Sunday, January 20, 2019

Old Ezra Barrel Strength Review

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

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Knob Creek Twice Barreled Rye Review

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Darroze Unique Collection Reviews - 1977 Domaine De La Poste, 1980 Domaine De La Poste, and 1982 Domaine De Jouanchicot

Here is a trio of Armagnacs from the Darroze Unique Collection. My area doesn't get a lot of vintage Armagnacs but Darroze is one of the few that can be found. Unfortunately because it's next to impossible to try them before buying and the prices are so incredibly high I've never pulled the trigger. Lucky for me though a nice fellow in the Serious Brandy group arranged a large group buy of these last year and the price was hard to resist. I didn't know much about any of them so I just made some wild guesses based on vintage and price.

1982 Domaine De Jouanchicot

Bas-Armagnac; Bottled in 2015, Aged 33 years; 42.5% ABV; $119
Color-wise this is by far the darkest of the three. Nose is very caramel and raisin forward. On the palate the caramel sweetness falls off and it's mostly tannins and grapes. The tannins get stronger as it goes as the finish is rather bitter. It's rather weak on impact on all fronts, the low proof is certainly evident. Overall this is too thin and over-oaked for my tastes. Rating: C-

1980 Domaine De La Poste

Armagnac; Bottled in 2016, Aged 36 years; 48.3% ABV; $142
This is by far the lightest in color of the three. The nose is funky and not in a good way, it doesn't really smell like Armagnac. Its very molasses and sweet forward, almost like a rum. I don't like rum. The palate is just as bonkers - there are minimal lush raisin / dark fruit notes I look for in grape distilled sprits. There is a fair bit of a distilled malt type sweetness, like a Highland Scotch that was finished in Armagnac barrels. It's really thin on the wood depth too and the finish is pretty flat. This is really bizarre and blind I would have never guessed it's as old as it is or that it was even Armagnac. Rating: C-

1977 Domaine De La Poste

Armagnac; Bottled in 2017, Aged 40 years; 49% ABV; $144
We are back in a good place here on the nose. Rich dates, figs, and sweet caramel goodness. Palate is a knockout compared to the previous two. There is a lot of wood depth and a lot more of those caramel glazed date / prune notes from the nose. The finish has a lot of wood but also a lot of sweet and fruit to keep it from being an oak monster. This tastes like a proper, hyped aged, classic Armagnac. I've had richer, more intense experiences but this has every bit of the profile I chase after. It it was a little higher in proof I could see this being up there with the hyped Lous Pibous type stuff. Rating: B+
For shits and giggles I blended equal parts of the 82 and 80 as I did not want to finish the pours. It turned out surprising well as the oddball sweetness of the 80 balanced out the overly bitter 82 and gave it a nice proof bump. I'd give it a C+.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

2003 L'Encantada "Lous Pibous" No. 183 Review

L'Encantada is an independent bottler that has recently made a name for themselves in the brandy world, largely due to a slew of stellar private selections. While L'Encantada have sourced from several domaines, the most buzz is around casks from Lous Pibous. I've previously covered several of these before, all of which I gave unusually high marks so the bar here is very high. Today I'm covering a bottle selected by Lincoln Road Package Store which has a great reputation for picking excellent casks. I believe this cask (and most or all other Lous Pibous) was aged in new charred oak, is bottled at cask strength, and contains no additional additives.
Bas Armagnac; Aged 14 years; 56.5% ABV; $155 (w/ tax)
Nose: Caramel covered candied raisins. There is a lot of wood influence and a lot of purple fruits. It's very rich and very classic bourbony Lous Pibous Armagnac.
Taste: A jolt of caramel, sugary dates, oak, and spice. The mouthfeel is very viscous - you can almost chew on this stuff. The finish has a lot of spice, a lot of mocha, some dark prunes, and some dry oak. The heavy presence of sweet and fruit notes prevent the oak from taking over to the point of being overly bitter. All around it's very bold in both flavors and punch. If there are any flaws it's that the ethanol is a touch high which probably would have been smoothed out if it aged longer.
Thoughts: This was the youngest Lous Pibous I've tried so going in I was skeptical because of the age. Those fears were definitely misplaced as this is fantastic. If the older legendary Lous Pibous casks like 124, 187, and 188 are equatable to old Willett Bernheim ryes, then this younger one is akin to Thomas Handy. Most all the casks I've had from this domaine are very bourbon or even rye like yet with a wallop of fruity grape / raisin influence and this one is no exception.
Rating: B+ / A-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Elijah Craig Barrel Select 125 Proof Review

