Archive for category Bourbon
Distilled by: Beam, Clemont, Kentucky, USA (Beam-Suntory)
Age: 7 y/o
Proof: 103 (51.5% ABV)
Purchased for around $20/1 liter (Not available in Michigan)
Appearance: Dark copper with thin legs and a lot of necklacing.
Nose: Sweet peanut butter, lavender, alcohol, cut grass.
Palate: Caramel, toffee, alcohol, milk chocolate.
Finish: Dry and herbaceous with a touch of toffee.
Parting words: Costco’s Kirkland brand has appeared on everything from bottled water to dog food and beyond, including booze. There’s Kirkland beer, wine, vodka, rum, tequila, bourbon, Canadian whisky and even a 40 year old single malt Scotch distilled by Glenlivet.
All are good values but the bourbon is a standout. On paper, it’s hard to do better. Where else can one get a liter of 103 proof, 7 y/o bourbon for around $20? Nowhere, unless you have a time machine. It’s almost as good in the glass as it is on paper. The label’s statement that it was distilled and bottled by a company with facilities in Clermont & Frankfort, Kentucky reveals that this is a Jim Beam product.
The Beam product that is closest to this is the 7 y/o, 107 proof Baker’s bourbon, a sleeper bourbon if there ever was one. While this is similar, it’s a bit milder (4 proof points will do that) but the lower price more than makes up for that. Kirkland is a little harsh at first pour, but opens up beautifully the longer it sits, bringing out chocolate-covered toffee.
I’m a sucker for a cheap, high proof bourbon in the 6-10 year range. The 6 y/o Very Old Barton Bottled-in-Bond is about the only one that tops this in that category. Kirkland Premium Small Batch is highly recommended.
Proof: 102 (51% ABV)
Price: $24 (The Party Source)
Appearance: Pale copper.
Nose: Corn chips, tarragon, leather.
Palate: Soft mouthfeel. A delicate slight corny or maybe malty sweetness. It slowly grows hotter and hotter until it fills the mouth with cayenne pepper.
Finish: Like Mae West: hot and corny with maybe a touch of sweet malt.
Mixed: Very good in cocktails. Excellent in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Boulevardier, with Benedictines and even in a hot toddy.
Parting words: Medley Bros. is the cheapest, highest proof and newest product in the Medley line of bourbons. The brands are owned by Charles W. Medley (son of Wathen, 2nd from right on the label) and his son Sam. All their bourbons are custom distilled by an undisclosed Kentucky distiller and bottled by Frank-Linn of Fairfield, California. According to Chuck Cowdery, they are all made from the family mashbill, which has a high malt content relative to other bourbons.
It tastes like it. It has a mild sweetness that resembles what I imagine a high malt bourbon would taste like. The only bourbon I’ve had with a similar sweetness is 1792, which is also (maybe) a high malt bourbon.
It fares well against the competition, too. I tasted it next side by side with Wild Turkey 101, Old Forester Signature, Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond (white label) and Very Old Barton Bottled-in-Bond. It didn’t blow any of them away, but it held its own. For cocktails, the Bros. are hard to beat. I wish I could have tasted it alongside Charter 101 and Old Grand Dad to get a more complete picture, but I forgot to get a bottle of either of those.
The label is crisp with just enough kitsch to be fun with portraits of the five brothers and the “heart of the run” neck thingy. The price is in line with the competition. My only complaint is the nose. As it sits in the glass, the corn chip aroma becomes stronger and stronger to the point of unpleasantness. In spite of that, Medley Bros. is recommended and highly recommended for cocktails. It is currently limited in distribution so pick up a bottle or two next time you’re in Kentucky.
TPS= The Party Source
GBS= Georgia Bourbon Society
BBD: 10 yrs, 11 mos.
TPS: 10 yrs, 3 mos.
GBS: 11 yrs, 5 mos.
BBD: 103.8 (51.9% ABV)
TPS: 115 (57.5% ABV)
GBS: 114 (57% ABV)
TPS: $50 (current price for private selections)
GBS: Not disclosed (<$50)
BBD: Medium dark copper.
TPS: A little lighter with more orange.
GBS: Somewhere between the two (which are pretty similar anyway).
BBD: Leather, peanut brittle, cumin.
TPS: Big oak, touch of caramel.
GBS: Oak is just as big, but with more spice. Chili powder, Tabasco sauce.
