Archive for category Bourbon

American Prairie Reserve

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USAwpid-2014-09-12-19.18.58.jpg.jpeg

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.

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Head to Head: Jim Beam Black vs. Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o

JBB= Jim Beam Blackwpid-2014-08-29-19.06.45.jpg.jpeg

JB12=  Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

Age

JBB: 8 y/o

JB12: 12 y/o

Proof: 86 (43%)

Michigan State Minimum

JBB: $25

JB12: $40

Appearance

JBB: New penny, long legs of medium thickness

JB12: Middle aged penny, thicker, slower legs.

Nose

JBB: Barrel char, alcohol, sourdough bread, crisp oak.

JB12: Oak, caramel, ancho chili, alcohol, crème fraiche.

Palate

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.

Finish

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.

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Old Charter: The Classic 90

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)wpid-20140801_130826-1.jpg

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.

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Grass Widow

Grass Widow Bottle Image

Used with permission of Two James Spirits LLC

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.

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Head to Head: Weller 12 vs. Van Winkle Lot “B”

W12= W.L. Weller 12 y/o (purchased 2013)W12 vs LotB

VWB= Van Winkle Special Reserve, Lot “B” (purchased 2014)

Maker

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)

Proof

W12: 90 (45% ABV)

VWB: 90.4 (45.2% ABV)

Price

W12: $24 (Spec’s)

VWB: $55 (Michigan State Minimum)

Appearance: Dark Copper with thin prolific legs (both)

Nose

W12: Alcohol, homemade bread, leather, vanilla extract, cut grass.

VWB: Alcohol, leather, vanilla extract, grilled sweet corn, basil.

Palate

W12: Full bodied and round. Vanilla butter cream icing, oak, alcohol.

VWB: Medium bodied and soft. Oak, a hint of vanilla, sweet cornbread.

Finish

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.

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Barterhouse Kentucky Bourbon

Maker: Diageo, London, UKBarterhouse

Distilled: Bernheim Distillery, Louisville, Kentucky, USA (Now owned by Heaven Hill, then owned by United Distillers, a precursor to Diageo)

Bottled: George Dickel, Tullahoma, Tennessee, USA

Style: High corn bourbon

Age: 20 y/o

Proof: 90.2 (45.1% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $70

Appearance: Dark auburn with long slow legs.

Nose: Oak, walnut, caramel.

Palate: Full bodied and mild. A tiny bit of alcohol burn, hint of caramel, a little licorice. Very subtle.

Finish: Short and mild. Dry oak, black walnut, burn.

Parting words: Barterhouse is one of the first two releases in Diageo’s new Orphan Barrel series of overaged stuff they had sitting around their Louisville warehouses. The other is the 26 year old Old Blowhard (actual name) that was likely distilled at a distillery called at the site of what’s now Bernheim Distillery in Louisville. Bernheim and its predecessor were home to the I.W. Harper and Old Charter brands. Barterhouse and its older sibling were probably intended for one of those two brands when they were distilled.

I usually don’t go in for bourbons this old. I find them one-dimensional and flat. They’re all wood and very little else. I bought this one because of its pedigree. One of my favorite out-of-production bourbons was the Bernheim-distilled version of Old Charter Proprietor’s Reserve (distinguished from the other version by its slope-shouldered bottle). I was willing to pay the rather high price for Barterhous because I hoped it would bear a resemblance to that sweet, butterscotchy old favorite of mine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bear much resemblance at all.

Barterhouse bears a resemblance to just about every other bourbon over 16 years old I have tasted. It’s woody.  A little sweetness and spice manage to keep it drinkable but barely. It’s not bad by any means, but I expect more complexity out of something this expensive. Most bourbons at half the price have twice the flavor. Barterhouse is interesting as a piece of history, but I can’t help but get a little melancholy when I think about how great this might have tasted at 12-16 y/o. Barterhouse is mildly recommended.

