Monday, June 19, 2017

Four Roses Small Batch 2016 Limited Edition Review

This is your resident Four Roses fanboy, signde, signing in. Today we have the 2016 version of Four Roses' annual limited edition small batch. All of their small batch limited editions are cask strength and a blend of various ages / recipes from the Four Roses portfolio. The fact that Four Roses has 10 different recipes each with their own nuanced subtleties tend to make these bottles a hit. I'll be the first to tell you I am usually over the moon for them and given that this release contains my favorite (OESK) and third favorite (OBSV) recipes I suspect this review is going to be very positive. 
12 year OESO, 12 year OBSV, 16 year OESK; 55.6% ABV; $95
Nose: Very tempered for 111.2 proof though this is the last pour of the bottle and it has been open since the day I brought home back in the Fall nearly 7 months ago. Nose is a little grainy but there is classic Four Roses red fruits, herbal menthol, and cinnamon spices. That seems pretty in-line with the blend here - fruitiness from the OESO and OBSV and spice punch from the OESK. It's really nice.
Taste: Most of the profile from the nose carries over. Cherry, apple, a little herbal mint, cinnamon, baking spices, and lots of sweet woody caramel. With a lot of bourbons it seems the sweet/spice notes come in waves with the fruit and sugar sweets up front then spices in the back. Here though that fruity sweet combo is persistent almost the whole way through. It's lovely. 
Thoughts: I know some folks were down on 2016 small batch and if I had to guess I think it's the OESO influence. I don't mind it at all though as it seems to be a nice rounding out of the fruit and spice influence that the V and K yeast bring. To me this is just a classic Four Roses blend delivering depth like almost no other brand can. It's got that hallmark Four Roses profile of spice layers, red fruit nuance, and lush caramel sweets in spades. Having said that, it's a little muted and doesn't leave quite the lasting impression as some of the other big time Four Roses small batch releases like the 2012, 2013, or even the 2015 but flavor-wise it is in the right wheelhouse. This is another home run for the Four Roses crew in my book. 
Rating: A- / B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Maker's Mark Review

There was a time about 15 years ago when Maker's Mark was my house bourbon. It was the first bourbon I regularly kept stocked in my house once I had graduated college and could afford to spend money on what I thought at the time was upscale whiskey. As such, the brand holds a lot of nostalgic value for me and this is a common theme I hear over and over in the whiskey community as people describe how they got into bourbon. These days though I only drink Maker's when it's the only bourbon option and I can't tell you the last time I bought a bottle but I am guessing it's been over a decade. But for the community reviews on /r/bourbon the crowd seems to want to take things basics so here we are reviewing what is arguably the most well known bourbon in the world apart from Jim Beam.
No Age Statement; 45% ABV; $25 (750ml)
Nose: Some light cinnamon wheat spice and quite a bit of ethanol. Your typical oaky vanilla caramel is there but masked a bit because it's kinda hot for only being 90 proof.
Taste: Honey, corn grain, caramel, cinnamon. I tend to get cinnamon as the dominant spice note of wheated bourbons and it's certainly present in the finish. Again I feel it has too much heat for only 90 proof so that's either the cinnamon wheat spice coming out or that it's not had enough time in the wood to smooth things out. 
Thoughts: This is the perfect example of an average bourbon. It tastes exactly like it should given the spec sheet - a plain and simple 5-6ish year old, moderately proofed, wheated bourbon. I really wish they would release an older product to smooth out some of the younger corn grain notes and aggressive ethanol notes but that's probably a pipe dream given the current bourbon market. This will do in a pinch where there are no other options but this along with all of the other Maker's options except maybe the cask strength are a pass for me.
Rating: C
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Belle Meade Sherry Finished Bourbon Lincoln Road Single Barrel Review