BBD: Sweet and creamy on the palate, like vanilla toffee chews.
TPS: Sweet and creamy too, but not quite as rich.
GBS: Similar mouthfeel to BBD and just as sweet but more complex with Mexican chocolate flavors.
BBD: Sweet but drying. Toasted marshmallows. Lingers for a long time,
TPS: The oak carries through in the finish but with enough caramel to round it off.
GBS: Best of the bunch. Smoky chocolate and toffee.
Parting words: OESO is one of the most popular of Four Roses’ ten recipes for retailer and private selections, as this tasting illustrates. The E indicates the lower rye mashbill and the final O indicates the O yeast was used in fermentation. The O yeast is known for contributing a “robust fruitiness” to its offspring. These bourbons are all quite robust but not much was there in the way of fruitiness.
They are all very similar, as one might expect, but some of the subtle differences surprised me. I arranged the tasting the way I did, because I assumed that the TPS and the GBS would be closest in flavor but they weren’t. They were rick neighbors and came out at similar proofs but they ended up being the least alike of the three. The closest in profile were the BBD and GBS barrels. There were subtle differences between them but I highly doubt I could win a Pepsi Challenge scenario with the two of them. The TPS barrel was the outlier. It is the youngest, but it was the woodiest of the three.
All three were very good, but the edge here goes to the product of the GBS barrel (which I and some friends of the blog helped select). The GBS selection was not for sale to the general public, but any GBS member would be happy to pour you some if you ask nicely. All are highly recommended.
Age: 6 yrs, 2 mos
Proof: 128.5 (64.25% ABV)
Michigan state minimum: $59
Appearance: Auburn with thin, evenly spaced legs.
Nose: Taffy, alcohol, lavender, leather, fresh basil, roasted corn.
Palate: Sweet and hot, but rounded. Rock candy and oak. Opens up but weakens with water. Butterscotch candy, tarragon, touch of char.
Finish: Table grapes, cut grass, alcohol, caramel corn.
Parting words: Booker’s was created by and named after Booker Noe, grandson of Jim Beam and father of Fred Noe, current Beam brand ambassador. According to marketing materials, this is how Booker drank his bourbon: uncut and at 6-8 y/o.
Booker’s was one of the first high-end bourbons I ever tasted and it was one of my favorites back then. I’ve had it a few other times over the years and it’s always been one I’ve enjoyed. This one doesn’t seem as good as ones I’ve had in the past. It has more of the less desirable aspects of the Beam character than past bottles, especially with water added.
I’m not sure if it’s worth the price, especially considering that Knob Creek Single Barrel at 120 proof is only $46 and Baker’s is $47 at a lower proof and higher age. I’m not sure if a few more proof points and a pine box (perfect for Halloween) is worth the extra scratch. Still, it tastes good and that’s the most important thing, right? Booker’s is recommended.
Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USA
Distillers: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana/Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA
Style: Blend of straight bourbons (cannot be called straight because bourbons are from different states)
Age: 6 y/o (blend of 6 y/o MGPI with 10 y/o Four Roses)
Proof: 92 (46% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $42
Appearance: Medium copper with evenly spaced legs.
Nose: Alcohol, bubble gum, leather, salted caramel, whiff of steamed asparagus.
Palate: Spicy and a little hot. Cotton candy, jalapeno, oak, country ham.
Finish: Semi-dry. Oak, raw pecans, alcohol.
Parting words: High West has gone from a start up to one of America’s premier blenders and rectifiers in just a few short years. This bourbon (their first & only to my knowledge) is actually a reunion of sorts. The distilleries now called MGPI and Four Roses were both once owned by Seagram’s, which I imagine led to a lot of farcical missed meetings. “OK, I’m in Lawrenceburg, where are you?” “I’m in Lawrenceburg, where are YOU?” “Lawrenceburg, Kentucky!” “UHOH!”
Anyway, American Prairie Reserve is not cheap, but it’s well done and worth the price, especially considering that 10% of after tax profits go toward efforts to establish a federal American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana. That’s also why there’s a grouse on the label.
American Prairie Reserve is recommended.
JB12= Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o
Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
JBB: 8 y/o
JB12: 12 y/o
Proof: 86 (43%)
Michigan State Minimum
JBB: New penny, long legs of medium thickness
JB12: Middle aged penny, thicker, slower legs.
JBB: Barrel char, alcohol, sourdough bread, crisp oak.
