Monday, March 20, 2017

Wild Turkey Decades Review

When it comes to bourbon, Wild Turkey is dear to me. The standard 101 is the house bourbon in my bar because it's a hell of a workhorse as both a daily sipper and a cocktail base. Combine that with the fact that I can almost always find it no matter where I am and it just keeps growing on me with each passing year. Then there's Russell's Reserve Single Barrel which I would say next to Four Roses Single Barrel store selections is the best bourbon you can regularly purchase today. Yet despite winning with those great products, Wild Turkey has really shit the bed in the special release department over the last few years. Diamond was such a flop that I can still find it stinking up shelves nearly 3 years after its release. Before that there was American Spirit, Tribute, and Tradition, all of which I found many years after their release and am glad I never sunk my money into. Things did take a bit of a turn for the better last year with the 17 year Master's Keep which I enjoyed but I have a hard time recommending it based on price. Even better was the Russell's Reserve 1998 which is undoubtable the best recent Wild Turkey I've ever had but at $250 MSRP, that was a big pass for me as well. 
So now we have the second release under the Wild Turkey Master's Keep label, this time dubbed "Decades". This one comes in at a higher proof and states it is aged 10-20 years which coincidentally is a violation of TTB regulations since it doesn't list the percentages but the ineptitude of the TTB is a topic for another day. The upped proof and blended aspect read on paper like this has the potential to be one of the better Wild Turkey releases but they've let us down before so I'm proceeding with caution.
bottle
Aged 10-20 years
52% ABV
Bottle No. 50782
$170 (MSRP is more like $150)
Nose: Lots of typical bourbon sweet notes of burnt caramel and vanilla. The oak influence is pretty strong. It smells like a much older aged Wild Turkey 101 which is a great thing. 
Taste: Lots of typical bourbon wood sugars, a strong oak backbone, and a big heap of baking spices. I love the bold spicy profile of Wild Turkey and this has that in droves, especially in the finish. The slightly higher proof is undoubtably contributing to that spice tingle but it's far from overly hot and I dare say the perfect amount of heat. The mouthfeel is decent; not as lush as some older dusty Wild Turkey I've had but it's no slouch. This tastes somewhere between a cross of a hyper aged 101 and the best Russell's Reserve Single Barrel you'll ever have. 
Thoughts: This is an exemplary bourbon, especially if you are a fan of Wild Turkey. The oak influence is very strong without being overly woody so it has a lot of depth. The classic bourbon sweet notes are very present as is that hallmark Turkey spice note making for a wonderful balance of sweet, spice, and oak. I have a hard time saying that any bourbon is worth a $150 retail cost these days but of the first Master's Keep, Russell's Reserve 1998, and this, I would say that Decades is easily the best value of the three. While that price is hard to swallow, there's something to be said about the fact that this was not hard for me to obtain and if I want another one I can drive to a store right now and grab another. Given the price, I'm not going to do that but I don't regret having gone after this once. 
Rating: B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, February 20, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To Bonus: National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond 1972-1981

This is a bonus review in what was originally intended to be a 3 part series covering the ups and downs of the widely hyped bourbons from the now defunct National Distillers Group. Part One covered low end bottles that weren't worthy of much praise. Part Two stepped things up with some bottle in bond variants, one of which was pretty damn good. Part 3 is where things really kicked into high gear with the Old Grand-Dad 114 bottles that were my clear favorites.
Right as I was finished with the series a whiskey friend who had previously sent me a mystery sample I had yet to open said he had to tell me what it was. Turns out it's another bottled in bond National Distillers product from the 1980s. The 1980s bonded Old Grand-Dad faired well in my side by side tastings so I have a feeling things will go well here.
Also worth mentioning again: With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, I'm specifically referencing that familiar combo of attributes.
bottle
Aged 9 years; 50% ABV; Thanks to /u/I_SAID_NO_GOLDFISH for the sample and photo
Color: I don't usually remark on color but it is daaaaark. Here is a side by side with a current bottle of Henry McKenna 10 year Bottled in Bond.
Nose: I could smell the old dusty funk as soon as I poured the sample. While typing up the intro here I let the pour rest in the glass and could smell the butterscotch from several feet away. Up close and personal it smells like my memory of the 1980s Old Grand-Dad. Lots of honey butterscotch and rye spice tingle. The proof is more present than the other bottled in bonds I tried and I suspect this bottle is the least oxidized of any I had yet because it is very big, bold, and rich.
Taste: Glorious. It's so viscous, thick, and chewy - it's like condensed bourbon. I've experienced this kind of concentrated intensity very recently and it was with a dusty pre-fire Heaven Hill McKenna from the 90s. This is a real powerhouse of dusty funk, caramel butterscotch sweetness, and a dash of rye spice. The finish lasts an eternity and the rye spice gets a little more bold leaving a kind of spicy Mexican dark chocolate note. 
Thoughts: A perfect, master class bourbon and I can think of no better way to close out this series. Yes, they absolutely do not make them like they used to.
Rating: A / A+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye Reviews