I've covered Nelson's Greenbier Distillery's Belle Meade a bit in a previous review but the TLDR is they are a startup that is selling MGP sourced bourbon while their own stock continues to age. I wasn't a huge fan of the cognac finished bourbon, mostly because it reminded me of their standard batched product which is slanted a bit too young and green in profile for my tastes. I did however enjoy the 90 proof 9 year sherry finished bourbon and I also really like the cask strength single barrel selections I've had from them. All of that led me to very interested in what we have here today which is a basically a higher proof version of their 9 year sherry finished and also bottled for the very reputable Lincoln Road package store out of Hattiesburg, MS. From what I have gathered, this version is rather limited with the only other single barrel I am aware of belonging to Jack Rose in Washington D.C.
Aged 9 years; Sherry finished 2 months 28 days; 55.1% ABV; $100; Single Barrel No. 2191, Bottle Number 186
Nose: Fruity and sweet. Smells like caramel and a light fruit glaze syrup. The spicy rye MGP bourbon mash is also evident with some prickly pine and menthol.
Taste: Very familiar spicy MGP bourbon notes but with a little added fruitiness. It's sweet, spicy, and slightly fruity the whole way through. I can tell the fruit sherry is in there as there are hints of grape jam but it's far from overbearing. The sweet wood notes have some darker chocolate and cocoa vibe to them in the finish which is showing off the age here. 
Thoughts: There are no surprises here, you are getting exactly that you paid for. It tastes like a middle aged spicy MGP bourbon at a respectable proof that's been smoothed over by some fortified wine finishing. What really shines with this one is how delicately the finishing process has been applied - it's far from sherry or port bomb that you can find in other finished products like Midwinters Night Dram. The finish here is a sideshow rather than the star which makes this a very well executed dram. I personally really like port and sherry finished fruit bombs though and I'd reach for Midwinters before this but it's a very nice change of pace in the finished bourbon category. 
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof #11 (139.4) and #13 A117 (127.0) Reviews

I've repeatedly said Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is the best semi-available bang for your buck barrel proof bourbon out there. I easily put it over the other similar contenders like Stagg Jr and Colonel Taylor Barrel proof. It's the next best thing to my favorite yearly release, George T. Stagg and it's a lot easier to obtain. Having sampled or worked through a bottle of all of the batches, I also happen to think that it's been a super consistent product since day one. But whiskey nerds being whiskey nerds, there's been some muttering lately that the latest batch (which also happens to be the lowest proof released yet) isn't as good as previous releases. I didn't really buy into that as I remember those same comments about the 128 proof batch which I thought was just as great as any of the others. So in the interest of science I pulled an older batch out of the bunker and tasted them side by side. I'm going into this with the assumption that the higher proof batch is probably a little better but the differences won't be substantial. 
Batch 11: Aged 12 years; 69.7% ABV; $60
Batch 13/A117: Aged 12 years; 63.5% ABV; $60
Color: It's hard to tell from the pictures but the 139.4 batch is a shade darker than the latest one. That's not really surprising as it's nearly 6% more alcohol by volume. 
Nose: Batch 13 is more mild but still has a pretty high amount of heat. It's also more sweet forward with typical bourbon caramel and vanilla and smells younger with a little bit of fruitiness. Batch 11 is hot and boozy, smells like a high proof super oak forward bruiser of a bourbon with lots of wood spice. There is some sweetness here but it's dark like cocoa powder. 
Taste: Batch 13 has quite a bit of peanut on the front which is something I used to only get in Beam bourbon but am picking up more and more in Heaven Hill products. It's proof heavy with a wallop of typical bourbon sweet notes and a slight rye spice bite in the finish. I would have guessed about 10 years old blind. Batch 11 on the other hand kicks things into a much higher gear. The viscosity is thicker and the sweet notes are more on the burnt caramel side rather than straight up caramel. It's also more dark cocoa than vanilla and the wood influence has more prominence/depth. This one certainly tastes 12 years old, maybe even a bit older and encroaching on a George T. Stagg profile. 
Thoughts: Tasting it on its own I had said I thought this new batch was up to par but after this comparison I can't stand by that. That's not to say that it's bad, it's still a really good bourbon that by itself is pretty tasty. Compared with a beefier batch though it's thinner, has less oak influence, and has more young fruity notes instead of the dark fudgy chocolate oak bomb that I've come to expect in this line. Having said all that, I think I picked the nearly the worst possible candidate for this side by side because batch 11 is a real knockout, maybe one of the best in the line. All in all though I still feel like this a relatively consistent product, certainly more consistent than Stagg Jr which was all over the place in the first three batches. Comparison aside, that batch 11 though... whew man is it good. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's that kind of experience that makes this product the next best thing to George T. Stagg.
Rating Batch 11: B+ / A-
Rating Batch 13: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Millstone 100 Rye Review

Here's a sample I acquired from the nice folks over at Fine Drams some years back. I've been saving it for a while in hopes that one day /r/worldwhisky would finally choose Millstone for a community review. After years of waiting, that day has finally come. I don't know a lot about this whiskey other than it's Dutch and it's 100% rye which sounds interesting to me on paper.

