Monday, May 20, 2019

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C918, Knob Creek Single Barrel "The Green Monstah", and Stagg Jr Batch 10 (126.4) Reviews

The state of American whiskey in 2019 is a weird place. The demand for allocated bottles has been in a fever pitch and seems to have no end in sight. Even worse, the list of whiskeys that are now considered allocated has become a sad state of affairs. A quick look the recent influx of posts on /r/whiskyporn that are treating bourbons like Weller Special Reserve and Blanton's as coveted major scores has anyone that's been around a while thinking we've hit rock bottom yet despite that sentiment the WTFs just keep coming.
But for all the silly shit that is happening in the whiskey scene, there are some bright spots, and one of those is that we are in a golden age of well aged, high proof, decently priced, not impossible to find bourbons and ryes. There are so many more good high proof options today than there were 6-7 years ago and even with the crazy demand, most of them are not that hard to come by. So with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to compare three popular options against each other, all of which I was able to find at retail just by walking into a shop, no special favors required.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C918

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 12 years; 65.7% ABV; $75
Nose: Woody and sweet, just like what you should expect from a twelve year old cask strength bourbon.
Taste: Lots of lush sweet caramel up front and some rye spice bite in the backend. The ever increasing peanut note I am getting in Heaven Hill these days is there in the form of peanut butter marshmallow smores. The finish lingers for quite a while with an oak laden sweet spice punch. There is plenty of wood depth there but there are also twangs of a younger, green wood taste that I sometimes get in this product's younger brother, Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond.
Thoughts: This is good but if I am going off memory it is far from the most complex ECBP I've ever had. The touch of green wood is the biggest detractor here for me, I don't recall ever getting that in the older ones. It's probably just me but I feel like these just aren't as good as the releases from 2-3 years ago. Still a very solid high proof bourbon and if found a retail is a buy on sight for me.
Rating: B/B+

Knob Creek Single Barrel "The Green Monstah" Selected by Barrels & Brews

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 15 years 1 month (label is incorrect); 60% ABV; $50
Nose: A remarkable balance of a ton of wood and just as much sweetness. Very, very good.
Taste: Sweet nutty flavors like peanut brittle with lots and lots of oak. It's a bit dry but there is a lot of flavor to make up for that without being bitter. The finish rides out with dark cocoa sweet vibes and touches of rye spice but again it's super oaky and yet just as sweet. Not much to say other than it's a flavor bomb.
Thoughts: I've had mixed results with these older aged Knob Creek Single Barrels but this one is a home run for me. I did a bottle split of Booker's 30th with a friend and this is easily better for me and probably the best Knob Creek Single Barrel I've had yet. The Barrels & Brews guys have been doing a hell of a job with their selections and this one is no different. 
Rating: B+

Stagg Jr Batch #10

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 63.20% ABV; $50
Nose: A sweeter, fruitier nose than the other two which make sense given the likely age of 9ish years. Cherries, peaches, stone fruits, and woody caramel.
Taste: A balanced, classic taste of bourbon with an equal combo of fruit, sweet, and oak. Sugary salted fruit pie crust comes to mind for the sweet notes along with just enough wood depth to balance things out.
Thoughts: This is a completely different vibe than the ECBP and KCSiB which makes sense since it the youngest in the bunch. That's not necessarily a bad thing here though as it's able to showcase more dimensions that just being an oak bomb. This isn't as good as Batch 9 which I still think is the best release of Stagg Jr yet but this is a quality product that I think as time goes by is slowly but surely chipping away at ECBP as the most consistent best bang for your buck high proof bourbon. At retail, these are a buy on sight for me all day long.
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Four Roses Small Batch 2018 130th Anniversary Review

