Friday, July 6, 2018

Wild Turkey Longbranch Review

In 2016 Matthew McConaughey signed on as Wild Turkey's creative director. At first his presence was just a short film and then a few commercials but here today we have a new product from them with his name on it. According to a press release it's an 8 year old Wild Turkey bourbon that's been refined (read: filtered) through oak and Texas mesquite charcoal because McConaughey has roots there. It sounds rather gimmicky to me but as a fan of Wild Turkey that is saddened a lot of drinkers don't take their products seriously I'm all for any positive publicity.
bottle
No Age Statement; 43% ABV; $40
Nose: Light and easy. Smells like your typical bourbon of vanilla, caramel, honey, and oak. It has some age as any grainy corn mash notes are virtually nonexistent. 
Taste: Like the nose, it's mostly all sweets and oak. It's on the light side in terms of heat so super easy to drink. The lack of proof makes this slant heavily towards a sweet profile which dominates over any woodiness. There's some of the familiar Wild Turkey baking spices in the finish but the spices are mild compared to their flagship 101. Again it tastes like it has some age as there are not really any youthful corn grain notes like I get traces of in Wild Turkey 101.
Thoughts: It tastes exactly like what you'd expect - a slightly more mature Wild Turkey 101 but less bold and noticeably more thin. The flavors are nice but I can't help but think how much better this would be at 101 proof. As a whiskey nerd knowing the significance of 101 to them, I find the proof here mildly infuriating. Having said that, I realize I'm not the target market - this is likely aimed at people who think "smooth" is what makes a great bourbon. Along those lines they've certainly succeeded because it is definitely easy to drink yet still carrying that hallmark Wild Turkey profile. If I were asked to recommend a bourbon to a new whiskey drinker this would be a good suggestion. As for a salty old dog like me though, it was fun to experience and I hope it's successful for them but it's not going to topple my reigning house whiskey, Wild Turkey 101.
Rating: C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye Barreled in 2009 Review

Here today is a limited edition release from Beam. When this was first announced it raised a lot of red flags that had me suspecting it would cost $150 to $200 - vintage statement, rye, cask strength, and the words "limited" on the label. Much to my surprise, one of my locals got in a bunch of them at a price that isn't terrible so I took a chance.
Though this says "Barreled in 2009", here's a reminder that vintage statements are not age statements. I seriously doubt Beam has done anything other than dump this straight from the barrels but you have to wonder why this doesn't have an age statement. Even more curious is that like standard Knob Creek Rye, you won't find the words "straight rye whiskey" anywhere on the label. Straight doesn't have a whole lot of meaning when it comes to Bourbon but in the rye world omitting that term does not preclude the addition of up to 2.5% additives. Again, I really doubt Beam is doing that here but as a whiskey nerd I find all this mildly infuriating. 
Beam, wat r u doin. Beam, stahp.
bottle
No Age Statement; 59.8% ABV; $77
Nose: Woody with a touch of rye bread dough. I'm assuming this is a barely legal 51% rye and it certainly smells that way as it could easily be mistaken for a high rye bourbon rather than a rye, almost like an extra aged Old Grand Dad 114. The familiar Beam peanut funk is evident.
Taste: Honey corn nuts upfront, burnt wood sugars in the middle, and a brash finish of darker tannins and rye baking spices. It has the good characteristics of a 9 year old Knob Creek Single Barrel with a bit more rye spice. Things are okay upfront and in the middle but the hot slightly bitter finish is where it falls apart.
Thoughts: Meh. Blind I would probably guess it was a high rye Beam bourbon or maybe even a home blend of Beam and some other rye as it's disjointed. There were nights with this that I could barely drink it and here today I waffle between it being okay and not good. While the cost here isn't terrible in today's market for an aged high proof rye, I would have been much happier with something like a Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye or store pick Whistle Pig Single Barrel Rye over this. Beyond that, I was recently in on a barrel pick of the 115 proof Knob Creek Single Barrel Rye and I enjoyed all the ~5.5 year old barrels we tasted over this. 
Rating: C-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Woodford Reserve Batch Proof Review