Over the years I've grown quite fond of Wild Turkey. A lot of that stems from a love of their vintage releases back before the turn of the century but they do have some current products that I enjoy as well. Wild Turkey 101 is my go to as a daily sipper and cocktail base of choice. And if you take Four Roses out of the equation, Russell's Reserve Single Barrel is my favorite readily available bourbon under $60. 
But as good as those two products are, Wild Turkey is on shaky ground with me when it comes to rye. Their 101 rye isn't nearly as good of a base product as the 101 bourbon. It's heavily slanted towards a young profile and not really a good value considering the 101 bourbon is more mature and cheaper. But in late 2015 Wild Turkey launched a new single barrel rye under their premium Russell's Reserve line. Though it's not age stated, the Russell's name implies it's a bit older plus it's bottled at a respectable 104 proof and is non chill filtered. 
bottle

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye

No Age Statement; 52% ABV; $67
The nose is a nice bouquet of rye flavors like baking spices, anise, and menthol. There's a very familiar modern Wild Turkey characteristic scent to it, kind of like corny cardboard that I taste in the 101 bourbon. From the nose I'd guess about 6-7 years old. The palate is similarly spicy, more so than I remember with the 101 rye. There is honey and other wood sweets up front but it's very heavy on the baking spices and other rye flavors. The corny cardboard note is toned down so it has some maturity, I'd guess maybe 7ish years old. I'm inclined to call this one a bit of a spice bomb, up there with MGP high rye whiskies but without those quirky dill notes.
Rating: B / B-

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye Liquor Barn Barrel #16

No Age Statement; 52% ABV; $70; Barrel #16, Rickhouse E, Floor 2, Selected by Liquor Barn Series #1
Pretty similar to the non store select bottle - baking spices, menthol, rye bread. The young corny cardboard notes are more muted though so there is less modern Wild Turkey familiarity to it. Overall it smells like a rye spice blast. The taste is very similar to the other barrel with the rye spice notes being very prominent but there is also more traditional wood sweetness up front and in the finish. I feel like this is the more mature of the two and I'd guess it clocks in at around 7-8 years old. I'd give the slight edge to this barrel because it offers more balance in terms of sweet and spice but that's really splitting hairs.
Rating: B

These were a welcome improvement over 101 rye and show that Wild Turkey can make a good rye whiskey. Though there were minor differences between the two, the core profile is still very similar - a modestly aged, nicely proofed, spicy whiskey. At $60+ they aren't the best value but that's pretty close in price to other rye whiskeys I'd rate similarly in enjoyment like Michter's Barrel Strength Rye and Pikesville Rye
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, February 13, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To, Part 3: 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1 and 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17

This is part three of a three part series where I walk through a few different bottlings of vintage National Distillers bourbon to see what the fuss around them is all about. To recap, here is the full lineup:
  • 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe, NAS, 40%
  • 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield, NAS, 43%
  • 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond, 6 years, 50%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, 8 years, 50%
  • 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1, NAS, 57%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17, NAS, 57%
Part One covered some rather low end bottom shelf bottles and the results were no better or worse than bourbons than you can find on the bottom shelf today. Part Two stepped things up with the much more coveted age stated bottle in bond variants, one of which was a stinker but the other was really quite nice. We've covered the low end, we've covered age stated, so now let's find out how a bump in proof treats their products. 
Also worth mentioning again: With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, I'm specifically referencing that familiar combo of attributes.