Like most folks who are serious about bourbon, I'm a huge Four Roses fan. I've never had a limited product from them that wasn't good though not all of them are grand slams. Granted, they were a lot better bargain just a few years ago when they retailed for $70 but I've still had enough good experiences that I don't usually think twice about buying them when given the chance even though they cost around double that now. 
This vintage is a blend of the following recipes:
  • 10 year OBSV
  • 13 year OBSF
  • 14 year OESV
  • 16 year OESK
Three out of four of those are recipes I usually gravitate towards and the fourth (OBSF) is one I've had at least some success with as well so I'm expecting good things there.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 54.2% ABV; $140
Nose: Very sweet. A hefty dose of brown sugar. The traditional Four Roses red fruit notes are muted which is surprising to me given this has two V yeast components which are known for that.
Taste: Very sweet like the nose with a considerable amount of oak influence without being bitter or dry. Up front it's straight up liquid brown sugar with a little fruit character. The sweet note lingers for quite a while then quite a bit of mint flavors come through which I would attribute to the F yeast component. Oddly, the mint flavors aren't really that spicy, as if the heavy handed brown sugar notes are keeping the spice in check.
Thoughts: This is a pretty good bourbon with a lot of great sweet and oak flavors but compared to other Four Roses special releases it's not really that memorable. It checks all the right boxes of what makes a great standard bourbon but it's missing the whiz bang of red fruit / sweet / spicy that is where Four Roses bourbon shines. It's a really high bar if you want to compare Four Roses limited editions this one would be in my bottom bracket out of releases over the past 6 years. 
Rating: B / B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

L'Encantada XO Review

I've covered L'Encantada offerings several times now. For those that don't know, these are all the rage in the Armagnac world at the moment which was kicked off by some truly exceptional single casks selected by one specific Brandy group a couple years ago. I've tasted most of those original Lous Pibous casks and they remain the best Armagnacs I've ever had. Ever since then, I feel like we've all been chasing the dragon trying to recreate that magic but thus far I've had mixed results. These days, I'm often leery of new L'Encantada picks because while none of them have been bad, my experiences with the ones I like vs. those that aren't worth the ever increasing cost of admission is batting around .500. It could just be me getting more crotchety when it comes to brown water but I'd suspect it's more likely that the best casks they have to offer have already been selected.
Having said all that, here today we have something which is a little different. Unlike all other L'Encantada products I've had which have been single casks, this product is blend:
  • Domaine Lous Pibous 1989 barrel #61
  • Domaine Lous Pibous 1987 barrel #87
  • Domaine Del Cassou 1994 barrel #55
  • Domaine Bellair 1997 barrel #181
I'm intrigued. My hope here is the range of ages makes for a nice of balance of the fruiter notes you get in younger armagnacs and the lush dark woody notes you get in older ones.
Bas Armagnac; No Age Statement (blend of four vintages); 46.8% ABV (cask strength); $100
Nose: Very bourbony - it smells like a middle aged 90ish proof bourbon. It's laden with caramel, a little bit of stone fruit, and a trace baking spice.
Taste: Fruity and sweet with heavy dose of strawberry. Armagnac almost always leans towards purple fruits for me but this is straight up strawberry jam. There are some wood sugar / caramel notes here too, like what a middle aged bourbon would carry. The finish is a bit short as is expected given the proof but some nice muted baking spice shows up to round things out.
Thoughts: I like this. It's got a lot of bourbon sweet notes and the blast of strawberry is really nice. Even better, it has none of the dry/bitter/overoaked notes I've been getting more often in some of the older L'Encantada picks I've had lately. The only thing here that's really holding it back is the proof. If this was in the 105-110 range I think this would be a knockout. All in all, this is a nice blend and I have no regrets for the price paid. 
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Michter's 10 Year Single Barrel 2014 vs. 2017 Reviews

I've covered a 2014 version of Michter's 10 Year Single Barrel a couple of times before which you can here and here. The TL;DR is that they are surprisingly good bourbons. I've been skeptical how long the quality would hold up because at some point Michter's has to exhaust their supply of primo sourced bourbon. Here today we will put that question to the test.

