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
Here is the third entry in my Four Roses recipe roundup. Already posted this week: head-to-head reviews of OESQ and OBSQ barrels and of OESV and OBSV barrels. I really liked both barrels of the the Q, preferring the low-rye OE selection a little more. I was less excited about both V barrels, preferring the high-rye OB in that case. What will be the story with this pairing, which features the O yeast strain? Four Roses says it imparts rich fruit, light vanilla, caramel and full-bodied texture—that should put it right in my wheelhouse. Let’s see.
Once again, these are both store selections. They’re also both 10 year olds, though the OBSO is at a whopping 60.6% abv to the OESO’s 52.6%!
Here is the second installment of my Four Roses recipe roundup. For details on what I’m doing check out this post from last week. And see here for my head-to-head review of two single barrels, one low-rye (OE) and one high-rye (OB) made with the “Q” yeast. Today’s head-to-head features the “V” yeast, which is said to impart light fruit, light vanilla, caramel and a creamy texture. In today’s pairing the OESV is at a higher strength and is two years younger but I’m starting with it anyway as I expect the higher-rye recipe will be bolder in general (and it’s not like 57.6% is very much lower anyway). Today’s barrels are also store selections—I’m not sure where these stores are located or what their reputations are vis a vis single barrel picks. Anyway, I really liked yesterday’s OESQ/OBSQ pairing; I’m hoping these will at least match them. Florin (the man who filmed the moon landing) predicted that I would like the “V” yeast recipes the best but he also enjoys plum brandy so who knows what that is worth. Continue reading
Here is the first of my head-to-head reviews of Four Roses’ various bourbon recipes. You can read far more detail about this than you care about in my post about this last week. Basically, I’m going to be comparing Four Roses low and high-rye recipes in pairs—each review will feature a comparison of the OE (low rye) and OB (high rye) mashbill with the same strain of yeast (there are five yeast strains and so there’ll be five posts with paired reviews). At least in theory, I should be able to get some sense of how the mashbill interacts with the yeast. All the reviews will feature pairs of single barrel releases selected by various stores. In this case the two barrels are of the same age (more or less; in addition to the age in years, Four Roses includes additional months but I’ve disregarded that). They’re also at fairly similar strengths. Doubtless there are other variables as well (warehouse location, for example) and it’s also unsound to take any single barrel as representative. With those caveats in mind let’s jump in.
Oh yes, the “Q” yeast strain is said to impart floral notes. Continue reading
No, I’m not cooking with Four Roses. I’ve recently acquired single barrel samples of all 10 of Four Roses’ bourbon recipes and will be tasting and writing them up soon. This post is to invite your feedback on my proposed tasting plan.
First, for those who don’t know: Four Roses uses two mashbills and five yeast strains. This means they have five recipes for each of their mashbills. This recipe is indicated on bottles (where relevant) by a four letter code. All the codes have O as the first letter and S as the third letter. The “O” identifies the distillery and the “S” indicates that it’s a straight whiskey. The second letter indicates the mashbill: “B” for the high-rye mashbill, which is 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley; and “E” for the low-rye mashbill, which is 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. So all Four Roses recipe codes will start either OBS or OES. The fourth letter indicates the strain of yeast used. There are five of these: “F” imparts herbal notes; “K” imparts light spiciness, light caramel and full-bodied texture; “O” imparts rich fruit, light vanilla, caramel and full-bodied texture; “Q” imparts floral notes; and “V” imparts light fruit, light vanilla, caramel and a creamy texture. Continue reading
Last week I reviewed the standard-issue George Dickel No. 12, which—despite the number—is said to be about 6-8 years old. Here now is a Dickel with an unambiguous age statement. It’s also unlike its younger brethren in that it is the very opposite of easy to find and the very opposite of a good value. It was released only at the distillery’s visitor center and only in 375 ml bottles for which they ask $75. Or in other words, $150 for a full bottle equivalent. There was also the usual Diageo story attached to it of casks lost and serendipitously found. I guess this is their way of telling us that it’s only by accident that they age whiskies up these days.
