Old Grand-Dad, 80 Proof

Old Grand-Dad, 80 Proof
No, my nose and palate are not back in action (though I’m close): I just realized that I’d never actually published these notes on my bottle of Old Grand-Dad that were taken a long time ago (the picture is of the current state of the bottle, which is nearly empty). Here they are now with a newly-written “introduction”.

As you probably know, the Old Grand-Dad line is one of several put out by Beam. Other than their eponymous, and most famous, Jim Beam label, the distillery also puts out a number of premium “small batch” brands (Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Baker’s and Booker’s); Old Grand-Dad is at the other end of the price spectrum (but is made from the same mash bill as Basil Hayden, which makes sense as the old grand-dad referred to in the name is the actual Basil Hayden). This 40% abv version can be purchased by the liter for less than $15, a Bottled in Bond version at 50% abv  goes for not too many dollars more and the 114 at 57% comes in shy of $30 in most markets. The cognoscenti will tell you that it’s the latter two that you should buy, and they’re not wrong, but as a man of the people here I am with a review of the lowliest in the line.  Continue reading

Evan Williams, Black Label

Evan Williams
This may be one of the most pointless reviews I’ve yet posted (and that’s saying a lot). Everyone who drinks American whiskey knows that the regular Evan Williams, the one with the black label (it’s not actually called Evan Williams Black Label) is one of the great values in bourbon. Indeed, I am tempted to say (and probably have said in the past) that it may be the single best value in the entire whisky/whiskey world. It is a bourbon that contains all the quintessential characteristics of the category; it’s not going to provide the best example of any of those individual characteristics but it takes nothing off the table. You can reach for it any night that you want to drink some bourbon and not be disappointed. And you can get a liter bottle in most stores for just about what you’ll pay for a 1.5 oz pour of many equally ordinary but far less balanced single malts at bars. This is an everyday drinker that you can stock for less discriminating guests without any sense of shame and that you can drink happily alongside them.  Continue reading

High West Bourye, 2015 Release

High West, Bourye, 2015 Release
The first release of High West’s Bourye was in 2010. As Sku tells us, this was not the first blend of bourbon and rye (hence the name—everybody at the company must have been very tired that day) but it was the first premium blend of bourbon and rye. It was very well received (I wasn’t drinking much American whiskey then myself). I’m not sure how many more releases there have been of it since. In his review of a 2016 batch Sku refers to “the return of Bourye”, but this sample is from a 2015 release. If anyone knows more about this please chime in below. And please chime in as well if you know what exactly the 2015 release is a blend of. [Update: see the comments.]

I’ve not had very many of High West’s releases and while I’ve liked all I’ve tried a fair bit, I’m yet to have one that I’ve truly been blown away by (i.e nothing has made it to 90 points in my system). But I do appreciate that, unlike so many new American distilleries they don’t just release re-labelled sourced whiskey with only a tedious story tacked on to it. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.  Continue reading

Heaven Hill 14, 2001, Caribbean Cask Finish (Malts of Scotland)

Heaven Hill, Caribbean Cask
I can’t say I’d ever wondered what bourbon finished in a rum cask would be like; but when a store I was purchasing samples from substituted this for something else I’d wanted that they were out of, I discovered that I quite wanted to find out. Rum finishes in the single malt world have never quite convinced me—the Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask is the only one I can remember liking a fair bit. But Balvenie’s malt is a mild one and it’s not hard to see an overlap with a sweet and caramelly rum profile. Bourbon, on the other hand, is altogether more robust and I’m curious to see what impression, if any, the rum finish has been able to make on this one.

The bourbon in question was distilled by Heaven Hill and it was bottled by Malts of Scotland—this was bottled this year, so not in the same lot of releases that included the port finish I reviewed earlier this year as well as a sherry finish. I still have no idea whether these were all Heaven Hill experiments that Malts of Scotland ended up with and released as is, or if the finishing was done not at the distillery but in Germany. If you know more about this please write in below.   Continue reading

Jefferson’s Ocean, Batch 19

Jefferson's Ocean, Batch 19
Sku, the source of my sample, reviewed this bourbon on Monday. He’s forgotten more about bourbon than I know but I’m going to follow his review anyway. If nothing else, I will give you more than the four nouns and two adjectives that Sku shared with us (he’s not paid by the word there).

