Monday, August 19, 2019

Four Roses Small Batch Select Review

Here today is Four Roses first new product in 12 years. It is a blend of V, K, and F yeasts across both their high rye and higher rye mashbills. As a Four Roses fanboy who loves the K and V recipes and has had some success with F, I was personally very excited for this product. Four Roses Single Barrel is one of my rotating daily drivers and though the price here would prevent it from working its way into daily rotation, I have high expectations this will be a quality product worthy of the occasional splurge purchase.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 6-7 years; 52% ABV; Non-chill Filtered; $60
Nose: Caramel, red fruits, and a good amount of sugary oak. I say this over and over again but to me the classic Four Roses calling card is caramel covered red fruits, like candy red apples. The nose here has that in droves. There is also a bit of sugary sweet cinnamon spice like big red gum which I would attribute to OBSK. Things are off to a good start.
Taste: All of the same from the nose. Sugary wood, sugary spice, sugary red fruits. The finish has some chocolatey red fruits and a touch of milder spice that linger for a while. Overall the wood depth seems spot on for 7ish years old and there are only faint hints of untamed ethanol in the mix.
Thoughts: I was expecting a lot and this delivered. It tastes like quintessential, classic Four Roses. The price is reasonable, I didn't have a hard time finding it, and I could have bought as much of it as I wanted. My only knock is I wish it had a touch more age and maybe a tad more proof, like say 8 years and 107 but in this day and age of bourbon hysteria I am pretty happy with it as is. 
Rating: B
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

George Dickel Bottled in Bond Review

George Dickel is a very polarizing product amongst whiskey enthusiasts because as many folks will tell you, it has an incredibly distinct taste and smell that most people liken to vitamins. Open the seal on fresh bottle of multivitamins and smell it - that's sort of what Dickel whiskey can taste and smell like on top of all the usual corny/sweet/woody bourbon notes. It's a very odd flavor that many folks find off putting but over the years I've come to appreciate that odd profile as something different - something along the lines of bourbon being my wife and George Dickel being my mistress. 
As of late, there's been a flood of Dickel based products on the market. On top of the official single barrel store picks from Dickel themselves, we've also seen a ton of NDPs offer it as a sourced product. One in particular that comes to mind are the folks over at Barrell who have been releasing cask strength 13-14 year old Tennessee sourced bourbon that almost certainly is from Dickel. I've enjoyed some of those quite a lot however the $110 price tag has kept me from going back to the well very often. My good experiences with well aged Dickel across the board had me excited to see Dickel themselves releasing an older age product with a decent proof and a very reasonable price point. The best Dickel branded products I've ever had were the 14 year single barrels that clocked in around 106 proof. This product seems really close to those in terms of specs so I'm going into this with high expectations. 
Tennessee Bottled in Bond Whiskey; No Age Statement (Fall 2005 Vintage Statement); 50% ABV; $36
Nose: There is no escaping the familiar Dickel multivitamins. Also per usual with Dickel there is a heavy smoked corn component, something along the lines of charred cornbread. 
Taste: All the same from the nose. A brief jolt of Dickel minerals, charred corn, and slight musty oak. The finish briefly lingers with almost no flavor other than Dickel minerals and burnt charred wood but even that doesn't last long.
Thoughts: Throwing the specs out the window and judging this as a regular whiskey with no context, this is borderline okay. Bring the specs back into the equation though and judge this for what it should be and it's a miserable failure. They must have filtered the everlasting shit out of this because there is no way it tastes like it's 100 proof. It's so incredible thin and the finish is so incredibly short I'm baffled. I don't know how Diageo managed to royally fuck up what could have been a fantastic release but kudos to them for finding a way to ruin something that should have been great.
Rating: D+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Knob Creek Small Batch Review

Here today we have Jim Beam's flagship premium small batch bourbon. For the longest time it used to carry a 9 year age statement however a couple years or so ago it was removed. In an interesting recent twist however it was just announced that Beam would be adding the age statement back which is a circle of events I don't think we've ever seen before in bourbon. 
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 50% ABV; $35
Nose: Very typical bourbon nose - woody, vanilla/caramel. A bit of the familiar Jim Beam peanut funk is mixed in as well. It might be slightly boring as far as bourbons go but not bad.
Taste: Just like the nose it checks all the boxes of a middle aged bourbon. There is a good amount of wood, a good amount of sweets, and 100 proof gives it plenty of umpf. I know this doesn't have an age statement but I would guess this is still pretty close to 9 years old if not actually still that old. Beam peanut is pretty pervasive as the sweets take on a peanut brittle kind of flavor. The finish lasts quite a bit and is kind of hot for the proof but lingers with a little rye bit on top of the aforementioned flavors.
Thoughts: It's not very exciting but if you don't mind a hefty dose of nutty flavors in your bourbon this will certainly get the job done. This isn't something I buy regularly as I feel there are better values for the money in this price range but if I am out at a bar with a less than stellar selection I can almost always count on this being available and I never regret getting it.
Rating: B- (80/100)
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

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.