I'm not the biggest fan of Woodford Reserve or even many of parent company Brown Forman's products either. Old Forester 1920 is the only one that comes to mind that I've enjoyed enough to buy more than once. I was in Kentucky a few months ago though and decided to knock out the last major distillery tour I had yet to do which was Woodford. I'd always heard the grounds are nice and they are but despite their best efforts to make you believe otherwise it's actually a potemkin distillery in that most all of the Woodford you drink is actually made in their Louisville distillery. The tour was actually really good, the guide didn't mess up any of the basic bourbon facts which sadly is the norm these days on distillery tours. On my way out I happened to notice the Batch Proof product in the gift shop. Normally I'd say I dislike Woodford special releases even more so than the regular product but I was in vacation mode and feeling loose with my wallet so I decided to take a chance in hopes of proof being the missing ingredient that would make me enjoy a Woodford product.
bottle
No Age Statement; 62.9% ABV; $130
Nose: Hefty blast of the typical vanilla caramel notes you'd expect from a high proof bourbon. There are some grainy corn and fruity mash notes that indicate it's not very old but they play well with all the ethanol umpf and sweet bourbon notes. It's as hot as it should be for 125 proof but not overly so. I guess we'll call that a win as I was worried it would blow my face off.
Taste: Ooof, there's the heat blast I was worried about. It's a big bold bruiser on the heat front taste-wise. Up front there are some of the caramel / fruity banana / corn new mash notes you'd expect from a slightly younger bourbon but on the mid and back end it's almost all wood. The finish is a lot of dry oak, almost with a lingering sawdust flavor. There are some nice darker sweet notes like cocoa that are there as well which are nice but it's hard to overlook the dry oakiness.
Thoughts: I probably have no idea what I am talking about but given the amount of oak influence here from what I expect is not a very old product, I'm guessing this was aged in the upper floors of a warehouse where it sweat its ass off. It's almost like it was aged too rapidly and the wood influence took over too quickly. All in all, I'd rate my enjoyment of it a little better than the standard product just because the added proof gives it some excitement but it's got some hot tannic tendencies that prevent me from loving it. For my money, Stagg Jr and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof are two products that cost 1/2 as much as this but offer more balance and nuance at the equivalent proof.
Rating: C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Arts & Crafts Review Series Part 7/7 and Closing Thoughts

Here is the followup to a huge side by side tasting I did involving twenty years of Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR version is after trying some amazing Henry McKennas distilled in the mid 80s that run circles around the current product, I thought it would be fun to run through the years since then to see how the profile has changed. The grand side by side turned into a bit of a disaster though as there were just too many samples involved. In an attempt to salvage some sense of usefulness, I'm running through what vintages I have remaining in a more typical review style. On deck we have:
* Technically not an arts and craft bottle, this was right after the switch over to the new label.
bottle
(Left) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 2979, Barreled on 03/14/06
(Right) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 1024, Barreled on 09/30/2002; Thanks to /u/flavorjunkie for the sample
Nose: Considerably more dense and compact than the current bottle. It smells more like a 10 year old whiskey should - lots of oak, lots of condensed caramel sweets. There are hints of dusty funk which is nice. By comparison, the modern bottle smells more flat, young, and fruity. 
Taste: Largely a reinforcement of the nose. It's not as dense as some of the best of these but it's rather compact. Everything about it taste-wise is just bigger than the current version. The mouthfeel is full, lush, and thick. The traditional caramel and vanilla sweets are very heavy, like thick cake frosting. On the oak side it's very woody but in a nice way with only a touch of bitterness in the finish. Side by side the 2016 bottle tastes fruitier, more honey forward, and younger with way less oak influence. 
Thoughts: Another jarring experience. While the last post fire bottle was a bit disappointing, this is considerably better than any McKenna I've had in the last 4-5 years. Like all of the other standouts in this series, color is again a huge tipoff in quality as the differences here are dramatic.
Rating: B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Final Thoughts: Going into this adventure, I expected the decline in quality of these to be gradual over time, coinciding with the switch from pre to post Heaven Hill fire. That's certainly not been the case - there were low points in even the pre-fire barrels and a high point in a barrel that was dumped just six years ago. What I haven't seen are any standouts any later the last one here. My previous best theories on the differences in quality were things like old-growth wood, bottle conditioning, and environmental factors but I'm less confident in those ideas now given the bottle covered today was so recent. Given that, my best guess for the change in profile is it coincides right with when the bourbon boom started to surge. I'm thinking better quality casks and or warehouse locations were gobbled up by other Heaven Hill brands as they struggled to keep up with demand. That's really the only answer that makes sense to me and if so, I doubt Heaven Hill would ever own up to that reasoning. 


Update 06/19:
I forgot to add some commentary about the volume of barrels over the years. From 1994 to 2012 there were about 1000 barrels selected. From 2012 - 2015 the next 1000. They doubled all that from 2015 - 2017. 




