Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Four Roses Small Batch 2017 Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Review

Four Roses is by far my favorite distillery so I was super excited when it was announced they would be releasing a limited edition to commemorate brand ambassador Al Young’s 50 years with the organization. Not only did I love the retro look of the bottle but they appeared to have spared no expensive with the specs as there are some really old bourbons in the blend from recipes that are well loved.
Before going to head over heels though, there’s a reality check that needs to happen. Though I’ve never had a Four Roses Limited Edition that wasn’t good, there have been one or two that I thought were topped by some of the better private selections I’ve had. I think that’s more of a compliment to the high ceiling of quality in private selections than a knock against Four Roses LEs. 
12 year OBSF, 15 year OBSK, 23 year OBSV, 13 year OESV; 53.8% ABV; $150
Nose: I can taste/smell Four Roses bourbons a mile away and this smells like quintessential Four Roses. Caramel, honey, red fruits, cinnamon, and mint spice. All of this backed up by quite a bit of wood influence and minimal ethanol burn. It smells very, very nice. 
Taste: Taste is more of the same from the nose and again very classic Four Roses bourbon flavors. Caramel cinnamon covered apples and cherries. The wood influence is a lot more noticeable now, almost a bit too much oak as it is a little drying in the finish. Burnt sugars, red fruits, tingly spice, and dark cocoa linger in the finish on top of a whole mess of wood. 
Thoughts: It’s a very good, balanced, surprisingly easy to drink bourbon that has all the great Four Roses tasting notes I crave. Having said that, after quite a few sessions with this, I’m always left wishing it was more impactful. All that wood influence and the lowish proof for a typical barrel strength Four Roses product gives it a rather mellow profile, almost to a fault. If you like more subtle, intricate, nuanced bourbons, then this would be a home run for you. For me, I’m a private selection OESK man through and through and I have quite a few of them in my stash that I’d reach for before this. The kicker here is those were about 1/3 of the price.
Rating: B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Willett 80th Anniversary Bourbon Review

The history of Willett in TLDR form: 
  • get mega hype hype hype famous selling old whiskey sourced from long defunct distilleries
  • start distilling your own product
  • release very young in house products (hey baby, here's just the tip)
  • watch people go crazy for it based on the reputation of sourced whiskey
  • $$$$$$$
That sounds pretty bitter and well, that's because it is but I've seen enough crotch shots of Willett 2 and 3 year rye to know there are lots of people that think landing any Willett product is a major score. 
Honestly, I like Willett and I feel like their stuff will be pretty good one day soon because most of what they are putting out now shows promise. I'm just tired of the hype machine around them because thus far the only in house products are pretty young so there's a low ceiling on how good they can be. So along those lines, here is another such product that was released at the gift shop back in March of this year. Apparently it is set for national distribution which has already started and will be limited to 5200 bottles.
No Age Statement; Bottled in Bond; 50% ABV; $35; thanks to /u/_glab for the gift
Nose: Very sweet. Some grainy corn, lots of wood sweets, cinnamon, and a bit of new make ethanol.
Taste: Corn grain, lots and lots of cinnamon, a little earthy dirt funk, and your typical vanilla caramel sweets. There's as much wood influence as you'd expect for a 4ish year old Kentucky bourbon but not enough to cover up all the rough ethanol notes. The finish is a lot of dirty, dusty, dry cinnamon. I don't know what that dirt funk note is but I often get that in other micro/craft distilleries like Garrison Brothers and this reminds me of their bourbon. This is the first time I recall tasting that in any Willett product.
Thoughts: I don't like it. It's not horrid but it's not as good as the Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond Willett put out earlier this year. As expected, it's a youngish, corn forward bourbon but there's some sharp off/craft notes here that are ruining things. The dry cinnamon note is really odd to me and so overbearing there were sessions where it was all I could taste. Given my impression, I was completely shocked when someone told me people are paying $200 on the secondary for this. What the fuck is wrong with you people? Get off my god damn lawn.
Note: In all fairness, I might be a crotchety old man. For a contrasting opinion, Liquor Hound gave this a much better review.
Rating: D+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (116.8) Review