Anyway, I quite like the No. 12—a quirky American whiskey with some unique notes. If this is made in the same way that the No. 12 is I’m curious to see what happens to those notes with nearly another decade in oak. Continue reading
I’ve previously reviewed two releases of George Dickel that were private barrel store selections: one a 14 yo for Park Avenue Liquor in NYC and the other a 9 yo for Ace Spirits right here in Minnesota. If you need more information on the distillery I have the bare minimum in that second link (even more briefly: Dickel is the Tennessee whiskey you can tell people you like without feeling a sense of shame).
My review today is of the regular issue George Dickel No. 12. No, it isn’t 12 years old, apparently somewhere in the 8-9 yo range. They also put out a No. 8 which is apparently somewhere in the 6 yo range. And they also have a No. 1 which is unaged whisky. They have an interesting approach to numbers in Tullahoma. Anyway, I’ve had the No. 12 a number of times at bars and quite liked it. Here now is a formal review. Continue reading
As I don’t really follow bourbon news I didn’t know anything about this oddly named release of Booker’s, not even that it existed, until Florin (a man who owns many red sweaters) sent me a sample. It turns out that this is one of several batches of Booker’s released last year to commemorate the career of Booker Noe (the man who created Booker’s back in 1992 and whose name is on every bottle). I had a terrible suspicion that “Noe Secret” was a pun on “no secret” and I am sorry to have to inform you that this is in fact true: apparently the man had no secrets. Well, I guess that’s better than a story claiming that this was a batch made from one of his secret recipes. Anyway, it’s at as high a strength as most other Booker’s releases (a very specific 64.05%) and is apparently six years, eight months and seven days old—which is a long way of saying that it is six years old. Let’s see if it’s as good as the regular batch of Booker’s I reviewed last week. Continue reading
So far my reviews of Beam’s extensive line of bourbons have not extended past two expressions of Old Grand-Dad (the 80 proof and 114 proof versions). Booker’s is at the other end of their product line in terms of status. Along with Knob Creek, Baker’s and Basil Hayden’s it is part of Beam’s “small batch” collection. And where Old Grand-Dad is made from Beam’s high rye mashbill—shared by Basil Hayden’s—Booker’s is made from a mash bill that is only 13% rye. It’s a high octane bourbon though, bottled at barrel strength (though not from single barrels), and regularly comes out in the early-mid 60s abv-wise. It is said to be routinely 6-8 years old. Until recently the year of distillation could be easily derived from the batch code on the bottle. My sample, for example, comes from the CO5-A-12 batch, which apparently means it was put in barrels in 2005 (I guess the entire batch is always from the same vintage). The newer batch codes are apparently harder to decipher but that’s neither here nor there. Booker’s probably has the strongest reputation of all of Beam’s high-end bourbons among bourbon aficionados, and its high strength in particular often seems to me to be part of its appeal—it’s not unusual to come across bourbon drinkers who never seem to add any water to their implausibly strong bourbons (whether Booker’s or George T. Stagg). I’m afraid that’s not going to be the case with this review. Continue reading
When I first heard of Tom’s Foolery Bourbon, I thought, wow, that’s inappropriate. But then I looked into it and discovered that Tom’s Foolery isn’t a chain that hosts birthday parties for small children but a small, craft distillery in Ohio. Normally the words “craft distillery” fill me with horror—some of my least positive (or most negative, if you prefer) experiences with American whiskey have come courtesy craft distilleries (ye olde Balcones, Seven Stills, Coppersea and Koval, for example). But I was charmed by their low-tech website and by the fact that they say that their products are for “hard-working people, for adventurers, and for dreamers”—all three of those are things I pretend to be while I lie on my couch, mindlessly reloading the same sequence of websites every hour of every day of the week. Do I dare try this bourbon these fine hard-working, adventurous dreamers have put out? I dasn’t not! Especially since it’s actually four years and not four months old and they are not shamelessly charging the earth for it. Continue reading