50% ABV; 51% unmalted rye and 49% malted rye; Aged for at least 100 months in new charred American oak

Nose: Cereal grains, cocoa powder, slight rye spice. There is a decent amount of oak notes here. The cereal grain note is rather heavy, reminiscent of a Japanese or Irish malt whiskey. It smells like a barely legal American rye only with 49% malted barley instead of 49% corn. 
Taste: Lots more of those malty cereal notes as well as traditional wood sweet notes such as vanilla and honey. I'm getting a little bit of spice, mostly in the finish but again struggling to feel like this is a rye whiskey. It tastes like honey coated cereal with a dash of cinnamon pepper spice.
Thoughts: This is an odd one for me. For being a rye whiskey I don't get a lot of rye spice bite. I don't know if it's that European rye grains having a different character than North American rye grains but the malt barley notes here are very present. Maybe it's the fact that the rye is malted which is triggering Japanese/Irish/Scotch palate memory for me but I dunno. When it comes to rye whiskeys I think I will stick to my American standbys like Rendezvous or Pikesville. 
Rating: C+ / C or 78/100
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Balcones Brimstone Review

Here's a bottle that was bequeathed to me during /u/tvraisedme's whiskey dumpster giveaway before he moved away from the Nashville area. Of all the craft distilleries out there, I feel like Balcones is one of the better ones but like the rest, the major rub is you're paying a lot for what you are getting. As such, I would have never purchased this bottle on my own, not only because of the price but also because it's such a divisive pour. Looking at how it's made, it's easy to see why. What we have here is a 100% blue corn whisky that as been smoked with Texas scrub oak via some proprietary process. Not that I think it matters but some may like to know that this particular bottle was released when Chip Tate was still the Balcones master distiller. I'm expecting something pungent like the corn whisky equivalent of a heavily peated Islay Scotch.
Batch BRM12-2, 02/08/2012; No Age Statement; 53% ABV; $60
Nose: Very corn and smoke forward. It smells like Fritos corn chips that have been left in a smoker for days. The smokey notes here have a very distinctive yet strange quality to them that I can't quite describe. It's sort of medicinal but mostly like an old mesquite barbecue grill. 
Taste: The palate has all of the notes from the nose but with some added honey. It's sweet, corny, and that oddball oily mesquite barbecue smoke note. It tastes like honey coated mesquite smoked barbecue Frito corn chips. It's a bruiser of flavors with not really much oak influence so the alcohol still has some of that off-putting young craft new make vibe to it. 
Thoughts: This stuff is batshit crazy. It's not as wild as some other ridiculous things I've tasted like the Bourbon Crusader's Charbay or Charbay RIII but it's up there. If they were going for something that tasted like smoke bombed corn chips then they succeeded with flying colors and kudos to them for trying something different. I can barely drink this though and every time I get an odd craving for a pour I can't help but ask how much I hate myself for wanting to try this again. And yet that's a scenario that's played out at least several times so there is something oddly memorable/enticing about it.
Rating: 100/100 if you want high proof smoked corn chips, 80/100 if you're a whisky voyeur/masochist, 60/100 if you wanted a drinkable whisky
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

1984-1994 Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Barrel No. 016 Review