2014 Michter's 10 year Single Barrel

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Barrel No. 14A21; Aged 10 years; 47.2% ABV; $75 (2014)
Nose: Rich and mature with lots of compacted sweet notes. It has a bit of a condensed bourbon character that I typically only get in dusty bourbons with a lot more intensity than you'd expect for the proof.
Taste: More of the same from the nose. It's very lush and heavy on dessert type flavors like honey, caramel, and pie crust. The oak is noticeable and provides a lot of wood depth but it's not overly bitter or dry. There are faint hints of a dusty type flavor that I usually get in bourbons from 20 or more years ago. The finish is a touch short and has a bit of an earthy old wood note but it's faint.
Thoughts: A fantastic dram. From memory it's not the best 2014 single barrel I've had but it's very good. If not for that touch of earthy bitterness in the finish this would be an A-. Either these 2014s are some primo honey 10 year barrels or there is older whiskey in the mix.
Rating: B+

2017 Michter's 10 year Single Barrel

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Barrel No. 17B314; Aged 10 years; 47.2% ABV; $120 (2017)
Nose: Smells younger and more green than the 2014. This is much closer to a typical 10 year profile as a similarity to Henry McKenna 10 year comes to mind. Also a rye profile is more noticeable here as there are some mint / eucalyptus spice notes.
Taste: No surprises here, tastes like it smells. Its a bit sweet but after tasting the 2014, it's not nearly as lush and almost tastes young/green. There are more fruit and mash type sweet notes than dark caramel / burnt sugar. In the finish a bit of dark chocolate comes out but you have to reach for it.
Thoughts: It's a perfectly fine bourbon but it's nothing special and not really any better than an ordinary bottle like modern Henry McKenna which it actually tastes like in a lot of ways.
Rating: B-
Overall Thoughts: When the 2016 came out was able to try samples from several different single barrels. It was immediately evident none of them tasted anything like the earlier versions and the experience here today echoes that. For comparisons perspective, the differences in profile between these two is similar to the differences I observed in dusty vs. modern Henry McKenna.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Old Forester 1910 Review

I'm not the biggest fan of Brown-Forman whiskeys. Out of about ten vintages of Birthday Bourbon I've tried, I've yet to have one that didn't make me want to gag from bitter varnish notes. As for their non limited edition releases, I find a common banana note in most all of them that just doesn't sit well with me. Granted, Old Forester 1920 from the Whiskey Row series is pretty good - it's easily their best product and the only one that I've ever bought more than once. Here today we have 1920's followup and what is supposedly the last product in the series. The schtick here is it's a bourbon that was rebarreled and then aged in fresh, lightly toasted, heavily charred barrels. Rebarreling can be a slippery slope, as my recent experience with Knob Creek's Twice Barreled Rye didn't turn out so well. I'm not exactly optimistic but I am hopeful Old Forester has a better showing coming on the heels of something as good as 1920. 
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 46.5% ABV; $60
Color: I don't usually remark on color but this stuff is noticeably dark. It has the deep brown of bourbons in the 12-15 year old category.
Nose: Smells like a rather mature bourbon. That familiar Forman banana note is definitely here - it smells like banana creme brûlée. 
Taste: A lot more of the same from the nose. It drinks like a very mature bourbon with a lot of wood notes yet still has a lot of sweetness to prevent it from being overly bitter. The banana notes are fairly heavy handed. Again, this tastes like some sort of banana caramel dessert. If you take the wheated aspect out of the picture, in a lot of ways the profile here reminds me of Weller 12.
Thoughts: This is pretty good. I don't really have any major faults with it other than being a little boring and the banana notes being a bit pervasive. Unlike in other Forman whiskies where that banana note is younger / more green, the maturity of the profile here actually makes it kind of nice. This still isn't as good as 1920 but I do think this is my second favorite Forman product.
Rating: B- / B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Jameson Review