As to whether the makers of Jefferson’s Ocean, one of the most preposterous brands in the recent history of American whiskey (that’s saying something), deserve more than four nouns and two adjectives I don’t know. They probably don’t. They started out with a ridiculous concept and have somehow managed to squeeze another 20 releases out of it. Is each batch aged on a boat on a different ocean? Is one of them the Salton Sea? Or did they play Billy Ocean’s greatest hits to the maturing barrels? We will never know. Or care.   Continue reading

Col. E.H. Taylor, Bourbon and the Problem of Tradition

E.H. Taylor: Buffalo Trace Sell Sheet

Indeed.

Here is my threatened follow-up post on some of the issues that came up when I was idly looking up the history of Colonel E.H. Taylor for my review of his namesake Small Batch bourbon released by Buffalo Trace. Before I get into it, let me first say what this is not and what it is.

It is not scholarship or even journalism: if I were doing either of those things I would spend months or weeks researching the subject. I would read every book on bourbon history to see to what extent and how this material has already been written about; I would investigate the archives of the distilleries and of the relevant locations (Frankfort, KY, for example); I would read historical studies of the Civil War and Reconstruction; I would interview experts like Chuck Cowdery, Mike Veach and Reid Mitenbuler. I have done none of these things because this is not scholarship or even journalism (and should not be confused with or held to the standards of those enterprises).

What this is is a blog post: it’s exploratory, it’s speculative, it’s a clearing of space in my own head which might possibly lead to more detailed exploration down the road or it might not; hopefully it will invite responses from people who can fill in all the things I would know if I’d done the research and point me to other places to look; and, even if it’s all redundant, hopefully it will spur some discussion: there are subjects which even if already known benefit from regular discussion and I think this might be one of them.

Continue reading

E.H. Taylor Cured Oak, 17 yo

E.H.Taylor Cured Oak, 17 yo
Here is another bourbon from Buffalo Trace’s E.H. Taylor line. In my review on Wednesday of the Small Batch release in the line, and in the comments posted later, I made some observations about aspects of the history of the man whose name is on this series, Col. E.H. Taylor. I’d thought that I’d expand on and clarify some of those thoughts a little more in the introduction to this review but I think I’m actually going to put that in a separate post later today or this weekend. So if you’re interested in that please come back then.

For now here is a review of the 17 yo E.H. Taylor Cured Oak. It is so called because the staves used for the barrels in which it is matured are cured for much longer than the usual period; this is said by the distillery to result in richer oak flavours. With my sensitivity to overbearing oak, this is not very encouraging, and nor is Sku’s review, which stresses the oak. Well, let’s see what it’s like.   Continue reading

E.H. Taylor Small Batch, “Bottled in Bond”

E.H. Taylor, Bottled in Bond
E.H. Taylor is one of Buffalo Trace’s many brands. I know that it’s named for one of the important figures in the early bourbon industry, Col. E.H. Taylor, who in the 1860s purchased a distillery that eventually became Buffalo Trace. Taylor, who was born in 1832, was related to both Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis. We’re talking Civil War-era here and Zachary Taylor, though a Whig, was a slaveholder himself; and so I found it “interesting” that both Buffalo Trace’s website and the internets in general are a little skimpy on details on E.H. Taylor’s history prior to the end of the Civil War. Where the rank came from is not clear. Sku tells me, however, that Chuck Cowdery’s book Bourbon Straight, which I should really read one of these years, notes that Taylor was a purchasing agent on the Union side during the Civil War. So no messy skeleton then in the distillery’s cupboard, though it’s also curious that they don’t play up the fact that one of their forerunners was on the right side of history there. Or maybe not (please see the comments for more on this subject that I found well after writing up the above).  Continue reading

Four Roses Single Barrel (1789b for Paws & Claws)

Four Roses, Paws & Claws
Let’s keep the bourbon reviews going a little longer, and let’s stick with the highly useful reviews of bourbons that are no longer available and were not widely available in the first place. This Four Roses single barrel was another bottling by the secret society 1789b—they who are the keepers of the True Cross and guardians of the location of the only known copy of the suppressed Hardy Boys mystery, The Secret of the Warren Commission. No, the “Paws & Claws” bit doesn’t refer to the exciting activities they get up to at group meetings on full moon nights: I’m told proceeds from this bottling (or some fraction thereof) benefited the animal rescue group, Paws & Claws. That’s a good thing.