Here today we have a gift shop only release from the folks over at Heaven Hill which is affectionately referred to as the Elijah Craig "hand grenade" for obvious reasons. It seems this product exists solely for the purpose of gift shop distribution which I think is great - I wish more distillery gift shops would do bottle sizes like this. The standard Elijah Craig dropped an age statement a couple years ago but is still a blend of 8+ year old stock. I actually like the new blend better than the old age statement product simply because it's not as oak forward / bitter. I'm expecting this is a higher proof version of the current standard product and as such I expect it will be pretty good.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 62.5% ABV; $25 / 200ml
Nose: A bit hot for 125 proof - the ethanol is very noticeable. Underneath that it is a wallop of wood and maple syrup sugary notes which are reminiscent of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
Taste: Upfront taste is more of the same from the nose, a ton of woody sugar notes. Lots of oak but it's not overly bitter or dry. Along with all that wood influence are syrupy sweet notes for days - it's like drinking bourbon pancakes. The finish is a lot of those woody and sweet notes but there are also traces of ashy char and harsh ethanol which are just a touch too hot for my taste.
Thoughts: This is good but not great. It's not as elegant or easy as the standard Elijah Craig nor is it as bold / punch you in the mouth as the 12 year Barrel Proof. As such, it seems to kinda dance around in the middle without much of an identity. It wants to be brash and it has the proof to be so but it's missing all the wood punch that makes that boldness work for the Barrel Proof. It's a nice novelty product but I won't be clamoring for them to release anything like this nationwide anytime soon.
Rating: B / B-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Virgin Bourbon Review

Here today we have an uncommon bottle from a weird off brand of Heaven Hill. It's a bit of a sleeper due to the fact that it has very limited geographical distribution but if you happen to live in North Carolina apparently this stuff is dirt cheap and plentiful. I also hear that it's available in Alabama and Japan but I have no idea if it is quite as cheap there. I've had good experiences with similar Heaven Hill products like their 6 year old Bottled in Bond as well as a Luxco Heaven Hill sourced bourbon that shares these exact stats in Old Ezra 101 7 year so I expect this to go well.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Aged 7 years; 50.5% ABV; $11
Nose: The poster child of a no frills bourbon - corn, vanilla, oak, sweet caramel. There are hints of grainy new make which tells that while it has plenty of age, there is still a little youth to it.
Taste: A well rounded combo of sweet and oak with a little rye and char bite in the finish. The 101 proof gives it a nice kick in the pants without being overly hot. Again there are traces of younger new make grainy corn mash which are in-line with what you'd expect from a bourbon at this age. It's about as classic bourbon as you can get.
Thoughts: No surprises here, it tastes exactly like a seven year old 101 proof bourbon from a long tenured distillery should. I'm going off memory but this is on par with the Old Ezra 101 so it wouldn't surprise me if it's the same product with a different label. Considering this is significantly cheaper than the Ezra, that makes this the best bourbon I've ever had under $20. If this was available here at the same price it would easily overtake Wild Turkey 101 as my house whiskey since it's less than half the price and just about as enjoyable. 
Rating: C+ / B-
Thanks to /u/rhinusdax for the generous gift of this bottle and be sure to check out his review here.
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Evan Williams Review