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Fighting Cock

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAFighting Cock

Age: 6 y/o

Proof: 103 (51.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $18.50

Appearance: Dark copper with long thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, jalapeno, caramel. Water brings out butterscotch and basil.

Palate: Hot and sweet with a touch of oak. Softer with water but still spicy. Caramel and cayenne.

Finish: Hot and spicy with caramel and a hit of oak. Finish is basically the same with water, but a little less hot.

Mixed: Does very well in all applications I tried. Stands up to Coke and does well with Benedictine. Shines in a Manhattan and an old fashioned. Gets a little lost in a boulevardier but almost everything does. Performs nicely on the rocks.

Parting words: Like most chickens Fighting Cock is delicious but flies under the radar. It’s Heaven Hill’s answer to Wild Turkey. It has a high, odd numbered proof (mine goes to 11!), a bird on the label and a spicy, aggressive taste and aroma. It originally was aged stated at 8 y/o too, just like Wild Turkey used to be.

I like it better than Wild Turkey. It’s hard to find an age stated bourbon at that proof for under $20 these days. The closest cousin to FC is Old Ezra at 101 proof and 7 y/o. It’s probably also distilled by Heaven Hill and it’s a little cheaper. It tends to be grassy which can be off putting to some. I’d probably rank FC above Old Ezra but both are very good. If you like bold, spicy flavors in your bourbon and the name doesn’t make you blush, Fighting Cock is recommended.

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New Orphan Barrel Project release

I received a press release from Diageo in my mailbox this morning and as I don’t receive many of these so I thought I’d pass the highlights along to you. It’s about the latest new release in Diageo’s orphan barrel series of premium, very old bourbons.

 

TULLAHOMA, Tenn., April 1, 2014 — From Tennessee to Kentucky to Ireland, stories of old whiskies forgotten in the back of rickhouses and warehouses drift among distillers the world over.  From lunch breaks to happy hours, their debates over which whiskey would taste best has become the stuff of legend.  To offer resolution and expand a new line of rare spirits to a growing base of whiskey aficionados, DIAGEO (NYSE: DEO) today announced the latest project of  the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company, Very Old Beaver Straight Bourbon Whiskey to be joining Old Blowhard and Barterhouse Bourbons this spring.Very Old Beaver is expected to begin appearing on select shelves throughout the U.S. in April 2014 under strict allocation due to limited supply of approximately 1,000,000 cases worldwide.  Very Old Beaver won’t disclose her age but enthusiasts will be able to tell that she’s been around the block a few times.

Very Old Beaver stocks were discovered in old warehouses at the Stitzel-Weller facility in Louisville, Ky.  Rumor has it warehouse workers have already begun lining up for a taste of Very Old Beaver with a soft aroma reminiscent of buttercream and smoked halibut.  The whiskey’s mellow taste includes notes of old leather box, salt cod, and aged gorgonzola cheese.  Very Old Beaver is filled in Tullahoma, Tenn. and will be expected to sell for a suggested retail price of $50,000.

Like the rickhouse and warehouse workers who uncover them and the consumers who drink them, Orphan Barrel Whiskies have distinctive personalities in taste and packaging.  Very Old Beaver packaging nods to the inspiration behind the whiskey’s name.  A vintage pink and brown label features a furry beaver after she’s been lightly groomed and stuffed.  Because when you’re tired of youth and immaturity, nothing is better than the warm comfort of Very Old Beaver.

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Baker’s

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USABaker's

Age: 7 y/o

Proof: 107 (53.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $47

Appearance: Dark Copper with thick legs.

Nose: Leather, alcohol, caramel. Water brings out a weird rotten vegetable smell.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Cotton candy, plum, oak, oregano, clove. Goes down a little easier with water and brings butterscotch into the mix.

Finish: Hot and sweet. Peppermint cotton candy. I don’t know if such a thing exists but if it does, it tastes like this. Milder and sweeter with H2O.

