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. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wild Turkey Decades Review

When it comes to bourbon, Wild Turkey is dear to me. The standard 101 is the house bourbon in my bar because it's a hell of a workhorse as both a daily sipper and a cocktail base. Combine that with the fact that I can almost always find it no matter where I am and it just keeps growing on me with each passing year. Then there's Russell's Reserve Single Barrel which I would say next to Four Roses Single Barrel store selections is the best bourbon you can regularly purchase today. Yet despite winning with those great products, Wild Turkey has really shit the bed in the special release department over the last few years. Diamond was such a flop that I can still find it stinking up shelves nearly 3 years after its release. Before that there was American Spirit, Tribute, and Tradition, all of which I found many years after their release and am glad I never sunk my money into. Things did take a bit of a turn for the better last year with the 17 year Master's Keep which I enjoyed but I have a hard time recommending it based on price. Even better was the Russell's Reserve 1998 which is undoubtable the best recent Wild Turkey I've ever had but at $250 MSRP, that was a big pass for me as well. 
So now we have the second release under the Wild Turkey Master's Keep label, this time dubbed "Decades". This one comes in at a higher proof and states it is aged 10-20 years which coincidentally is a violation of TTB regulations since it doesn't list the percentages but the ineptitude of the TTB is a topic for another day. The upped proof and blended aspect read on paper like this has the potential to be one of the better Wild Turkey releases but they've let us down before so I'm proceeding with caution.
Aged 10-20 years
52% ABV
Bottle No. 50782
$170 (MSRP is more like $150)
Nose: Lots of typical bourbon sweet notes of burnt caramel and vanilla. The oak influence is pretty strong. It smells like a much older aged Wild Turkey 101 which is a great thing. 
Taste: Lots of typical bourbon wood sugars, a strong oak backbone, and a big heap of baking spices. I love the bold spicy profile of Wild Turkey and this has that in droves, especially in the finish. The slightly higher proof is undoubtably contributing to that spice tingle but it's far from overly hot and I dare say the perfect amount of heat. The mouthfeel is decent; not as lush as some older dusty Wild Turkey I've had but it's no slouch. This tastes somewhere between a cross of a hyper aged 101 and the best Russell's Reserve Single Barrel you'll ever have. 
Thoughts: This is an exemplary bourbon, especially if you are a fan of Wild Turkey. The oak influence is very strong without being overly woody so it has a lot of depth. The classic bourbon sweet notes are very present as is that hallmark Turkey spice note making for a wonderful balance of sweet, spice, and oak. I have a hard time saying that any bourbon is worth a $150 retail cost these days but of the first Master's Keep, Russell's Reserve 1998, and this, I would say that Decades is easily the best value of the three. While that price is hard to swallow, there's something to be said about the fact that this was not hard for me to obtain and if I want another one I can drive to a store right now and grab another. Given the price, I'm not going to do that but I don't regret having gone after this once. 
Rating: B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, February 20, 2017

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To Bonus: National Distillers Old Taylor Bottled in Bond 1972-1981

This is a bonus review in what was originally intended to be a 3 part series covering the ups and downs of the widely hyped bourbons from the now defunct National Distillers Group. Part One covered low end bottles that weren't worthy of much praise. Part Two stepped things up with some bottle in bond variants, one of which was pretty damn good. Part 3 is where things really kicked into high gear with the Old Grand-Dad 114 bottles that were my clear favorites.
Right as I was finished with the series a whiskey friend who had previously sent me a mystery sample I had yet to open said he had to tell me what it was. Turns out it's another bottled in bond National Distillers product from the 1980s. The 1980s bonded Old Grand-Dad faired well in my side by side tastings so I have a feeling things will go well here.
Also worth mentioning again: With a lot of these old bourbons there is a familiarity to them - some combination of lush mouthfeel, older richer oak, and other notes that I can't really describe so I just end up calling it a dusty note. I don't literally mean it tastes like dust, I'm specifically referencing that familiar combo of attributes.
Aged 9 years; 50% ABV; Thanks to /u/I_SAID_NO_GOLDFISH for the sample and photo
Color: I don't usually remark on color but it is daaaaark. Here is a side by side with a current bottle of Henry McKenna 10 year Bottled in Bond.
Nose: I could smell the old dusty funk as soon as I poured the sample. While typing up the intro here I let the pour rest in the glass and could smell the butterscotch from several feet away. Up close and personal it smells like my memory of the 1980s Old Grand-Dad. Lots of honey butterscotch and rye spice tingle. The proof is more present than the other bottled in bonds I tried and I suspect this bottle is the least oxidized of any I had yet because it is very big, bold, and rich.
Taste: Glorious. It's so viscous, thick, and chewy - it's like condensed bourbon. I've experienced this kind of concentrated intensity very recently and it was with a dusty pre-fire Heaven Hill McKenna from the 90s. This is a real powerhouse of dusty funk, caramel butterscotch sweetness, and a dash of rye spice. The finish lasts an eternity and the rye spice gets a little more bold leaving a kind of spicy Mexican dark chocolate note. 
Thoughts: A perfect, master class bourbon and I can think of no better way to close out this series. Yes, they absolutely do not make them like they used to.
Rating: A / A+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.