There's your bourbon boom in one concise picture.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Arts & Crafts Review Series Part 6/7

Here is the followup to a huge side by side tasting I did involving twenty years of Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR version is after trying some amazing Henry McKennas distilled in the mid 80s that run circles around the current product, I thought it would be fun to run through the years since then to see how the profile has changed. The grand side by side turned into a bit of a disaster though as there were just too many samples involved. In an attempt to salvage some sense of usefulness, I'm running through what vintages I have remaining in a more typical review style. On deck we have:
bottle
(Left) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 842, Barreled on 10/24/01
(Right) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 3035, Barreled on 03/14/06
Nose: Pretty typical bourbon flavors - vanilla, caramel, and a good bit of oak. The current bottle smells slightly fruitier and more grain forward but it's not as noticeable as with previous instances.
Taste: Very caramel and sweet forward with a lot of dry oak starting in the mid and back palate. Those notes continue but then there's some unpleasant musty earthiness like dirty oak barrels that linger in the finish. The heat is overly evident for 100 proof and I'd even say it drinks hot. Tasting this side by side with a current bottle they are slightly different in profile but I can't say I prefer one over the other. The newer version tastes less oak forward but isn't as dry nor does it have any off-putting notes in the finish.
Thoughts: This finished near the bottom in the big blind tasting of these and here today I'm standing by that. It's not a bad bourbon but compared to the pre-fire versions previously covered it has a lot of flaws. It's not well balanced, it's missing the condensed bourbon flavors noted in previous bottles, and it's a touch too hot. Most all of the ones leading up to this have drank way under proof and have been incredibly dense flavor-wise so this is a big change. 
Rating: C+
So is post-fire where things went downhill for McKenna? We've got one more lined up to find out.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Arts & Crafts Review Series Part 5/7

Here is the followup to a huge side by side tasting I did involving twenty years of Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR version is after trying some amazing Henry McKennas distilled in the mid 80s that run circles around the current product, I thought it would be fun to run through the years since then to see how the profile has changed. The grand side by side turned into a bit of a disaster though as there were just too many samples involved. In an attempt to salvage some sense of usefulness, I'm running through what vintages I have remaining in a more typical review style. On deck we have:
bottle
(Left) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 328, Barreled on 05/20/96
(Right) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 3035, Barreled on 03/14/06
Nose: Intense for 100 proof but very little heat. Rich balance of oak, sweet, and baking spice. I'm also getting a lot of the old bourbon "dusty" notes that are typical in whiskey from long ago. Side by side the current product smells lighter, younger, and fruitier.
Taste: It drinks like straight up old dusty bourbon syrup. The notes are pure classic bourbon with all the flavors kicked into overdrive without any excess heat. The viscosity is thick for the proof. Again like the nose it's a fantastic balance of sweet and wood with some light spice.
Thoughts: This one came out on top in the giant side by side and all you have to do is look at the color here to know why. Tasting this side by side with a bottle of current McKenna made that one taste like a hot young mess. This is truly wonderful stuff and it's driving me crazy to know why this is so incredibly better than any 10 year old bourbon Heaven Hill puts out today.
Rating: A- / A
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Arts & Crafts Review Series Part 4/7

Here is the followup to a huge side by side tasting I did involving twenty years of Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR version is after trying some amazing Henry McKennas distilled in the mid 80s that run circles around the current product, I thought it would be fun to run through the years since then to see how the profile has changed. The grand side by side turned into a bit of a disaster though as there were just too many samples involved. In an attempt to salvage some sense of usefulness, I'm running through what vintages I have remaining in a more typical review style. On deck we have:
bottle
(Left) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 324, Barreled on 05/09/95
(Right) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 3035, Barreled on 03/14/06
Nose: Pretty typical classic bourbon flavors but also an odd green wood note. It's not overly woody, not overly sweet, and has just a bit of rye spice. Compared to the current product, it smells noticeably more mature though it is a bit muted overall.
Taste: It's sweet and woody but that green wood note is very evident. It's not like it tastes young but there is some overly strong presence of weird young sapling tree. The sweet notes like others in this series are rather condensed like liquid confectioner's sugar. While it's nicely balanced other than that off note, it's pretty muted compared to the rest of these. Side by side the current product again tastes more grain and fruit forward though it has more punch than this one.
Thoughts: This one did poorly in the giant side by side tasting with my main gripe being it was very muted. It's hard to tell from the photo (which is old) but this is the lightest of all these in color and side by side today with a different modern McKenna bottle they are not that different in color. So what's wrong with this one and where is that green wood note coming from? My best guess is that the lesser of these build that note with exposure to air as it was not there when I first opened any of them nor there during the tasting many months ago. I've had this bottle open a long time now and each time I've come back to it that note just keeps getting more and more intense. Same goes for the other bottles where I've picked up on that note like Barrel No. 0083. Overall, this one has some redeeming qualities of being richer and having more depth than the current offering but the flaws make it really disappointing compared to the rest of these. 
Rating: B-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Arts & Crafts Review Series Part 3/7

