As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I run a small whisky tasting group in our town. We’ve been meeting for near-monthly tastings for going on a decade now. Our focus is almost entirely on single malt whisky but from time to time we have been known to drink bourbon as well. For a while now I’ve harboured a fantasy of bottling a private cask of single malt whisky for our group. Alas, living in the U.S it is all but impossible to do this. I mean, you could, but getting the bottles to the US legally would be difficult to say the least, and the cost would be prohibitive. However, bottling a private barrel of bourbon is not as much of a challenge. That’s not to say it’s easy. Private citizens cannot buy directly from distilleries here; so you have to work through a store that has a private barrel program of their own and is willing to assist you. If you know such a store and if you have enough takers, you are in business. I eventually gave up my single malt cask fantasy and realized that I might know such a store*. Herewith the saga of actually getting to the point of writing this post. Continue reading
After Monday’s discontinued Heaven Hill 6, Bottled in Bond, and Tuesday’s single cask release of Heaven Hill 9, here’s a widely available bourbon: the Knob Creek Small Batch. As you may know, Knob Creek is one of Jim Beam’s fancy lines. It’s made from a low rye mash bill (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley)—the same mash bill that produces the regular Jim Beam, I think, and also Booker’s. The difference with the more downmarket Jim Beam presumably is age—the regular Knob Creek is in the 8-9 yo band, I think—and cask selection; does the difference with Booker’s go beyond Booker’s much higher abv? People who actually know about bourbon can write in and answer/correct/expand as necessary. I’ve always enjoyed Knob Creek, both as a casual sipper and in cocktails and am glad to finally get to writing up some tasting notes.
Yesterday I had a review of the Heaven Hill 6, Bottled in Bond that cost about $12; alas, it has recently been discontinued. Today I have a review of a 9 yo Heaven Hill that cost quite a bit more—I’m not sure how much exactly as it was only available from a couple of stores in Georgia and maybe also K&L in California. This is a single cask bottled by the excellent Dutch store Whiskybase for their indie label, Archives. It was part of the first set of Archives releases to make it to the US (earlier this year) and the only American whiskey in the set. The number of European indie releases of American whisky seems to have started rising in recent years and if I’m not mistaken, Heaven Hill may be more represented in this phenomenon than any other major American whiskey maker. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve randomly come across more of them. I’ve already reviewed two released by Malts of Scotland: one a Caribbean cask and one a Port cask. As far as I know this Archives cask is just a regular cask. It is, however, at a highly irregular 69.1! Continue reading
It has been almost nine months, apparently, since I last reviewed an American whiskey. To make up for that I’m going to make this a week of bourbon reviews. First up, a sample of Heaven Hill’s 6 yo Bottled in Bond release that I got from Michael K. a couple of years ago and have never gotten around to opening. Of course my timing is perfect as it turns out that this whiskey has been discontinued. Or to be more accurate, the 6 yo has been discontinued and is being replaced by a marginally older whiskey that will cost a lot more. This one did not cost much at all, as it happens, being available for not very much than $10 for a long time. On the other hand, it was never easy to get outside of Kentucky—I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a bottle on a shelf. It’s always had a good reputation though and so I’m pleased to finally get to taste, even if I will never get to taste it again, leave alone buy a full bottle, if I like it a lot. Continue reading
Last week I reviewed a Wild Turkey rye and here now is a Wild Turkey bourbon. Russell’s Reserve is the brand name they use for their higher-end releases. There are currently two regular releases of bourbon under the Russell’s Reserve label—one a 10 yo bottled at 45% and one a single barrel release at 55%. Similarly there’s a 6 yo Russell’s Reserve Rye at 45% and a single barrel version at 52%. What the exact distinction is between the whiskey bottled as Russell’s Reserve and under Wild Turkey’s various other labels, I’m not sure but I’m sure somebody will be along shortly to fill in my ignorance. This particular single barrel is from a further subset of Russell’s Reserve’s single barrel program: it’s one of many private barrel selections they’ve bottled for stores and clubs. This one was selected by an outfit called the Cleveland Bourbon Club. I have no idea who they are but they’ve bottled a number of bourbons, including three Russell’s Reserve single barrels. As per the sample label from my source, the indomitable Michael K., this was from barrel 93 and at 55%. However, on the club’s website, barrel 93, which appears to be their first Russell’s Reserve selection (you have to look at the picture), is listed at 113 proof. As to whether the Michael or the website is in error, I am not sure. Anyway, as per their site this is 8 years old. Continue reading