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of Wild Turkey. Russell's Reserve Single Barrel is one of the best regularly available premium bourbons and Wild Turkey 101 is a workhorse both as a daily sipper and a great cocktail base. But then there are products like Rare Breed which on paper sound amazing - a barrel proof bourbon that according to marketing and the Russells is a blend of 6, 8, and 12 year old bourbon. The problem though is the last batch at 112.8 introduced in 2014 tasted like there might be a drop of older whiskeys in the blend as it leaned heavily towards 6 years old. A young, corny, fruity forward vibe dominates the taste and is a far cry from the rich, layered elegance you'll find in the older batches like 108.4 (WT-01-99).
So here we are in 2017 and Wild Turkey has released a new batch, identifiable by a proof of 116.8. I have heard comments ranging from it being a step back in the right direction all the way to night and day better than the previous iteration. Call my a cynic but I'm going into this assuming that it's not going to be much different from the last one. For comparison sake, I tasted this new batch against old one over a period of about a month. 
No Age Statement; 58.4% ABV; $50
Nose: There's a nice base of vanilla caramel sweets but also a lot of heat trying to keep it pinned down. The fusel ethanol notes are a bit rough. Fruity new make notes like apples and pears are noticeable which suggests a younger profile. That familiar Wild Turkey baking spice note is there along with some zippy menthol. Overall, not that noticeably different from the last batch.
Taste: More sweet forward with more wood depth than the nose - I think that's because the ethanol isn't so front and center. Fruity, grainy, corny notes are certainly present though and are as noticeable as the oak influence. It's a mashup of light honey sweets, darker burnt caramel sugars, corn grain, and baking spices.
Thoughts: I don't love it but I don't hate it which is where I stand with the previous iteration. It's slightly richer with a little more oak depth than the previous one so I'd tepidly give this a vote of a small step in the right direction. Overall, it still tastes more like barrel proof WT 101 which is a blend of 6-8 years rather than a blend of 6, 8, and 12 year old product. At $50 a bottle, I'll pass on buying this in the future and stick to regular old 101 at half the cost and equal enjoyment.
Rating: C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B517 (124.2) Review

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Elijah Craig is the best bang for your buck barrel proof bourbon that is somewhat accessible. While over the years I believe Heaven Hill has done a great job keeping the quality consistent, that changed a little bit with the last batch. Based on feedback from other reviewers, I did a side by side of the A117 vs. an older batch and the A117 was a noticeable step down. By all means it was still a good bourbon that on its own was very enjoyable but when scrutinized it was lacking in the proofy, bold, deeply woody oak bomb category which is the hallmark of the product. Given that experience, I go into the latest release dubbed B517 with some slight skepticism but hopeful A117 was an outlier. My fears are slightly heightened by the fact that this release is the lowest proof batch yet. 
Aged 12 years; 62.1% ABV; special thanks to /u/ctarbox for the bottle
Nose: A wallop of sweets like burnt caramel sugars and oak. Smells about right for cask strength and 12 years old which is to say pretty damn good.
Taste: A mirror image of the nose. Huge waves of burnt caramel, honey, oak, and a bit of spicy pepper bite in the finish. The finish lingers with a lot of wood but it's not overly bitter. I'm not really getting a lot of darker fudgy sweets that I usually look for in these though. 
Thoughts: I tasted this alongside the batches from my previous review so here are side by side thoughts on all three: 
  • A117 - Same complaint as previous reviews, it drinks slanted towards a younger profile and is a less deep and rich version than is typical for these. Rating: B
  • B517 - The most balanced of the group and rather nice. Not quite a wood bomb but very oaky with lots of sweets. Also has some spicy heat but drinks the easiest of the three. A step back in the right direction over this year's previous release. Rating: B / B+
  • Batch 11 - Still significantly better than the last two batches. Bold, rich, punch you in the mouth flavors so it's not as balanced as the B517 but it's a straight up sweet oak bomb with loads of wood depth and dark fudge notes that are very reminiscent of George T. Stagg. Rating: A-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Russell's Reserve Review

Launched in 2001, Russell's Reserve is named after Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell. While it originally entered the market at the same 101 proof of their flagship product, in 2005 it was lowered to 90 proof. I don't know for sure but I suspect that was due to problems maintaining higher proof aged stock given Wild Turkey's extremely low 107 barrel entry proof at the time. After recently covering the 13 year Wild Turkey Distiller's Reserve which I didn't love, I thought it would be interesting to see how a 10 year version with a similar proof stacks up.
Aged 10 years; 45% ABV; $35
Nose: Classic Wild Turkey rye baking spices, lots of oak, and sugary wood sweets (vanilla/caramel/etc). It has that bold modern Wild Turkey character and while it breaths a little warm you can tell it's not as amped up as the 101 product. Still pretty nice though.
Taste: Sadly, more muted than the nose. Honey and brown sugar sweets up front . Oak and spice take over in the finish along with some light dry cocoa powder. Tastes like what it should on paper - an older, watered down Wild Turkey 101. 
Thoughts: Like the 13 year Distiller's Reserve, the down proofing is really hampering this one. All of the hallmark modern Wild Turkey notes are there including those nice rye baking spices but it's just not very impactful. It lacks the bold punch of 101 and doesn't come close to the depth of the single barrel version but I actually like this better than the Distiller's Reserve. It's a decent sweet, spicy, woody combo that I'd put on par with a more expensive product like Blanton's and better than a harder to find product like Elmer T. Lee. At the price, that makes this a nice, solid, above average daily sipper.
Rating: C+ / B-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wild Turkey 13 Year Distiller's Reserve Review