Here is the followup to a huge side by side tasting I did involving twenty years of Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR version is after trying some amazing Henry McKennas distilled in the mid 80s that run circles around the current product, I thought it would be fun to run through the years since then to see how the profile has changed. The grand side by side turned into a bit of a disaster though as there were just too many samples involved. In an attempt to salvage some sense of usefulness, I'm running through what vintages I have remaining in a more typical review style. On deck we have:
bottle
(Left) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 232, Barreled on 04/19/93
(Right) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 3035, Barreled on 03/14/06
Nose: Pretty typical sweet bourbon notes and some spice like eucalyptus. It's richer, sweeter, and has more oak depth than the current product which smells light and young by comparison.
Taste: Rich, syrupy bourbon flavors. The sweet notes are deep, the oak notes have a lot of depth, and the mouthfeel is hefty. I hate to keep saying this but it's almost like you can chew on this stuff. Tastes more condensed and has more flavor than it should for 10 years and 100 proof.
Thoughts: This is similar to the 1992 barrel that I just reviewed in that it's really dense for a 10 year old 100 proof product. Side by side, the current product tastes grainy, thin, and young. This one isn't quite as solid as the best of these I've had and I think the color is a great indicator of that because while it's darker it's not as stark as some other examples. All in all it's a rich and easy to drink hallmark bourbon.
Rating: B / B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Arts & Crafts Review Series Part 2/7

Here is the start of a followup to a huge side by side tasting I did involving twenty years of Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR version is after trying some amazing Henry McKennas distilled in the mid 80s that run circles around the current product, I thought it would be fun to run through the years since then to see how the profile has changed. The grand side by side turned into a bit of a disaster though as there were just too many samples involved. In an attempt to salvage some sense of usefulness, I'm running through what vintages I have remaining in a more typical review style. On deck we have:
  • Barrel No. 0083, Barreled on 12/05/86
  • Barrel No. 0208, Barreled on 05/01/92
  • Barrel No. 0232, Barreled on 04/19/93
  • Barrel No. 0324, Barreled on 05/09/95
  • Barrel No. 0328, Barreled on 05/20/96
  • Barrel No. 0842, Barreled on 10/24/01
  • Barrel No. 1024, Barreled on 05/30/02
bottle
(Left) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 208, Barreled on 05/01/92
(Right) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel No. 3035, Barreled on 03/14/06
Nose: Condensed bourbon sweet flavors - like all the normal sweet notes you get from a regular bourbon but way more concentrated. 
Taste: More of the same from the nose - honey, graham cracker, maple syrup, vanilla and oak for days. It drinks and tastes like bourbon syrup. Super rich and oily mouthfeel for only 100 proof, I'd had barrel proofers that weren't this viscous. Tasting this side by side with the current product makes that taste like hot young garbage which is nuts because on its own I think regular off the shelf McKenna is pretty decent.
Thoughts: Like many of the pre-fire McKennas I've covered, all you have to do is look at the color difference between this and a current product to know there's something special going on here. I keep harping on this experience with these but it tastes way more concentrated than it should for a 100 proof bourbon yet without all the heat that typically comes when you ramp up the proof. This isn't the best of these I've had but it's certainly up there - just a wonderful, easy to drink, incredibly rich whiskey packed full of classic bourbon flavors.
Rating: B+ / A-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Arts & Crafts Review Series Part 1/7

Here is the start of a followup to a huge side by side tasting I did involving twenty years of Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. The TL;DR version is after trying some amazing Henry McKennas distilled in the mid 80s that run circles around the current product, I thought it would be fun to run through the years since then to see how the profile has changed. The grand side by side turned into a bit of a disaster though as there were just too many samples involved. In an attempt to salvage some sense of usefulness, I'm running through what vintages I have remaining in a more typical review style. On deck we have:
  • Barrel No. 0083, Barreled on 12/05/86
  • Barrel No. 0208, Barreled on 05/01/92
  • Barrel No. 0232, Barreled on 04/19/93
  • Barrel No. 0324, Barreled on 05/09/95
  • Barrel No. 0328, Barreled on 05/20/96
  • Barrel No. 0842, Barreled on 10/24/01
  • Barrel No. 1024, Barreled on 05/30/02
bottle
(Left) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel #083; Barreled on 12/05/86
(Right) Aged 10 Years; 50.0% ABV; Barrel #3035; Barreled on 03/14/06
Nose: Typical caramel wood sweets, light young green wood note, and a little spice.
Taste: Creme brûlée sweets, a decent amount of oak and a bit of spice. Again there is a touch of a green wood, like a young sapling tree. It's not that it tastes young, there is just a strange young wood note in addition the older oak notes. There are some darker notes in the finish like cocoa but overall the whole profile is a bit muted.
Thoughts: I had high expectations for this one considering it was the oldest McKenna bottle I personally acquired. I was hoping for something close to the quality of the 1984 distilled bottles but it's not there. Tasting this side by side with a current bottle, it does taste noticeably richer, more sweet, has less grain notes, and has more oak depth. The condensed bourbon notes I mentioned in reviews other pre-fire McKennas are there but it's just not as impactful some of the best ones. While this is still better than the current offering, I think the best lesson to take away here is even in the pre-fire era of McKenna, older does not mean better.
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.