It has been eight months since my last review of an American whiskey (I think my review of Jack Daniel’s was the previous one). To be frank, I’ve not been drinking much American whiskey this year. Scotch whisky is very much my preference and I’ve also been trying to get control of my vast collection of single malt samples (with little success) and my open bottles of single malt whisky (with a lot more success). I do enjoy good bourbon and rye when I drink it though, even if I feel far less confident of my ability to tease out nuance in those categories than I do with single malts. All of that should give you a good sense of how seriously you should take this review of Wild Turkey’s 101 Proof rye. The source of this sample, Michael K., tells me it’s from a recent release. That’s worth knowing because the 101 proof straight rye had disappeared a few years ago, replaced by a 81 proof version, and I don’t think the previous incarnation’s mash bill was the same as that of this revived version—which is, I think, a “barely rye” with just 51% rye in the mash bill. Anyway, I’m at risk of sounding like I know what I’m talking about, and so I’m going to stop here and just get to the notes. Continue reading
Ah, Jack Daniel’s! The subject of the most tedious discussion in all of whiskey-dom (“is it or isn’t it bourbon?”); the whiskey of choice of people with Harley Davidson and Stars and Stripes tattoos; the whiskey so ubiquitous it can’t possibly be any good. Don’t worry this is not leading up to a review in which I will reveal that it is in fact very good. No, it’s only leading up to a review in which I discover that it’s…surprisingly decent. Why surprising? Well, because—being a whisky snob—I hadn’t actually had any Jack Daniel’s in well over a decade and had no memory of it. “A likely story,” you say, “that bottle in your ratty photograph is less than half-full”. As it happens, I have no idea as to how this bottle came into my possession. My guess is someone brought it to a party and left it behind. (It’s no crime: in my time I have foisted many bottles of dubious liquor onto other people.) Anyway, I thought I’d reviewed it a while ago but it turns out I’d only meant to review it but hadn’t actually gotten around to doing it. Well, now I have. Continue reading
Almost exactly a year after my review of the 2016 Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Edition, here is my review of
their 2017 release. a limited edition small batch release from last year to honour the 50 years of service of brand ambassador Al Young. This is not the annual release Small Batch Ltd. Edition, which came out later that year. In that series I’ve previously reviewed the 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 releases as well; if anyone wants to send me samples of the 2011, 2015 and 2016 releases so I can round out my reviews for the decade so far, please get in touch.
Since American distilleries tell us these things I can tell you that the Al Young release was composed in the following proportions from Four Roses’ various recipes: 5% 23 yo OBSV, 25%15 yo OBSK, 50% 13 yo OESV, and 20% 12 yo OBSF. In other words, 50% high and low rye recipes (the B and E parts), 55% from mashbills using light, fruity yeast (V), 25% from a mashbill using light, spicy yeast (K), and 20% from a mashbill using herbal yeast (F). And if it had an age statement it would be a 12 yo. What does it all add up to? Let’s find out. Continue reading
Yesterday I had a review of a readily available and always reliable single malt (the 2017 edition of the Lagavulin 12 CS); today I have a review of a readily available and always reliable bourbon: Old Weller Antique (at least I hope it’s still readily available). For the prices I paid for each bottle you could buy four of these for one of the Lagavulin and frankly, that’s probably the way to go. Then again, I have no idea what the availability of the Old Weller Antique is these days—I don’t really keep up with the bourbon world. It’s entirely possible that Buffalo Trace have reduced the supply and raised the price. I hope not: this wheated bourbon (there’s no rye in its mash bill) is one of my favourites and though I’m stocked up for a good while yet, it would be a sad world in which this was not always easily at hand. And…as I look on Winesearcher, it appears that this is not available in Minnesota anymore…Anyway, it’s about time I reviewed this. Continue reading
Might as well make it all bourbon for this week’s whisky reviews. This is the 2016 release of Four Roses’ annual Small Batch Limited Edition release. In the last four years or so this series has gone from easily findable to not-very easily findable. I purchased a bottle of the 2012 release at a store in the Twin Cities, leaving many on the shelf behind it. Shortly thereafter it was swept up in trophy bourbon hysteria and I’ve not seen a bottle in the wild. I got this one in Europe, without too much fuss, at the original retail price.