1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1

front
back
No Age Statement; 57% ABV; Lot 1; Thanks to /u/pork_bastard for the sample.
The nose is crazy dense with classic high rye bourbon notes and is the richest thus far which is no surprise given the high proof. The rye spice notes are cranked up here compared to all the others as well. The taste is a honey butterscotch bomb with dusty old wood and dry baking spices. It has sweets, vintage dusty bourbon, oak, and spice notes in droves. An amazing whiskey, up there with the best dusty bourbon profiles I've ever experienced.
Rating: A-

1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17

front
back
No Age Statement; 57% ABV; Lot 17.
Again like the lot 1, it's very dense with lots of high rye and vintage dusty bourbon notes. A little bit more of unpleasant acetone / burnt rubber note but you have to really reach for that. Again the taste is a super honey butterscotch bomb with a spicy rye finish. It's down a notch from the lot 1 and not quite as good as another 80s 114 I've sampled but it's a stellar whiskey in its own right. 
Rating: B+

When it comes to National Distillers, the 114s are my clear favorites. The proof really ramps up the sweet, spicy, and dusty notes to make these the most interesting to me. Not included here but the first National Distillers 114 I ever had was a 1982 Lot 9 (frontback) and it was even better than both of these with much more honey and way more intense dusty notes. I'm just going to assume better storage conditions on that bottle but you can't go wrong with any of them and it runs laps around the 114 on the shelf today.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To, Part 2: 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor 6 Year Bottled in Bond and 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 8 Year Bottled in Bond

This is part two of a three part series where I walk through a few different bottlings of vintage National Distillers bourbon to see what the fuss around them is all about. To recap, here is the full lineup:
  • 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe, NAS, 40%
  • 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield, NAS, 43%
  • 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond, 6 years, 50%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, 8 years, 50%
  • 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1, NAS, 57%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17, NAS, 57%
Part One covered some rather low end bottom shelf bottles and the results were no better or worse than bourbons than you can find on the bottom shelf today. Both of those bottles were no age statement and proofed on the low side so we really shouldn't have expected much. The real hyped up National Distillers bottles though are the bottled in bond variants so let's find out what happens when you crank up the proof and slap an age statement on them.
Also worth mentioning again: With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, I'm specifically referencing that familiar combo of attributes.
bottle

1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond

Aged 6 years; 50% ABV; Thanks to Beau for the sample.
The nose is out of this world funky and pungent - it barely smells like bourbon. As it opens up it starts to get more bourbon-ish qualities but it's a lot of wet hay, old wood, antiseptic, and old leather. I know those notes sound horrible but it's like watching a train wreck and I can't stop smelling it. The taste is just as randomly awkward with a lot of honey upfront and some old vintage bourbon notes. The finish is drying with ashy barrel char and some bitter acetone. I would have never guessed this was 100 proof as it drinks just as easy as the 80 proof deLuxe though it has more intensity. This is one of the more weird things I've ever drank and not in a good way as it's just a funky mess. 
Rating: As is, I give it an F. I have a good feeling this bottle is severely oxidized and not representative of other National Distillers bottles from this time so that rating is probably worthless.

1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond

Aged 8 years; 50% ABV; Thanks to Beau for the sample.
The nose is rich and dense with lots of dark burnt sugars and some tingly rye spices. It has that old bourbon smell that I really look for in vintage whiskeys. The taste is honey and butterscotch up front with a nice blast of dusty notes in the middle and a finish of rye baking spices. The rye spice is a bit more noticeable than in other National Distillers I've had and is masking that butterscotch forward note that usually dominates the taste. This is a fantastic whiskey that is well balanced in the sweet, oak, and spice category all while carrying that hallmark old bourbon taste. I can see why people go nuts over the age stated 100 proof National Distillers bottles from this era. 
Rating: A- / B+

Well, this was interesting and there are a couple of lessons learned here. First off, be careful when chasing some of these vintage dusties because you might get burned. I'm pretty sure the Old Taylor here has gone bad which is a shame because it's the oldest whiskey I've ever tasted and I was excited to try it. As for the 80s bonded Old Grand-Dad, it's a remarkable whiskey and one that I think is worthy of some hype. Having said that, like pretty much everything these days the secondary prices on it are completely wacked out on the value scale but we'll touch more on that in part three. Spoiler alert: I'm saving the best for last.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, February 6, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To, Part 1: 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe and 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield

They don't make them like they used to.

