what this was. Rather, it was just a good, tart Granny Smith with some caramel.

I didn't get any apple notes on the nose. Rather, the focus there was sweet caramel on the finish, and something that reminded me of sandalwood.  Not that I've spent any time in a workshop cutting sandalwood, but if I did, I'd imagine that the taste of the air is the flavor I was getting here. The cornbread note also stuck around a bit, making for a kind of an odd, disjointed finish.

Overall, I left this bottle thinking I'd like to try more of what Charleston Distilling has to offer. While it seemed to stray from traditional bourbon notes, it was still quite tasty, and I found myself enjoying pour after pour.

Grade: B

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Smoke Wagon Rare and Limited Single Vintage Blend 8 Year Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch #1

- $99
- 118.9 Proof
- 8 Yrs.
- Batch #1
- Indiana

This is one of those bottles where I didn't realize how lucky I was to get my hands on it at the time. This came out at a time when Smoke Wagon was just starting to hit its peak. Only the early releases of Uncut Unfiltered had come out, and the limited release Desert Jewel, which was amazing by the way, had only just come and gone. 

In fact, when my local guy brought this bottle out of the back for me, I wasn't even aware that it was a thing. But, I was immediately drawn to the age, the proof, and of course the jingly blue medal draped around the bottle's neck (actually, it's more annoying than anything, but it didn't make me NOT want to buy it). This was one of those bottles that I held onto for longer than necessary, as it had been open for almost a full three years. But it was one that I didn't want to see go away--one of those once-it's-gone-it's-gone-for-good whiskeys.

The nose was rich and sweet, full of notes of toffee and semi sweet chocolate. It was like a Heath bar, but not quite as sweet. It also had a decent amount of oak on the nose, particularly for only an 8 year old whiskey. There was a slight cinnamon note to spice it up, as well as a maraschino note to add just a little bit of pop of rich cherry in the aroma.

The palate didn't quite match. I went in expecting something rich and boozy, like you might get at one of those fancy chocolatiers. Instead up front it was more earthy, with notes of damp pine and leather. It was, dare I say, funky. It also had a decent amount of oak up front to add to the profile. I was really thrown off by this.

Once past that initial flavor, though, there were some of those sweet notes I was expecting, like the rich toffee notes. The chocolate note came through as well, but more like a rich brownie batter than a bitter dark chocolate. There was even a black licorice note that, quite frankly, worked really well with the earthy notes.

The finish on this bourbon absolutely won me over, though. It coated my mouth in this sweet candy caramel that seemed to last forever. Mix that with the rich brownie note that stuck around, and it was just an incredible dessert of a finish. I did find myself going right back for another sip just to keep enjoying that finish.

This was a weird one to grade, because the nose didn't match the palate, it was funky but not bad up front, but the finish was absolutely incredible. But, I often judge a whiskey, at least in part, by how badly I want that next pour or sip, and this one was up there on that scale. 

Grade: B+

Saturday, July 1, 2023

O.K.I. Reserve Blended Bourbon Whiskey - Batch 01

- $90
- 100 Proof
- Batch 01
- Indiana

It seems forever ago that I enjoyed a bottle of O.K.I. Reserve Bourbon. That's the brand that New Riff released its sourced whiskey under when it was a fledgling distillery and was waiting for its own whiskey to age. I'm still astonished that at the time we could get a bottle of 10 Year MGP bourbon for only $50!  Of course, that was back in 2017, and a lot has changed since then.

When New Riff started putting out its own whiskey under its own name, it no longer released whiskey under the "O.K.I. Reserve" name, and eventually the last of it disappeared from the shelves. That is, until recently when a new company bought the rights (presumably) and resurrected the brand. Admittedly, I knew very little about the whiskey itself before purchasing my bottle, but some quick research told me it had been received pretty favorably. So, I was willing to give this new iteration a try.

The nose gave off rich notes of cinnamon spice and chocolate. It also had this sweet, caramel-type cola note.  All of this blended together into a rich and delicious combination that immediately made my mouth water. There was also a great nutty note, like a candied pecan, that at times even leaned towards a delicious-smelling pecan pie note.

The flavor followed suit, to some extent. It led with rich and sweet notes of toffee and caramel. It also had that cola note that I got from the nose. Those rich toffee notes were accompanied by a sweet and spicy cinnamon note, kind of a mix between cinnamon sticks and cinnamon candy. Right away this one seemed to be right in my wheelhouse.  

At times the cola note seemed to lean more towards a root beer note, and I even got a light oak note from time to time, showing some of the age of the whiskeys that were mixed into this blend. There was also a nice undercurrent of vanilla to complement everything else going on.

On the finish, the wood notes seemed a bit more prevalent, along with the rich toffee. While the cinnamon spice didn't linger too much, the vanilla notes were a bit more prevalent, and very welcome. I certainly found myself quickly going in for that next sip.

Overall, I really enjoyed this bourbon. I think the proof, despite being lower, was quite right. It had a great viscosity and a great balance of flavor and sweetness.  

Grade: A-