Here today we have the flagship of the Heaven Hill whiskey line. Last I checked, I believe this is the third best selling American whiskey in the world behind Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's. I like the Bottled in Bond variant of this which is also no age statement but comes in at 100 proof. While the proof on that one is nice, it definitely drinks like a barely no age statement bourbon in that it tastes right at 4 years old with a good bit of corn / grain forward mash notes. I've can't recall the last time I had regular Evan Williams though and even if I could I've never had much of it so I'm going in with a blank slate here. 
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; No Age Statement; 43% ABV; $7 (375ml)
Nose: Yep, smells like bourbon. A lot of sweet wood sugary notes and a good amount of oak. It's got a fair bit more wood depth than I expected as the young grainy notes are there but minor. 
Taste: A lot more of the nose. It's mostly all sweet and wood. Upfront it's sugary caramel which transitions to a darker burnt sugars like creme brulee in the finish. There are hints of a nutty note like peanut brittle which is something I am getting more and more often in Heaven Hill products these days. Again there's quite a bit more wood influence than I expected which is doing well to keep any young corn grain mash notes at bay. It's as easy to drink as you'd expect for 86 proof though I wouldn't say it's watery. 
Thoughts: This is better than I expected. It certainly runs circles around Beam and Jack as it has a lot more depth than those. I went in guessing this was barely four years old but going off profile here I'd guess it's more like 6-7. In a similar comparison, I consider Maker's Mark the baseline of an average drinkable bourbon and this is better than that too. If I had to nitpick, it is pretty much a two trick pony of sweet and wood with not much else and the proof is holding it back. Overall, it's a nice, classic bourbon that comes in at a great price and would be a great choice as a house bourbon to share with company.
Rating: C+ / C
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Russell's Reserve 2002 vs. Wild Turkey Master's Keep Revival Reviews

Two limited edition products from Wild Turkey released around the same time. One is an expensive 12-15 year old at 101 proof and finished in 20 year old Oloroso Sherry casks. The other is a super limited, super expensive, barrel proof, 16 year old. I love Wild Turkey and Eddie Russell is easily my favorite current master distiller in the industry so this should be fun.

Wild Turkey Master's Keep Revival

Aged 12 - 15 years; 50.5% ABV; Batch 0001; Bottle 38558; $150
Nose: Fruity, older bourbon. The sherry notes are pretty evident and add a nice grape jam layer on top of the sweet, spice, and oak. 
Taste: Lots of typical bourbon notes up front - honey and vanilla followed by familiar Wild Turkey baking spices and lots of fruit glaze. The tail ends off with a hefty dose of charred oak, light spice, and a lot of fruity jam. Again the sherry finish is very evident. Without the fruit notes it very much reminds me of the exported 12/101 that was still being sold overseas up until a few years ago.
Thoughts: I've loved this from the moment I opened it and that feeling remains. It has all the familiarity of a great Russell's Reserve Single Barrel or 12/101 Wild Turkey with a nice dose of fruitiness mingled throughout. This is easily my favorite release in the Master's Keep line and the first one I've ever liked enough to buy a second. If I had any criticism it would be the finish is a touch char heavy / bitter.
Rating: B+

Russell's Reserve 2002

No Age Statement (Distilled 2002, Bottled 2018); 57.3% ABV; Bottle 3085/3640; $250
Nose: A lot more intensity than the Revival which is to be expected given the proof bump. It's not any hotter than it should be for 57% though. Smells like a ramped up older Russell's Reserve Single Barrel. 
Taste: Lots of sweet bourbon notes initially - honey, caramel, graham cracker. That slowly transitions to more wood and baking spice in the middle and lingers on through the finish. It is hefty on the wood and baking spices. I get faint hints of what nerds often refer to as dusty turkey notes. Tasted blind I might suspect this was a vintage Wild Turkey like the donut bottling.
Thoughts: As someone who loves Russell's Reserve Single Barrel, this is very good. There are no surprises here, it tastes exactly like what it should based on the specs. If there are any faults it might be that it is a touch heavy in the oak department on the finish and almost starts to trigger my bitterness flags.
Rating: B+ / A-

Overall Thoughts: I don't really want to pick a winner here as these are two totally different animals. I love the dark brooding fruit forward profile of the Revival as it's very unique. On the flip-side, the 2002 is a classic high proof old bourbon. Though the 2002 might be the slightly better of the two, I've had more things like the 2002 than the Revival so if you pressed me to pick a desert island pour, I'd ask for the Revival. As for the value, I certainly wouldn't recommend the 2002 at retail or anything beyond that. There are lots of bottles I'd rather have that were 1/5th the price so I'm glad I split this one with a buddy rather than going all in myself.

Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Review

Nelson's Green Brier is a local distillery in Nashville that has been distilling their own bourbon for about 2 years. Like most other startup distilleries, they have been selling a sourced product while their own distillate comes of age. Belle Meade currently comes in quite a few forms, all of which is based on MGP bourbon. Of all their products, I find their higher aged cask strength single barrels to be the best. MGP bourbon like any single barrel can vary in quality though and as such off the shelf bottles can sometimes be a slight gamble. That's why I was intrigued to learn the Nelson's released a new product, Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve. According to the website, it is a cask strength, non chill filtered, small batch blend of 7-11 year old high rye bourbon.
No Age Statement; 59.4% ABV; Batch no. 1; $60
Nose: Classic spicy bourbon. Vanilla and caramel wood sweets with tons of rye spice. The heat is well tamed for 120 proof.
Taste: Honey caramel sweets upfront, spicy cinnamon blast in the middle, and a finish of sweet / spicy oak. Throughout the start and finish are the hallmark red fruit notes I usually get in Four Roses OBSV which makes sense since MGP shares the mother V yeast with them. While there are touches of old oak, the wood notes have a lot of maturity and depth without being overly bitter. 
Thoughts: This is great - sweet, spice forward, and the right amount of wood balance. Unlike some older MGP bourbons I've had that could be a touch too bitter, the blend of ages is really working well. On top of all that, it's rather easy to drink considering it's 120 proof. While this isn't quite the best MGP bourbon I've ever had, it's better than any MGP bourbon I've had in quite a while. I love that this is a blend so if you get the same batch you know exactly what you are getting. I wish more folks buying up MGP whiskey would do this with their older stock.
Rating: B+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Wild Turkey Longbranch Review

In 2016 Matthew McConaughey signed on as Wild Turkey's creative director. At first his presence was just a short film and then a few commercials but here today we have a new product from them with his name on it. According to a press release it's an 8 year old Wild Turkey bourbon that's been refined (read: filtered) through oak and Texas mesquite charcoal because McConaughey has roots there. It sounds rather gimmicky to me but as a fan of Wild Turkey that is saddened a lot of drinkers don't take their products seriously I'm all for any positive publicity.
No Age Statement; 43% ABV; $40
Nose: Light and easy. Smells like your typical bourbon of vanilla, caramel, honey, and oak. It has some age as any grainy corn mash notes are virtually nonexistent. 
Taste: Like the nose, it's mostly all sweets and oak. It's on the light side in terms of heat so super easy to drink. The lack of proof makes this slant heavily towards a sweet profile which dominates over any woodiness. There's some of the familiar Wild Turkey baking spices in the finish but the spices are mild compared to their flagship 101. Again it tastes like it has some age as there are not really any youthful corn grain notes like I get traces of in Wild Turkey 101.
Thoughts: It tastes exactly like what you'd expect - a slightly more mature Wild Turkey 101 but less bold and noticeably more thin. The flavors are nice but I can't help but think how much better this would be at 101 proof. As a whiskey nerd knowing the significance of 101 to them, I find the proof here mildly infuriating. Having said that, I realize I'm not the target market - this is likely aimed at people who think "smooth" is what makes a great bourbon. Along those lines they've certainly succeeded because it is definitely easy to drink yet still carrying that hallmark Wild Turkey profile. If I were asked to recommend a bourbon to a new whiskey drinker this would be a good suggestion. As for a salty old dog like me though, it was fun to experience and I hope it's successful for them but it's not going to topple my reigning house whiskey, Wild Turkey 101.
Rating: C+
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.