It’s something I’ve never had before: a 2021 release of Woodford Reserve’s so-called Masters Collection, released at batch proof. I say “a 2021 release” because even though this is—I think—an annual release, there seem to have been two put out in 2021 at different strengths. I’ve seen an allusion to this one perhaps having been a Costco exclusive but I cannot confirm this. If you know more about this, please write in below. I’m sure this was a disappointment to some/many bourbon drinkers for being bottled at less than 60% abv but I have to say I am a big fan of not putting out whiskey at ludicrous strengths. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
My week of reviews of things that are not single malt whiskies began with a blended rum on Monday and continued with a bourbon on Wednesday. It closes today, quite naturally, with a masala chai flavoured whisky.
This is a product of a Minnesota distillery: Studio Distilling in St. Paul. They seem to make a range of products—at least I think they distill all their own stuff—but I’ve not had any of the others: rye malt whiskey, bourbon, gin and, yes, three other flavoured whiskies. Another of these flavoured whiskies also involves tea, Earl Grey in that case. The masala chai variant is made not, as I had feared, by infusing grain alcohol with flavourings, but by steeping tea and spices in their rye malt base (which I assume means the wash from which the rye malt is normally distilled) and then distilling that. (The Earl Grey process is the same except it involves their bourbon base and bergamot and vanilla in addition to tea.) An unspecified period of aging then follows. I purchased a 375 ml bottle impulsively in 2020 but have not since been able to bring myself to actually try it. Until now. Continue reading
This week I am reviewing things that are not single malt whisky. On Monday I had a rum; today I have a bourbon.
Monday’s rum was a blend of rums from two unnamed distilleries, one Jamaican and one Guyanese. Today’s bourbon also has some mystery attached to it but in this case I can dispel all of it. Blaum Bros. is a craft distillery in Galena, Illinois, but they did not distill this bourbon. Hence the name: Knotter Bourbon (say it slowly). In an industry rife with brands that tell tall tales about what they do or don’t do, Blaum Bros. are refreshingly transparent. This bourbon is from a barrel acquired from the great MGP factory in Indiana; a barrel that contained 10 yo bourbon. It was bottled for a group of online ne’er do wells, the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers (or LLUA), a group of which I may or may not also be a member. This was, if I remember correctly, the group’s first private barrel selection (both Blaum brothers are also members). I’m a little hazy now on how long ago this was bottled: 2018? 2017? In fact, I thought I’d reviewed it right after I’d opened the bottle whenever it was I received it—and only recently realized that I had never gotten around to it. Now the bottle is past the halfway mark and so it seems like time to put some notes down. Continue reading
After a long run of peated malts let’s do a week of things that are not unpeated and which are also not in fact malt whisky. First up, a bourbon. This is a 1980s release of Old Crow. The current Old Crow release is a bottom-shelf mainstay and has not had a good reputation since Jim Beam purchased the brand from National Distillers in the 1980s. This sample, however, which came to me from the Artist Formerly Known as Sku, is from the pre-Beam National Distillers period. This is from one of several 375 ml releases from the era. Despite the foregoing, I know nothing about how old Old Crow was made then—I’m just hoping this will be a drinkable bourbon. Let’s see.
Here is a whisky you have probably not heard of before, from a distillery you’ve probably not heard of before. At least I had not heard of either before my friend Mike offered me a sample from his bottle. Mike spends a lot of time in Montana—in his cabin, working on his manifesto—and the distillery, Glacier Distilling, is a Montana micro-distillery. You can read more about them and find out more about their products on their website. What you won’t find there is any mention of this particular release, Swiftcurrent. I certainly didn’t. Only 742 375 ml bottles were made and I believe they were only available at the distillery. The whisky is said to be 3+ years old, which I think we can take to mean that most of it is just about 3 years old. And as per the back of the bottle it was matured in quarter casks. Young whisky from a micro-distillery, matured in small casks? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. But you know me, I always assume the best. Let’s hope this doesn’t let me down. Continue reading
Let’s close out not-single malt Scotch whisky week, and also the month, with a bourbon review. The bourbon in question is the long defunct Old Forester Bottled in Bond. Now, there is a more recent Old Forester Bottled in Bond: the 1897 Bottled in Bond, which was released in 2015. But this is not that one. This is from an earlier period. As per my bourbon informants, the split DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) numbers marked on the sample label indicates that this was made after 1980—as that was when the bourbon going into Old Forester began to be distilled at DSP 354 (the Early Times distillery). The split DSP, I am told, likely suggests distillation at plant 354 (the 345 marked on the sample label is a typo) and bottling at the old plant 414; and I think I was also told that these split DSP releases began to show up in the late 1980s. At any rate, this could not have been released after 1995 as that is when the old Bottled in Bond release went away. Now, why can’t I just ask the person who organized this bottle split if they know more about it? Well, because I have no memory of who I acquired this from or when. I’ve checked with likely sources and have completely struck out. So, if you have any more insight into this matter please write in below. And now let’s find out if the bourbon in the bottle is worth any of this fuss of trying to establish its provenance. Continue reading
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