This is the first Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. that’s entirely the work of Brent Elliott, their current master distiller, who replaced the recently retired legend, Jim Rutledge. Well, “replaced” in a payroll sense: it remains to be seen if he will be able to carve out the kind of career Rutledge did. For his first Small Batch Ltd. Ed. he vatted three recipes: a 12 yo OESO, a 12 yo OBSV and a 16 yo OESK. Having memorized my Four Roses Recipe Roundup reviews, you know that this means that two of the three components are from low-rye recipes and that the yeast strains used are the fruitier O and V and the spicier K. Of course, we don’t know what the ratio of the components are and so it’s hard to predict if higher rye of the OBSV will play a big role or if the older OESK will impart both more fruit and greater oak impact. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
I was not planning to review another bourbon this week but news came in earlier on Monday of the passing of Parker Beam. Parker Beam was Heaven Hill’s master distiller from 1975 till his retirement a few years ago after he was diagnosed with ALS. It seemed like an appropriate time to raise a glass of one of the bourbons he made, and I had this bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel at hand. I did not ever meet Parker Beam and nor am I going to pretend to know very much about him—I’m not a bourbon maven by any means. But even I know enough to know that he was a true giant of the whiskey world, a true master distiller, one of those who shaped modern bourbon. And though I don’t know if it’s true, I’d like to believe that the fact that so many of Heaven Hill’s lineup of very drinkable bourbons are also very, very affordable bourbons has something to do with him. Even now, with everything that’s going on with Elijah Craig, Heaven Hill makes excellent whiskey for everyone—and there are very few distilleries around the world that can say that. Certainly the Evan Williams Single Barrel series has been synonymous with high quality for a very long time and it’s very easily found in the neighbourhood of $20. It may not be the greatest bourbon available from Heaven Hill but it’s an appropriate bourbon to toast him with: here’s to you, Mr. Beam! Continue reading
Henry McKenna is another of Heaven Hill’s brands, and probably one of its least well-known—and some would say it’s one of the best secrets in bourbon. It’s made with the 75% corn/13% rye recipe that is also used to make Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. It comes in two iterations, something called Henry McKenna Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey—which goes for just over $10 in these parts—and this Bottled in Bond version, which goes for just less than $30. I’ve never had the one with the longer name and the lower price—I’m not sure how old it is or how it compares to the similarly priced Evan Williams. The Bottled in Bond version, however, sticks out in the contemporary bourbon landscape like a thumb that is destined to be chopped off without warning: what I mean is that it is sold in single barrel form, at 50% (as all Bottled in Bond bourbon has to be), and most shockingly, it is 10 years old. The regular Four Roses Single Barrel, by comparison, is not only more expensive, it bears no age statement. Continue reading
Here is the last installment of my Four Roses recipe roundup—try to contain your excitement. On the advice of more knowledgeable people, I’m ending the series with low and high-rye variations on the K yeast strain, which is said to be their spiciest. Let’s get right to it—I’ll have more comments on the entire exercise at the end.
Four Roses 10, OESK (55.6%; single barrel for Beach Liquors; from a bottle split)
Nose: Toasted oak and cinnamon up top; pine and sour plum below. Gets quite spicy as it sits, with some nose-tingling black pepper and red chilli flakes in there too; some salt too. Softens up with more time and more fruit begins to poke through (apricot) and there’s some light toffee too. Fruitier with water but also more herbal. Continue reading
My planned Four Roses recipe roundup went on an unplanned hiatus after the first three entries in November. I’ll be finishing up now before the year is out. To refresh your memory, I’m reviewing paired single casks of the OE (low-rye) and OB (high-rye) mashbills made with a different yeast strain each time. I started out with OESQ/OBSQ, went from there to the OESV/OBSV, and then to the OESO/OBSO. The original plan had been to do the K strain next and end with the F. However, people who know better recommended I flip the order of the last two, and so here I am now with the OESF/OBSF pair. As with the previous pairs, both of these bottles come from single cask selections made by liquor stores. This series got off to a very good start for me with the Q strain; I liked the V and O a little less. Here’s hoping the F will be closer to the Q casks in quality. The F strain is said to be the most herbal one, and I’m interested to see if that means that this will be the most rye’ish of the recipes. Let’s see how it goes. Continue reading