JB12: Oak, caramel, ancho chili, alcohol, crème fraiche.
JBB: Light and creamy. Dolce de leche, alcohol, French lavender.
JB12: Full bodied but light. Same as above, but without the herbal note on the back end.
JBB: Semi-dry, a bit of yeasty funk, then alcohol and a hint of wood. Doesn’t stick around too long.
JB12: More balanced. Caramel, creme brulee, oak, alcohol. Fades fairly quickly.
Parting words: Before summing up the tasting notes, I would like to comment on some wording on the labels of these two bottles. First, Jim Beam Black calling itself “double aged” is a bit silly. All it means in this context is that JBB is aged twice as long as the standard Jim Beam with the white label. Silly and a bit slippery, but no harm done, really.
The other bottle is a little more problematic, at least to some. It reads “Jim Beam Signature Craft” with a label lower down on the bottle stating that it’s 12 y/o and 43% ABV. There has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth lately regarding the use of the word “craft” by large producers like Beam and Diageo. The controversy stems from the use of the word by micro-distillers to refer to themselves. Big producers who call themselves craft are, the argument goes, stealing the micros’ thunder and basically lying to consumers.
The use of craft by large producers does not bother me in the slightest. In my view, the term has already been emptied of all meaning by these micro producers themselves. ADI and other organizations of micro-producers have allowed too many phonies to claim the name of craft for it to mean anything anymore. There are “craft distillers” who do nothing more than cut whiskey distilled by someone else with local water and claim to be artisans. There are some who don’t even go to that much effort. Even those who do distill their own product often have a brewery make their mash or use prepackaged yeast. Jim Beam does all their own mashing at their three Kentucky distilleries and has at least three proprietary yeast strains. That sounds pretty crafty to me. So I have no problem with Beam using the word for what it does. If the micro-distilling community wanted to protect the sanctity of craft, then they should have done a better job of regulating themselves and come down harder on the fakers.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the bourbon. Neither of these are bad. The Black has some rough edges but it’s drinkable and refreshing on the rocks on a hot summer day. The 12 y/o (“Triple Aged”?) is more sophisticated and nicely balanced. It works well as a summertime after-dinner pour.
My gripe with both of these is the low proof. It’s less of an issue with Beam Black, since it’s fairly cheap and the low proof may help mellow out the funk. It is recommended. There is no justification for a $40 bottle of bourbon like Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o to be bottled at only 86 proof. If Heaven Hill has enough stock to produce a 12 y/o bourbon at over 90 proof for under $30, then Beam can afford to up the proof on its “Signature Craft” series at $40. Because of that, Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o is only mildly recommended.
Age: 12 y/o
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Note: No longer in production.
Thanks to @Primo55 for the suggestion of the final three words below
Appearance: Auburn with
Nose: Oak, black walnut, alcohol, caramel.
Palate: More walnuts, old oak, and a hint of butterscotch and brown sugar.
Finish: A little hot, but then a long, sumptuous oakiness that never falls into bitterness.
Parting words: Old Charter is an old brand dying a quiet death. It was founded in the nineteenth century by the Chapeze brothers (there is still a Chapeze house in Bardstown available for events), and was acquired by Sazerac in the 1990s when the newly spawned Diageo was selling off Kentucky bourbon brands. In recent memory, there have been 7 y/o, 8 y/o, 10 y/o, The Classic 90 (12 y/o) and Proprietor’s Reserve (13 y/o) Old Charters and Charter 101 (NAS). The only two left are the 8 y/o* and Charter 101. In the good old days of the glut, the 10 y/o and The Classic were two of the best bargains in bourbondom and the Proprietor’s Reserve (OCPR to bourbon nerds) was one of the finest bourbons of its era.
The Classic is a classic after dinner sipping bourbon. Even though they were a mere year apart in age, it and OCPR taste very different from each other. OCPR was subtly sweet butterscotch while The Classic is defined by oak. There’s a resemblance to Barterhouse bourbon from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series, but the oak in The Classic is balanced by sweet caramel and nuts so it doesn’t taste tired like Barterhouse. A better point of comparison might be Elijah Craig 12 y/o. The role of oak is similar but in both cases there’s enough sweetness to keep it from going into “beaver bourbon” territory.
For many years Old Charter The Classic 90 was fairly easy to find but with the growing popularity of “dusty” out of production bourbons, it’s not so easy to find these days. It’s highly recommended if the price is right. I won’t be looking for any in the near future since I have two bottles in the bunker. Neener, neener, neener.