I hate to be cliché but at this point in my bourbon adventures I've come to realize there is a lot of truth to that. That isn't to stay that bourbon made today isn't great, because a lot of it is. The more I branch out into vintage bourbons though the more I am fascinated by the taste profiles that while not necessarily better than stuff I can buy today, they can be vastly different and/or more interesting.
I'm not really sure why vintage stuff tastes the way it does but bourbon historian Michael Veach lays out some good theories in Old Bottle Bourbon Flavor. I think the answer is everything he's mentioned, including the bottle conditioning part. With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, just that familiar combo and that's what I find that makes them so interesting.
Further down the unique profiles rabbit hole, some dusties have an even more specific calling card which brings us to National Distillers. Up until the late 80s when they were acquired by Jim Beam, National Distillers put out Old Taylor, Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, and a few other bourbons. Before Beam took over and ruined them, those brands are well known for a very sweet, butterscotch forward profile. Up until recently I've only had the NAS 80 proof and NAS 86 proof expressions of National Distillers and while I agree they were butterscotch bombs, I felt they were all mostly one-trick ponies and rather boring. But what about higher proofs? Older vintages? Higher ages? Let's take a walk through 6 different bottlings to find out if ND dusties are really worth all the hype. The full lineup:
  • 1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe, NAS, 40%
  • 1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield, NAS, 43%
  • 1948 National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond, 6 years, 50%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, 8 years, 50%
  • 1982 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 1, NAS, 57%
  • 1988 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad 114 Lot 17, NAS, 57%


1986 National Distillers Bourbon deLuxe

bottle
No Age Statement; 40% ABV; Thanks to /u/harry_fjord for the sample. Note the picture is from Google search.
The nose is kind of thin with some butterscotch sweetness, dusty bourbon notes, and older oak. It smells richer and older than it should for an 80 proof no age statement whiskey. The nose is more impressive than the taste though. The palate entry is thin and the finish is almost nonexistent. The sweet notes from the nose are there as are faint traces of older whiskey but there is also some chemical varnish / acetone notes in the mix as well. If only the palate carried through as solid as the nose this could be great. As is, it's mildly interesting due to the faint dusty profile but it's not something I would care to have again.
Rating: D

1989 National Distillers Old Grand-Dad Red Shield

bottle
No Age Statement; 43% ABV; Thanks to /u/flavorjunkie for the sample. Note the picture is from Google search.
Nose is a bit darker with caramelized sugars, toffee, and the hallmark butterscotch. It's still a little thin but more robust than the 80 proof deLuxe. I get some light rye in here as well but not really picking up on the dusty notes yet. The palate is super sweet and very caramel candy forward. The dusty old notes that I usually get in bourbons bottled before the 2000s are here but very, very faint. I will say this is the sweetest butterscotch/caramel bomb National Distillers whiskey I've had yet. The finish is a disappointment though as it's pretty weak. This is slightly interesting due to the classic National Distillers profile but like all the other ND whiskey I've had I'm left thinking how much better it would be with more proof.
Rating: C

So there you have it, all that glitters is not gold. These were bottom shelf turds back in the 80s and they are no better or worse than the stuff you can continue to find on the bottom shelf today. Hopefully things can only go up from here.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond Review