I have a good buddy who is Irish. I don't mean once a year St Paddy's Irish, I mean he was actually born in Belfast. Given his heritage and accent, when we are out it's rather common for someone to get the bright idea we should all drink a round of car bombs. For the uninitiated, a car bomb is an obnoxious drink that starts as half a pint of Guinness in which you drop a shot glass of 50/50 Jameson and Bailey's Irish Cream. The idea being you have to slam the whole thing before the Bailey's starts to curdle. The irony here is it's a completely American concept - if you went to Ireland and asked for one you'd probably get kicked considering the culturally insensitive name. But alas, that's Americans for you so I am intimately familiar with Jameson and yet entirely unfamiliar with it outside of that format.
Irish Whiskey; No Age Statement; 40% ABV
Nose: Pretty flat, some light sweet flavors, raw ethanol alcohol / paint thinner or some other kind of industrial cleaner. There is a little bit of citrus fruit down in there somewhere.
Taste: Again pretty flat and bland. Some malty cereal flavors come through and some more citrus / red fruit. The finish is the best part as there is a touch of honey sweetness and the malty grain flavors get a touch more rich - kind of like honey nut cheerios. There is minimal heat as expected for 80 proof. 
Thoughts: I wasn't expecting much and it didn't overdeliver. For my money, Redbreast is the only Irish Whiskey that's ever worth a second buy. 
Rating: D+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

L'Encantada Le Frêche 1990 #46 (Blackout) & 1988 #22 (Lincoln Road) Reviews

Here is a pair of reviews for two L'Encantada Armagnacs from Domaine Le Frêche. Prior to receiving these, my almost sole experience with L'Encantada has been with Domaine Lous Pibous, most of all which had been great. Let's see if that streak extends to other domaines from this producer.

L'Encantada Le Frêche 1988 Cask No. 22

Bas Armagnac; Aged 29 years; 52%; $150; Selected by Lincoln Road
Nose: Plums and other purple fruits. Some red fruits too. Hefty dose of old, ashy wood. Fairly rich. Heat is non existent.
Taste: Decent viscosity - again like the nose, it's fairly rich. There is a good amount of sugary red/purple fruits and dark chocolate but also a wallop of oak and wood sugars. It tastes like a classic, hyper aged Armagnac but through the mid palate and finish there is a bitter note I liken to walnut shells.
Thoughts: My impression now is better than when I first opened this bottle many months ago. At the time I thought it was overly bitter and the lush sugary sweet grape/date notes I like were really masked. The oak has calmed down and now there's enough of the rich fruit flavors coming through to keep it from being a lost cause. I know I am in the minority as most folks are over the moon for this but I still don't love it. I feel like as time goes on my receptiveness to bitterness is intensifying.
Rating: B-

L'Encantada Le Frêche 1990 Cask No. 46

Bas Armagnac; Aged 27 years; 52.9%; $150?; Selected by Blackout
Nose: Fruitier than the 22. More red fruits than purple and without as much charry oak. It's even more rich than the Lincoln Road and definitely more balanced in sweet vs oak but a little more aggressive in the heat department.
Taste: Creme brûlée, strawberries, grapes, chocolate. There are a lot of bourbon like notes but also enough purple fruit to let you know it's still an Armagnac. There's a touch of heat giving it some umpf but it's still very drinkable. The finish does round out with more oak than the rest of the ride and it teeters on the point bitterness but never quite crosses my line. 
Thoughts: From day one when I opened these I've always preferred the Blackout cask and while the Lincoln Road has improved this one is still the winner for me. While it slants towards a bit more of a bourbon profile it is still distinctly Armagnac. Overall it just feels brighter and less brooding than the Lincoln Road. If it weren't for the slightly rough oak heavy finish this could be near the B+ range for me.
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Belle Meade Black Belle Review