*Thanks to John B for reminding me via Facebook that even the 8 y/o is NAS now. They’re now calling it “#8″ in true Sazerac style.
Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA
Style: Bourbon whiskey finished in Madeira casks.
Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)
Proof: 91 (45.5% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $60
Thanks to Amy for the sample.
Appearance: Light auburn with long thick legs.
Nose: Alcohol, balsamic vinegar, black cherry, grape bubble gum, cayenne pepper.
Palate: Wine grape jelly, oak, jalapeno, honey.
Finish: Madeira, spicy rye, oak, ghost pepper.
Mixed: It did very well in all cocktails I tried it in. Made a good, spicy Manhattan and boulevardier but it did best in an old fashioned. The bitters and sugar brought out the spice and jam very nicely. Similar cocktails should also do well.
Parting words: Many microdistillers have released sourced whiskey products as a way to pay the bills while their own products age. Some, like Two James, actually do have distilled their their own whiskey and are actually waiting for it to age.
The only other product available to that bears much resemblance to Grass Widow that is Angel’s Envy. The latter is Kentucky bourbon finished in port wine barrels. There are big differences between Madeira and Port but both are fortified Portuguese wines. Grass Widow is much richer and spicier than AE. The Madeira wine cask influence adds a dark, grapey taste and aroma to the spirit as opposed to the bright strawberry notes of AE. Both are delicious, but Grass Widow’s finish works alongside the sweetness and spice of the bourbon to while AE’s finish takes the lead and leaves the bourbon to play a secondary role. That puts it slightly ahead of AE for me.
As with most micro-producer products price is an issue. At $60 it’s not going to be anyone’s go-to, but it’s definitely worth a place in any whiskey enthusiast’s cabinet as a weekend after-dinner sip or for a top-shelf cocktail. Grass Widow is recommended.
VWB= Van Winkle Special Reserve, Lot “B” (purchased 2014)
W12; Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)
VWB: Van Winkle, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (A joint venture between Sazerac and the Van Winkle family).
Age: 12 y/o (both)
W12: 90 (45% ABV)
VWB: 90.4 (45.2% ABV)
W12: $24 (Spec’s)
VWB: $55 (Michigan State Minimum)
Appearance: Dark Copper with thin prolific legs (both)
W12: Alcohol, homemade bread, leather, vanilla extract, cut grass.
VWB: Alcohol, leather, vanilla extract, grilled sweet corn, basil.
W12: Full bodied and round. Vanilla butter cream icing, oak, alcohol.
VWB: Medium bodied and soft. Oak, a hint of vanilla, sweet cornbread.
W12: Cherry walnut bread, oak, alcohol. Lingers for a long time.
VWB: Fairly hot, but very well balanced and more subtle than the Weller. Oak, vanilla icing, alcohol. Also linger long, getting sweeter and fruitier as time goes on.
Parting words: This head to head was inspired by a forum thread inspired by a long running discussion in bourbon circles regarding the Van Winkle line of wheated bourbons and the Weller line. Are they the same whiskey in different bottles? Is Weller just a dumping ground for Van Winkle rejects? Is Weller 12 “basically Pappy” as one store owner told a bourbon lover recently?
These two expressions are the best two to compare the differences because they’re the same age and virtually the same proof. Both are made using the same mashbill, same yeast, same distillery and aged in the same warehouses. They are also most likely put into barrels with the same char level at the same proof. So all the pre-aging variables are the same.
The difference is in barrel selection and it does make a difference. Not a huge one but it’s there. Both have the same mix of aromas and flavors, but in different proportions. Weller 12 has a little bit of an unrefined grassy bite to it but it is only noticeable to me when doing the head to head with Lot “B”. Lot “B” is more elegant and seems to have more depth. The herbal note is there but it takes the form of a subtle Basil aroma. Perhaps the areas of the warehouses in Frankfort reserved for Van Winkle are less prone to developing the earthy, grassy aromas in bourbons aged there or perhaps there’s a higher proportion of older bourbon in the mix.
So, what’s the verdict? Lot “B” is the superior bourbon, but only by a little. Weller 12 is a much better bargain than its Van Winkle cousin. Lot “B” is not more than twice as good as Weller 12 but Weller 12 is probably underpriced, so it evens out in my mind. Both Weller 12 and Van Winkle Lot “B” are recommended.