Despite the lack of many regularly available age stated products in the states, Wild Turkey has continued to offer several of them in the export markets. Our overseas drinkers have steady access to 8 year 101 and in the past a 12 year 101 product was available as well. The 12 year 101 was discontinued in 2014, in part due to Wild Turkey's low 107 barrel entry proof which made maintaining a steady supply of 12 year product at 101 proof difficult. As a replacement, the export markets saw a product a year older but lower proof which is what we have here today.
Aged 13 years; 45.5% ABV; 2014 bottle code; thanks to /u/tnpoplar for the gift
Nose: Healthy amounts of oak, sugary sweetness, and some spice bite. Typical vanilla/caramel and baking spices. Smells like a moderately aged spicy bourbon. I would guess a little higher than 90ish proof from the nose.
Taste: Echoes the nose. Vanilla caramel sweets, some oak, and some baking spices in the finish. The viscosity is rather thin and the flavors aren't very impactful, I would guess lower than 91 proof by taste. The sweet notes seem to be the most dominate and mask the amount of wood depth I would expect in a 13 year old product.
Thoughts: This is alright. The promise of the 13 year age statement looks good on paper but the proofing down works more against it than the extra age helps it. Tasting it side by side with 2015 8 year 101 export, I much prefer the 8/101 of the two. The first time I had this was in a blind 5 way turkey shootout and this barely edged out Forgiven for next to last place. I think that pretty much says it all.
Rating: C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hochstadter's Family Reserve 16 Year Rye Revew

Hochstadter's is a product from the Cooper Spirits Company who have been putting out sourced ryes in a variety of different forms. Today we have their latest high end offering which is a cask strength, 16 year old, 100% rye that was distilled in Canada. 100% rye from Canada almost always means Alberta Distillers which is where a few other popular ryes such as WhistlePig are sourced. I was initially skeptical about this for a couple of reasons, mostly the high price but also because the Lock Stock & Barrel rye which is also from Cooper Spirits has less than favorable reviews. I really like aged rye and Alberta rye, especially at cask strength so I was willing to give it a chance.
Aged 16 years; 61.9% ABV; $200
Nose: Spicy and very warm. Spearmint, menthol, wintergreen, sugary bubblegum. Definitely smells like a well aged, cask strength, super high rye whiskey.
Taste: Lots of sweet charred oak sugars with a big spice blast in the finish. The range of spices is all over the place, everything from dill to wintergreen to spearmint to baking spices. The age is certainly evident as its got a wide range of oak and the sweet notes that imparts. The high proof comes through very heavy handed as all the spice, sweet, and oak notes are very bold. Overall, it's a sweet woody spice party.
Thoughts: Not only is this an exceptionally good whiskey, it's also a great rye whiskey. In fact, I think this is better than last year's Booker's Rye which was a really good whiskey but not a great rye. This is coming from someone who likes spicy wood bombs though so take that for what it is worth. The real question here is, is this worth the retail cost? If you are asking that question, then the answer is probably no. My advice is to split a bottle with some friends and try it for yourself. I did that and felt it was good enough to splurge on a bottle for myself. It may not be the best value out there but cask strength hyper aged ryes aren't getting more plentiful or cheaper as the years go by. So yeah, the pricing isn't great. Yet two months after release here there are still some of these sitting on the shelves. I can waltz right down to a number of locals and buy as many of these as I want. No hassle, no chase, no calling in any favors that count towards the limited number I am comfortable with asking for these days. To me, this is like buying a car at Carmax. Yeah, you pay a lot more but you don't have to deal with all the fucking bullshit drama leading up to getting the car at a better price.
Rating: B+ / A-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rabbit Hole PX Sherry Finished Bourbon Review