Here's a fun bottle I picked up on Black Friday at the Nelson's Green Brier Distillery in Nashville. After dumping barrels of their (assuming sourced MGP) product, the Nelsons sent the empty barrels over to a local brewery called Blackstone who used them to make their Black Belle imperial stout. After Blackstone was finished with the barrels, they were sent back to Belle Meade who then finished some of their bourbon in these now twice used casks. Having read good things about at least one previous cask of Black Belle and it being a holiday weekend I was feeling vicarious enough to take a chance. 
Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Imperial Stout Casks; No Age Statement; 48.5% ABV; Cask 4171; $100
Nose: Wafts of your typical bourbon scents, especially typical MGP bourbon but also a lot of dark chocolate and malty cocoa. The nose is really nice.
Taste: Starts off like your typical MGP bourbon but quickly morphs into a torrent of dark chocolate, espresso, and the fruity notes you glean in really good coffee. Those atypical notes start in the mid palate and ride heavily through the finish. It's got a bit of the malty barley grain taste of a stout beer in the finish but the thing that strikes me most are the espresso notes. At less than 100 proof for cask strength it's super easy to drink and yet still full bodied, rich, and complex.
Thoughts: I have traditionally had bad experiences with beer finished whiskey but I am glad I took a chance on this - I really enjoy it. The imperial stout imparted coffee notes are really unique but not as overpowering as something like the Abraham Bowman coffee finished bourbon which basically tasted like barrel proof coffee. I've had slight ups and downs with Belle Meade's experimental finishes but this one is a winner for me.
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Old Ezra Barrel Strength Review

Here is a new product launched by Luxco in late 2018. Luxco is widely known to source from Heaven Hill so it's highly likely this is 7 year old cask strength Heaven Hill bourbon. It's rare this day and age we see a new cask strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey carrying an age statement that is both affordable and easy to obtain but in some sort of weird 2010 time-warp, here we are. I thought the Old Ezra 7 year 101 (which has been discontinued) was pretty good so I'm going into this expecting the same quality.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 7 Years; 58.5% ABV; $35
Nose: Typical woody bourbon with decent age. There is a bit of peanut, cherry, and a little cedar element to the wood notes. The proof is pretty evident but not overpowering - about right where it should be for nearly 60% ABV. 
Taste: Like the nose, it's pretty consistent with the core bourbon wheelhouse of vanilla/oak/caramel. There is more of the light cherry note and some peanut, something that is increasingly more common for me in Heaven Hill bourbons lately. It has some rye spice and decent amount of wood depth with minimal young, grainy mash notes. The proof is certainly there and it's a touch bold but certainly very drinkable.
Thoughts: This is exactly what it should be - a classic, no frills, no bullshit bourbon. It isn't going to blow you away as the most amazing bourbon you've ever had but it delivers the solid quality that you'd expect of a middle aged whiskey from a tenured distillery. If this had been released by Heaven Hill I think Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Jr would be an apt product name as that's what it tastes like. Considering the price, stats, and how easy this was for me to obtain, I'm calling this my best bourbon of 2018.
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Knob Creek Twice Barreled Rye Review

Here today is a limited release from the folks over at Jim Beam. It is a no age statement version of their standard rye recipe (so at least four years old) that has been additionally aged in a second fresh charred oak barrel for an undisclosed amount of time. I've had moderate success with the Knob Creek Single Barrel ryes I've tried as they can be a decent value at ~ $45 when you factor in the 115 proof. Overall my biggest complaint with them is they could use more age since they still have quite a lot of grain forward notes. When I saw the announcement of this my hopes were the additional barrel aging would alleviate that issue. Over the holidays I happened to see a bottle of this on a shelf at a random local and though it was marked up I figured I would give it a shot.
Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey; No Age Statement; 50% ABV; $70 ($45 MSRP)
Nose: Lots of typical bourbon sweet notes with a bit of nutty pine spice. The nose is decent and has promise. 
Taste: Corn/grain forward with vanilla cola sweetness. Towards the middle some rye spice shows up in the form of peppermint but it's muted. There is not a lot of wood influence and the profile is mostly dominated by younger grainy notes. The finish is short and what does linger is mostly sweet grains. I'm a little surprised it's not as peanut forward as Beam whiskeys tend to be.
Thoughts: Meh. I'd never guess this was aged in an additional fresh oak cask because the wood influence is just not there. What you end up with is something that tastes like a barely legal, no age statement rye of middling proof which as a whole is completely forgettable. Even at MSRP this is a hard pass for me as you can find single barrel rye picks that are much better. 
Rating: C-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.