Here today is a comparison of some very old Henry McKenna side by side with a modern bottle purchased right of the shelf. I've recently done similar side by sides before, once with barrel 001 and again with barrel 008. Both of those bottles run circles around the current product with the first one being an all time favorite. Thanks to a friend I've been lucky enough to acquire a taste of yet another barrel distilled on the same day as those two in December of 1984. What I want to know is were the first two barrels flukes in terms of quality or is dusty pre-fire Henry McKenna really just that good? 
1984-1994 McKennaThanks to Alex G. for the sample and photo
1984-1994 vs. 2006-2016Left: Barrel No. 3035, Barreled on 03/14/2006
Right: Barrel No. 016, Barreled on 12/14/1984
Color: As always, I don't usually remark on color but next to the current product, the 016 is considerably darker. So far though barrel 001 is still the darkest with this one being a shade lighter than the previous two.
Nose: Very rich and dense with lots of classic bourbon flavors in the form of thick vanilla caramel cake frosting. The modern bottle by comparison smells thinner, younger, and fruitier. The 016 actually has a little bit of a fruit vibe as well but it's more like boozed soaked dark pitted fruits such as prunes vs. the younger ripe banana grain of the 2016.
Taste: Similar but even more impressive than the nose. Heavy doses of classic bourbon oaky sweets and a blast of that familiar dusty profile. It's very thick and chewy, like liquified cake batter. The oak influence is strong but heavy towards the sweet end along with touches of rye spice. By comparison the 2016 tastes like young barely legal bottled in bond bourbon which is totally nuts because on any other day I enjoy McKenna and consider it a rather mature product. 
Thoughts: I'm blown away by how good these old McKennas are. Just like with previous experiences I keep thinking these taste like extremely concentrated bourbon. It's like all the flavor you get out of a high proof bourbon such Elijah Craig Barrel Proof but with considerably less heat and way more drinkability. I dunno, maybe I just have a thing for bottle conditioned pre-fire Heaven Hill because this has been a repeated pattern for me with any well aged Heaven Hill products I've had from that era. Regardless, these are about classic as bourbon gets and it's a damn shame the current product doesn't still taste like this.
Rating: A-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, April 10, 2017

High West Bourye (2017 Release) Review

I've covered my feelings on High West more than a few times lately so I'll just touch on the highlight again here that they are master blenders who have sourced excellent whiskey. Bourye has become a Frankenstein of all those sources over the years as the 4 batches I'm aware of all seem to contain at least one unique component. For 2017, Bourye is composed as follows:
  • A blend of straight Bourbon and Rye whiskeys aged from 10 to 14 years.
  • Straight Rye Whiskey: 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP & 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley malt from MGP
  • Straight Bourbon Whiskey: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt from MGP
The things that jump out to me there are that the age of the oldest whiskey has gone down from previous releases and there is a new MGP rye mash in play. I was a big fan of the 2015 and 2016 releases so I have high expectations coming into this. 
No Age Statement
46% ABV
Batch 17A12
Nose: Smells like a barely legal rye whiskey or a very high rye bourbon. Lots of spicy menthol on top of sugary oak sweetness. The nose is rather bold considering the middling proof. 
Taste: Sugary wood sweetness upfront, rye baking spices in the middle, and a nice sweet spicy combo rides out the finish. Some tannic, slightly bitter oak complexity also comes through in the finish. Super easy to drink - that's likely the lower ABV. I would not say it's under-proofed though, it's still got plenty of body and depth of flavor. Tastes exactly like what I would expect from a blend of 10 - 14 year bourbon and rye. 
Thoughts: High West just keeps knocking them out of the park. I really, really like this. On a pure enjoyment scale, this is up there with Wild Turkey Decades which carries twice the price tag. That's par for the course for High West lately - they keep putting out quality blends at respectable prices that are relatively easy to obtain and yet there's little if any hype train around them. Why that is, I don't know, the whisky hobby makes no sense to me most of the time. I'm not going to complain though. I'm just going to happily stroll back down to my local and buy another bottle of this while crazy people chase the hype train for the new Colonel Taylor Four Taters or whatever other carrot Buffalo Trace is dangling this month.
Rating: B+ / B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Elijah Craig Small Batch Review