On the label it says this is 9 years and 8 months old. That’s a longer way of saying it’s 9 years old.  Continue reading

Willett 11, Barrel 2364 (for the Wine and Cheese Place)

Willett 11 (for the Wine and Cheese Shop)
Here is another Willett. This one was bottled in 2013, not for a double secret society but for a liquor store in Missouri. It’s a bit older than Wednesday’s Willett and not at a ludicrous strength, and not, as far as I know, wheated. That’s as much as I (sort of) know. So let’s get right to it.

Willett 11 (58.55%; barrel 2364 for the Wine and Cheese Place; from a sample received in a swap).

Careful observers will note that while I have the abv at 58.55% the sample label says 58.6. 58.55% is the correct strength. The source of the sample, Florin, is a statistician and therefore opposed to mere accuracy: he rounded up.   Continue reading

Willett 8, Barrel 1434, Wheated

Willett 8
I know nothing about this whiskey except that it was bottled by Willett/KBD but was not distilled by them—as it’s not possible for them to release a 8 yo whiskey distilled by them for a few more years yet. What the source is, I don’t know. Sku, the source of the unusually cleanly labeled sample, probably knows but he’s a surly sort, best not engaged unless you really have to, and a cursory search on Google did not turn anything up. The fact that it’s a wheated bourbon probably narrows the options but not for someone like me who knows very little about the ins and outs of the American whiskey industry. If you know more about this please chime in below.

Also please write in if you know what “1789b” refers to on the sample label. That I have seen listed on some other Willett labels too.    Continue reading

Elijah Craig 18

Elijah Craig 18
The Elijah Craig 12 is one of the great values in American whiskey—or at least it used to be. Heaven Hill, which used to make it, has dropped the age statement and it is now NAS (please read Sku on the slimy way Heaven Hill went around denying this was going to happen before it happened). This is now a good time to remember Heaven Hill’s recent history with the 18 yo. When it was discontinued in 2012 we were told the usual story about limited aged stocks. Skeptics noted that the discontinuation of the 18 yo was accompanied by the introduction of a limited release 20 yo and then a 21 yo that cost more than twice as much (so much for limited aged stocks). Then in 2015 Heaven Hill brought the 18 yo back but didn’t bring the old price back. Instead the official price of the new 18 yo is about the same as that 20 yo’s (though most stores are currently asking for a LOT more)—presumably helping justify the even higher price of the 23 yo that they’ve also managed to introduce despite all that pressure on their aged stocks… American whisky has well and truly gone crazy, hasn’t it? I guess everybody is trying to keep up with the Van Winkles. Continue reading

Elmer T. Lee

Elmer T. Lee, 2015 Release
I’ve barely reviewed any American whiskey in the last three months or so: just the port cask finished Heaven Hill and the Pikesville Rye 6, 110 Proof. So, this is a good time to take a bourbon break in the midst of all these single malt reviews. I have today the Elmer T. Lee. This sample was acquired from the meticulous Michael K. and so I can tell you that it was bottled this year. It is a single barrel release though so there’s no guarantee that one you might find will be exactly or very much like this one, but I suspect the blenders at Buffalo Trace (where this is made) are pretty good at maintaining the profiles of all their different labels/brands. What they’re not good at, apparently, is putting barrel information on the labels for Elmer T. Lee; the bottle code for this one, for what it’s worth, is B1505421:29K. Michael K. tells me that the mashbill for what goes into Elmer T. Lee is 15% rye and further that this is apparently one of Buffalo Trace’s higher rye mashbills.  Continue reading

Breckenridge Bourbon

Breckenridge Bourbon
I know almost nothing about the Breckenridge distillery from the town of the same name in Colorado. I got this sample from Michael K. at Diving for Pearls and so the following information is from his review. There is some confusion over the source of the whiskey in the bottle (it may just be easier with newer American distilleries to note when this is not the case). The distillery originally bottled bourbon distilled in Kentucky while waiting for their own distillate to come on line; around the time they bottled this one (in 2012, I think) they were apparently in the process of transitioning over from a mix of sourced bourbon and their own distillate to bottling only their own distillate. As to whether what they’re selling now is uncontroversially their own distillate I have no idea. Still, it’s notable that a) they are in fact making their own whiskey now and b) their sourced bourbon wasn’t from Indiana. These facts, alone or in combination, distinguish them from most American “craft” distillers. But is what’s in the bottle distinguished in anyway? Let’s see. Continue reading