My name is Ryan and I am a Willett fanboy. These days some might consider that a bad thing and that's cool, I get it. The hype and demand around their Family Estate bottles has gone so full on stupid that a lot of people are sick of them. I don't blame them and I'm not silly enough to pay the going rate or chase after it either. But for me, I'll always remember Willett Family Estate as that mysterious cask strength single barrel sitting on the shelves back when I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend *gasp* $50 on a bottle of bourbon. But one day I did and my love of cask strength bourbon was born.
But enough about old shit. Fast forward to today and we are just now starting to see Willett release bourbon distilled in house. I recently acquired a 4 year single barrel distilled by them and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Though that product is thus far very limited and only available at the gift shop, Willett also relaunched the Old Bardstown brand as self distilled product. What I like about it is that it's bottled in bond so that guarantees a minimum of 4 years and will come in at a healthy 100 proof. Even better they appear to be staying true to the general pricing point of bottled in bond whiskey which usually means a great bang for your buck.
bottle
No Age Statement; 50% ABV; $22
Nose: Smells like a nice, simple bourbon. Not as much new-make grainy corn as I get in some other young, bottled in bond products. It's all caramel and other wood sugars here as well as some young oak. 
Taste: Again, just a simple, clean bourbon. The proof is respectable but it's not hot. It's a little thin on flavors as there isn't a lot of oak depth and the wood notes that are present have a bit of a green quality to them. The forward profile is mostly sugary sweet flavors like butterscotch and in that way it kind of reminds of a young National Distillers bourbon. The finish has some rye spice kick that rounds out for a nice sweet spicy combo.
Thoughts: A straight up, pure, no frills bourbon. It's as good some other (but not all) no age statement, bottled in bond bourbons I've had and that right there is the beauty of this product to me. It's a real achievement that a small craft distillery like Willett can put out the same level of quality as a big time distillery like Heaven Hill, Beam, etc. But then again, that might just be the Willett fanboy in me talking.
Rating: B- / C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Bulleit Barrel Strength Review

I got my start with Bulleit years ago when cocktails were still my elixir of choice. I was never crazy about the bourbon on its own but I did enjoy it for mixing. Eventually I moved on to the rye which became a goto for drinks like manhattans and old fashioneds in my house. Even though I haven't bought a bottle of Bulleit in probably 3-4 years, I still often ask for the rye as the base when ordering a cocktail so you could say I have a bit of a soft spot for the brand. 
Like a lot of other producers out there, Bulleit doesn't make the products they sell. The rye has always been from MGP but their bourbon contract with Four Roses ended in December 2013 and now we don't have any idea who is making it for them. Given the timing, it's safe to say the no age statement bourbon on the shelves today should be consistent until at least the end of this year but it will be interesting to see if the profile of Bulleit bourbon begins to change in the future. Regardless, in 2016 Bulleit launched a no age statement, cask strength, Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. I like spicy high rye bourbons and I like cask strength offerings so I felt compelled to give it a go. 
bottle
No Age Statement; 59.5% ABV; $59
Nose: A blast of ethanol and rye spice. The high proof and high rye really give the nostrils a tingle as it's pretty hot. Underneath all that heat and spice are some traditional woody sweet notes. 
Taste: Starts off spicy right out of the gate and that spice dominates all the way to finish. Combined with the high proof I'm tempted to say the spice is angry but that proof is also giving a boost to the traditional bourbon corn and wood sweetness too. The spice has a bit of dryness to it, kind of like dry cinnamon powder and that is what dominates the finish. That dry powder note is a little bitter and seems to be preventing any sweet notes from lasting. There's a bit of oak complexity here so I'd guess the average age of the blend is 6-7 years. The wood influence is hard to pin down because the spice is so heavy handed.
Thoughts: It tastes exactly like it should - a no age statement, rye spice forward, cask strength bourbon. I once heard a joke that Bulleit should be named "3 Roses" and I think that is a good analogy. It has some of the good characteristics of a high rye Four Roses private store pick but it's missing the elegant finesse you'll get in those. It's a decent dram if you like really spicy bourbons but for the price I think something like Maker's Mark Cask Strength is a better buy. 
Rating: C+ / B-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Old Grand-Dad 114 Review