Parting words: Baker’s is named after Baker Beam, grandson of Jim’s brother “Park” Beam (not to be confused with Parker Beam, Heaven Hill master distiller) and thus second cousin to Booker Noe. For further confusion, consult the interactive Beam family tree here.

It’s is a part of Beam’s Small Batch collection. The other members are Knob Creek, Booker’s and Basil Hayden. Basil is the whipping boy of the group, being no more than Old Grand Dad in a fancier bottle. Knob Creek is very popular and rightly so. It’s the oldest and the only one with line extensions (Rye, Single Barrel, Smoked Maple). Booker’s is barrel strength and is the sort of flagship of the group, with a 25th anniversary, 10 y/o edition being released soon. Baker’s is 7 y/o and 107 proof and unfortunately occupies the “ignored middle child” spot in the Small Batch family.

I bought this bottle when I learned that Baker’s price was going up substantially in Michigan. I hadn’t had it in a very long time and I was pleasantly surprised. I reviewed the now dusty Beam Distiller’s Series last year. It was also 7 y/o and tasty, but Baker’s has a depth of flavor and weight that the DS lacked. This is probably because of the lower barrel entry proof used for Baker’s and Booker’s. It also fares well compared to Booker’s. Booker’s is higher proof but its age has been creeping down as its price has been creeping up. Booker’s currently sells for close to $60 in Michigan, which in my opinion is absurdly expensive for a 6 y/o bourbon, barrel strength or not. Baker’s price has risen in tandem with Booker’s, but it has stayed 7 y/o which gives it the edge over its cousin.

The only flaw is the inexplicable rotten garbage smell that came out with water. That problem is easily solved by not adding  water or using it very sparingly. Overall Baker’s is a very good bourbon at a decent price. That earns it a recommendation.

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Old Medley

Maker: Charles Medley, Owensboro, Kentucky, USAOld Medley

Distiller: Unknown (Contract distilled)

Bottler: Frank-Lin, Fairfield, California, USA

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 86.8 (43.4% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $46

Appearance: Copper with thin legs.

Nose: Dry oak with a hint of sweetness.

Palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Light brown sugar, oak, cocoa powder, alcohol, cayenne pepper.

Finish: Well-balanced and long. Alcohol, oak, caramel.

Parting words: Old Medley is a relatively new product and a very new one to Michigan. According to the best information available, Old Medley is a (relatively) high malt bourbon, coming in at 13% malt, higher than the percentage of rye in the mash. 1792 Ridgemont Reserve has also been rumored to be made with a high malt mashbill, but there has never been any evidence to confirm those rumors.

The Medleys are one of the great distilling families of Kentucky with a history that reaches far back into the nineteenth century. Most of that history is in and around Owensboro, Ketucky. The current Roman Catholic bishop of Owensboro is even a Medley. A distillery with the name of Charles Medley still stands there, but it is currently not in operation although its owner, the government of Trinidad & Tobago (long story), have been shopping it around for years with little success. After the Medleys lost control of their own distillery, they carried on as a non-distiller producer with Wathen’s Single Barrel ($33 state minimum), named after ancestor R. Wathen Medley (himself named for the Wathen family of which his mother Florence was a member). Wathen’s son Charles (b. 1941) and grandson Sam (b. 1975) are currently running the business. Recently a NAS, 102 proof bourbon by the name of Medley Brothers has also been released, but has yet to make it to Michigan.

As for the bourbon itself, it’s quite good. It’s an easy drinking mature bourbon. Sometimes I think it’s too mature and might be a little better at 10 y/o with more sweetness and less oak. But that’s a minor gripe and most of the time I enjoy it.

There are a lot of very good 12 year old bourbons on the market that are better values than Old Medley. Elijah Craig and Weller 12 are hard to beat. On the other hand, there are also a lot of garbage bourbons on the shelves that NDPs or micro-distillers are changing $40-$50 for. Old Medley is not that. It’s an easy going after dinner porch sipping whiskey. It is recommended.

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