Elijah Craig is a product that's seen a lot of changes over the last few years. First the 12 year age statement was moved to the small print on the back label. Not long after that the 12 year age statement dropped completely. Then here today we have a newly introduced bottle design that I don't care for at all. Not only do I dislike the new bottle shape but the marketing bullshit slathered all over the front label rubs me all kinds of wrong ways. Sure Elijah Craig was a distiller hundreds of years ago but there's no proof that he's the "Father of Bourbon" and many noted American whiskey authorities doubt he was making anything different from his peers. Further damaging to this claim is information from bourbon historian Mike Veach that it's unlikely Craig was even barreling his whiskey because during his time whiskey was taxed by the amount produced rather than the amount sold so barrel aging would be lost profits. Beyond that, the "first to char oak barrels" bit on the label is complete poppycock as well since the French were charring oak barrels to make cognac as far back as the 15th century. 
Marketing driven label poop is the norm these days so despite that, I like Heaven Hill well enough as they haven't done much wrong by me. I got my introduction to the Elijah Craig brand 7 or so years ago when the 18 year was an incredible value at ~$50 so things got off to a good start. I'm also a huge fan of Barrel Proof as I think that is the best semi-available, sub $100, consistent, cask strength product you can buy. I was never really a fan of Elijah Craig 12 however as I always thought it was a bit too oak heavy. While that works for me in the barrel proof, when cut with water it's just a completely different experience. Now that this product is a no age statement blend though I'm expecting a less oaky experience and have higher hopes I will enjoy it.
No Age Statement
47% ABV
Nose: Smells like your standard, middle aged, rye based bourbon. Vanilla, caramel, rye spice bite. It smells like a 10-12 year old bourbon with little perceptible young or grainy new make notes. If I had one complaint it does breath a little warm for only being 94 proof which is surprising because this bottle has been open a while and is nearly gone. 
Taste: Tastes like it smells. All classic bourbon notes here. Lots of oak, drinks about like a blended average of 10-11 years. Sweet vanilla/honey/caramel in the front, oak tannins in the middle, and a finish of slight rye spice, darker sweets like cocoa, and lots more oak. The palate is not as heat forward as the nose but it is still a touch hotter than I think it should if I'm being nit picky. It might even be still too oak forward for my tastes at times.
Thoughts: An incredibly okay bourbon. Plain, simple, familiar, comforting - no more, no less. While some may be upset that it no longer bears that 12 year age statement, I think I like the no age statement version better. I don't think it's as much as a bitter oak bomb as the previous version though I am just going off memory. I think this can old its own with other classics like Blanton's so when considering the price, this is a good value. A few bucks more though and you are in Four Roses Single Barrel price territory which I would take all day long over this.
Rating: C+ / B-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Old Ripy Review

While I'm a huge fan of Wild Turkey whiskeys, their current owner Campari can pretty much fuck right off. I mean sure they still have some really good products like Russell's Reserve Single Barrel but stuff like the current 101 and Rare Breed are mere shells of what they used to be. The more I learn about the decisions there over the years the more I come to the conclusion that they've been sacrificing quality for profits. So along that cash grab mentality, here we have the latest in whiskey innovations from them, a new series dubbed "Whiskey Barons."
✅ Limited Edition 
✅ High Price
✅ Old-timey Marketing
✅ Made up Distillery
Yep, that's about as much fuckery as Diego's Orphan Barrel line. Campari, wut r u doing. Campari, stahp. 
As for this particular product, we know it was made at the Wild Turkey distillery but not under the supervision of Eddie or Jimmy Russell who were apparently too busy at the time. Marketing materials claim it is "12-year-old and younger whiskies" which is a deceiving way of saying it's a no age statement blend. 
No Age Statement
52% ABV
Non Chill Filtered
$70 (MSRP is more like $50), 375ml
Nose: Heat is about right for 104 proof. I'm getting a dose of fruity new make and also that hallmark Wild Turkey rye baking spice bite. I'd guess about 6-8 years old from the nose. Pretty much a proofed down Rare Breed.
Taste: Upfront is a bit of fruity, grainy new make notes. A lot of wood influence starts to take over in the mid-palate and things even start to get a little bitter in the finish with some dark chocolate and tannic oak. The bitterness seems to be drowning out the Wild Turkey spice note that I love. It tastes something like a mix of a more mature Wild Turkey 101 blend and an oakier Rare Breed proofed down a few points.
Thoughts: The first time I tried this was after tasting Decades which is a pretty mature bourbon. That experience left me with an initial impression that this was rather young and not very good. Revisiting it now on its own I'm finding a lot more complexity but I still don't think it's great. It's not bad, probably on par with current Rare Breed which I am not really a fan of and truth be told I probably like regular ol' Wild Turkey 101 more. Taking the price and marketing hype into account, this is pretty lame and I feel rather ripped off. Maybe that's where the idea behind Old Ripy originated.
Rating: C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.