2016 was a rough year for Beam fans. First the age statement was dropped from Knob Creek Small Batch. Then it was reported that Old Grand Dad 114 was being discontinued. Then an announcement that Booker's production would be decreasing from six to four batches per year along with a new $100 MSRP (an increase of about 65%). Not long after that Beam reversed course with a fluffball announcement stating MSRP would gradually rise to $100 in the near term and they are sorry that Booker's (a product that sits on shelves everywhere even at the current price) will be hard to find. While the Knob Creek and Old Grand-Dad announcements were met with grumbling, the Booker's news really set the internet over the edge with a lot of Fuck Beam comments. I love Booker's and understand it was in need of a price bump but that kind of full on ludicrous mode price hike left me holding my pitchfork and siding with the boycott crowd.
But because some men just like to watch the world burn, Old Grand-Dad 114 was voted as the January /r/bourbon community review. Sigh. I realize I am in the minority but I've never liked that product. On top of that I really didn't want to go there given the recent Beam shit show. Regardless, I'm compelled to participate so here goes with what is likely the last Beam product I will ever buy.
bottle
No Age Statement; 57% ABV; $28
Nose: Ripe bananas, peanuts, some earthy funk, a torrent of ethanol, and a blast of rye spices. It breathes on the hot side and I would guess higher proof than 114. I'm sure the high rye mash spice is what is making this so aggressive but it feels ethanol heavy which really masks the traditional woody sweet notes I want.
Taste: Upfront is honey, some peanuts kind of like peanut butter crème brûlée, and a decent amount of oak depth. It's not overly young but it doesn't exactly taste mature either. The finish is a lot of hot angry spice that lingers forever. The spice is similar to cinnamon red hots which when combined with the ABV make for something like barrel proof Fireball "whisky". 
Thoughts: Something about the combo of Beam peanut funk, high proof, and angry spices doesn't sit well with me. The traditional sweet and complex fruity flavors that I love in bourbon are muted by those aforementioned notes so it just ends up a hot funky mess. In about the same price range, something like Old Weller Antique 107 walks all over this so I'm not sad to see this one go. Bye, Felicia ✌️. 
Rating: D+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

1994 Henry McKenna Barrel No. 008 Review

A few weeks back I reviewed a Henry McKenna Barrel 001. It was one of the best bourbons I've ever tasted and really caught me off guard by how good it was. What was even more surprising is tasted side by side against a current bottling of McKenna it made that whiskey taste fruity and immature which is crazy because on an normal day I think McKenna is a very solid bourbon with a nice oak backbone. After my review there was some speculation that maybe not all the McKenna from back then was quite that stellar, particularly this review from Sku which doesn't sound anything like what I experienced. One guess was that perhaps Heaven Hill choose a honey barrel to be the first in the line but I never thought I would get a chance to test that theory. As luck would have it, I happened upon another sample of pre-fire Heaven Hill Mckenna barreled on the same day as the previous sample. So here we go again with a side by side against a current bottle out of barrel no 2979 from 03/14/2006.
bottle

Aged 10 years; 50% ABV; Barrel 008, Barreled On 12/14/1984

Color: Again I'm not one to comment on color but side by side with the current release the difference is staggering. It's not quite as dark as barrel 001 but if the one on the left is a 10 year bourbon then this looks like it is 20 years old.
Nose: Dense with lots of sweets like dark molasses. Those classic dusty bourbon notes are there but a little faint. By comparison, the current bottling smells like fruity bananas side by side, kind like a no age statement bottom shelf whiskey.
Taste: It's thick and chewy, very viscous. It's also woody but not overly tannic. There are lots of classic bourbon sweets and everything is more dense than most things you'll taste today. That old dusty bourbon profile is here but not as forward as in other dusties I've had. In the finish there is some rye spice and a bit of cherry cough syrup which tapers out to more typical bourbon sweets. By comparison, the current bottle tastes like banana bubble gum when tasted side by side. I feel like a broken record here but that is completely insane to me because normally I'd say McKenna is a solid sipper with a decent amount of depth.
Thoughts: A wonderful bourbon that again runs circles around the current bottle. I don't know why these old dusty bourbons are so much better but all you have to do is look at the side by side picture to know there is something special going on here. The most interesting thing to me this time around is that this fell short of my last experience, mainly because the dusty notes were a bit toned down and it wasn't quite as well rounded. I think that can be attributed to single barrel variance and perhaps a specific choice for the other barrel.
Rating: B+ / A-