Rabbit Hole is an upstart craft distillery that is currently contract distilling at New Riff Distillery in Newport KY. Eventually they plan to move to their own distillery in Louisville which is currently in the early stages of construction. Earlier this year a few products from them hit stores - a two year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon, a two year old Kentucky Straight Rye, and finally a wheated bourbon that was finished in PX Sherry casks. Two year old craft whiskey is always a hard pass but I like wheated bourbon and I like PX sherry finishes so I figured I would give it a shot. For those interested here is the fact sheet including the mash bills and ages that was sent to my local store when they received this. Interesting to note that while both two year old products say Kentucky and I assume their contract distillate, the wheated finished product does not. According to what I've read, the wheated bourbon was sourced from Wyoming Whiskey.
No Age Statement (though marketing materials say 5+ years); 46.5% ABV; Batch 02, Bottle 1207; $68
Nose: Cereal grains and fruity grape jam. The high proponent of malted wheat and malt barley is making this smell more like a sherry finished Scotch than a sherry finished wheated bourbon.
Taste: A lot like the nose with the cereal grain and fruity sherry notes dominating. There is a decent amount of oak influence with some wood sweets but there is an underlying weird craft funk to it. I get the same kind of grassy, earthy, dirty corn vibe that I get in Garrison Brothers which I loathe. The finish has some cinnamon spice which I think is finally the wheated element coming through but also still some rough unfinished new make ethanol. Tasting blind I would have guessed a young craft sherry finished malt whiskey, maybe something like Westland.
Thoughts: When I first opened this the rough craft funk was overwhelming - it was like grassy grains and grapes. Those notes have tapered back and now I can actually taste other things but this is still headed in the wrong direction. It tastes more like a young craft malt whiskey and has barely any semblance of an aged wheated bourbon. Considering the price, this is a total flop.
Rating: D
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

W.L. Weller 12 Year Review

W.L. Weller, the 12 year old wheated bourbon from Buffalo Trace. Though it was once easy to find, due to the great wheater famine (© /u/MajorHop), it's now about as hard to find as the Pappy Van Winkle for which it was supposed to be an obtainable alternative. For all intents and purposes it is the same as Van Winkle bourbon but lived its life in a warehouse location that isn't preferred by them. Over the years I've watched it go from a bottle I could buy whenever I wanted to being held behind the counter to now being saved for Fall lotteries at high markup prices. Even crazier than that is it now commands hundreds of dollars on the secondary market. There have been a lot of surprising turns in bourbon over my years in the hobby but seeing Weller 12 as a secondary item is definitely one of the higher ups in the WTF category. 
Aged 12 years; 45% ABV; 2015 bottle code; $30
Nose: Lots of oak and lots of sweet flavors like vanilla cake batter. The wood has quite a bit of depth. It smells like a nice, older, proofed-down wheated bourbon. 
Taste: Honey, carrot cake frosting, and lots of oak. The range of oak runs from bitter dark chocolate all the way through to sweet honey notes. Finish lingers about as long as you'd expect for 90 proof with a little wheat / wood spice and dark cocoa. 
Thoughts: There's a reason why when this was readily available at under $30 that it was a goto - it's an easy to drink combo of very sweet and heavily woody. I've had ups and downs with batches over the years, some I thought were overly bitter but this is right in line with my fonder memories of this product. All that out of the way, get the fuck out of here if you think this is worth anything close to what it's going for on the secondary. It was a great budget wheated bourbon and that's still what it is. There are plenty of products that are much easier to get that are just as good or better than this - Rebel Yell 10 year, Russell's Reserve Single Barrel, Four Roses Single Barrel, and Old Forester 1920 all come to mind. Granted, only the Rebel Yell in that bunch is wheated with a similar profile but for fucks sake the bourbon world doesn't revolve around wheaters.
Rating: B / B-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Angel's Envy Review

The community reviews over on /r/bourbon have taken a back to basics turn for the last couple of installments so here we go again with a bottle I normally wouldn't have on hand. 
Angel's Envy started as the brainchild of former Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson. Up until recently they've been strictly using the sourcing model for their products but last year their distillery finally came online. It will be quite a few years before that distillate is of age so what we are tasting today was made elsewhere. Officially the source of Angel's Envy has never been confirmed but I've read that it's a blend of 6 year old bourbon from 3 different Kentucky distilleries. From that point, the bourbon is then aged in port wine casks for an additional few months which the most distinguishing feature of the brand.
No Age Statement; 43.3% ABV; Currently retails here at $47, this 100ml mini was $10
Nose: Popcorn, vanilla, light grapes, and typical bourbon charred oak. Smells like a standard young to moderately aged bourbon that's been finished in port barrels. The ethanol is a little overpowering consider the middling proof. 
Taste: A lot like the nose but with more grape port influence. It's like bourbon with a touch of grape soda added, or grape jelly and popcorn. It's pretty light on flavor with not a lot of body and a short finish. On the plus side, it's incredibly easy to drink and I can't help but think of the cringeworthy descriptor of "smooth".
Thoughts: As someone who is into bold, bash you in the face flavors and cask strength whiskey, I don't like this. I find it overly light and too rounded which I attribute both to the lowish proof and the port finishing. Having said that, this is probably a very good whiskey for a casual/novice drinker as it's very soft and easy to drink. Though it's not a very good value, for me when it comes to Angel's Envy, the limited edition cask strength version is the way to go.
Rating: D+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.