Eastern Kille Bottled In Bond

Maker: Eastern Kille, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Style: standard recipe, pot distilled straight bourbon.

Age: Not disclosed but at least 4 y/o by law.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Purchased for $48 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Sawdust, anise, over-roasted almonds.

Palate: Full-bodied and mild. Caramel, barrel char, dark chocolate, dash of amaretto.

Finish: Hot and woodsy.

Mixed: Performed pretty well in Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, with Coke, and with Cherry Coke.

Parting words: To me, the moment when a new bourbon distillery comes of age is when it can release a bottled in bond bourbon. So I was very excited to try this from Michigan’s own Eastern Kille. It feels like they’ve arrived.

But where have they arrived? I’m split. The nose and finish have that sharp sawdust note that I used to associate with small barrel bourbon, but I’m not so sure that’s where it’s from anymore (mashing maybe?). I don’t fine that aspect very pleasant, and it occasionally interfered with mixers. The palate is silky and chocolatey and very good, though, so I don’t know where to land.

Water turns the sawdust down but it also turns down the chocolate and char. So I think I’m going to give Eastern Kille’s BiB a recommendation, with a few drops of water or with strong mixers (boulevardier, Manhattan with good vermouth, or Cherry Coke!). There are some really nice things going in this bourbon, and I hope they continue refining it until it’s highly recommended!

Russell’s Reserve Private Barrel Selection: Holiday Market 2021.

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA

Style: Standard recipe single barrel Kentucky straight bourbon.

Selection from: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Age: 8.75 y/o (Distilled 12/26/12, dumped 10/12/21)

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: New oak, char, cherry pits, anise. Fruitier with water. Peach, leather.

Palate: Full bodied and creamy. Caramel, black pepper, red pepper, burn. Water brings out similar notes to the nose, but retains the spice.

Finish: Hot with eucalyptus. Lingers longer with water. Fades into French brandy fruitiness.

Parting words: Russell’s Reserve is Wild Turkey’s premium line, named after its long time distiller and current mascot Jimmy Russell. His son Eddie has taken over almost all of his venerable father’s dutie at this point, but the back of the label still reads Approved by: Jimmy Russell.

This is a well-balanced bourbon. It has the fruit typical of RR expressions, but it is well integrated into the typically aggressive Wild Turkey style. It is similar to the old “Small Batch Single Barrel” but much better integrated and much better all around. Holiday Market selections rarely awe, but they are usually good examples of house style.

$70 ain’t cheap for a bourbon, but factoring in the high proof and an age right in the bourbon sweet spot, it’s well worth the money for a weekend or special occasion bourbon. Russell’s Reserve Private Barrel Selection: Holiday Market 2021 is recommended.

Baker’s Single Barrel

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

Style: Single barrel, standard recipe rye Bourbon.

Serial number: 000228504

Warehouse: CL-J, Floor 4, rack 43

Age: 7 y/o (and 4 mos.)

Proof: 107 (53.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $60

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Caramel, roasted corn, cut oak, cayenne.

Palate: Full bodied. Chocolate caramel brownies.

Finish: Hot, with some caramel and a touch of oak.

Parting words: This is the second time I’ve reviewed Baker’s, but the first time was back in 2014 when it wasn’t a single barrel and it had an irritating wax top.

Back then it was spicy but with an odd smell of rotten vegetables in the nose when water was added. I should have read that review a few weeks ago because in it I recommended that it be consumed neat, or with very little water. I didn’t do that with this bottle, and I was very disappointed with it.

All ready to give a scathing review, I poured some into my favorite Glencairn glass and started taking down notes tonight. When I was done, I looked back over them and thought, “These are the tasting notes of a very good bourbon.” Once again, I played myself.

Baker’s Single Barrel is recommended.

Before we go our separate ways, dear reader, I want to take a moment to applaud Beam for the Single Barrel Journey feature on the Baker’s website. It’s very cool. All you do is enter the serial number for your bottle of Baker’s and the website gives you all sorts of information on the barrel including location in the warehouse and even the high and low temperatures for the barrel’s time in that warehouse. Really neato stuff. Feel free to use the serial number above to try it out!

1792 Sweet Wheat

Maker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Style: Wheated Straight Bourbon

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 91.2 (45.6% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $36 (listed as “SWEAT WHEAT”)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, vanilla, apricot, char.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Crème brûlée with apricot and vanilla bean.

Finish: Short and drying.

Parting words: 1792 Sweet Wheat is an extension of the 1792 Bourbon line of (originally) high malt bourbons. It is presumed by people who have looked into these sorts of things (like me) that it is the same recipe as the old Kentucky Tavern bourbons. Constellation took this recipe and used it to create 1972 back when it owned the Barton Distillery. When Sazerac bought the distillery, they gave the bottle a makeover and created a number of line extensions, the most successful of which have been the barrel proof and single barrel expressions.

Sweet Wheat is a different beast from those, though, because the recipe has been changed. The rye has been swapped out for wheat, putting it into the same category as Maker’s Mark, Larceny, Weller, and the notorious Van Winkle bourbons. It fits somewhere between Maker’s and Larceny/Old Fitzgerald in terms of flavor. It’s not as delicate as Maker’s and Weller, but not quite as sharp and yeast-driven as the Heaven Hill wheaters. I like it a lot at $36, but I like it less at what I paid for it.

If you can find it for <$45, buy it. Any more than that, and you’re overpaying. 1792 Sweat, err Sweet, Wheat is recommended.

Head to head tasting: Bourbon World vs Bourbon World.

Sourced by: Krogman’s, Bloomington, Indiana, USA. For Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana.

Distilled by Ross & Squibb (MGPI), Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Pi= Pink label, Pu= Purple label

Style

Pi: High rye bourbon (60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malt)

Pu: Single barrel, standard recipe bourbon (75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malt)

Age: 5 y/o

Proof: 112 (56% ABV)

Purchased for $40 (Vine & Table)

Appearance

Pi: Light copper.

Pu: Slightly darker.

Nose

Pi: Bubble gum, alcohol.

Pu: Grape juice, spiced plum.

Palate

Pi: Full-bodied and fruity, with nutmeg and burn. Spicier and dryer with water.

Pu: Lighter with caramel and char. Water brings out cherry pie.

Finish

Pi: Allspice, clove

Pu: plums and burn.

Parting words: Bourbon World is the relatively new line of V & T selections of Ross & Squib (formerly MGPI), single barrel, barrel proof (or close to it) bourbons. The person I talked to at the store said they were “very similar” mash bills, but as you can see, they are not. The Pink Label is high rye, and the purple is lower in rye and higher in corn, though it doesn’t quite qualify as high corn, like the Buffalo Trace rye bourbon recipes. Interestingly (but not surprisingly given R & S’s and Four Roses’ shared Seagram’s heritage), Pink Label is very close to the mash bill of Four Roses’ B recipe bourbons and Purple is very close to the E recipe.

Vine & Table is one of the retailers that I will always buy a selection from. They very rarely, if ever, miss. One of the reasons for that is their spirits buyer, Dave Helt. I don’t know Dave especially well, but I was friends with his father, Tom (and I’m still friends with his mother Barb). Tom Helt was the embodiment of the spirit of the pre-boom bourbon enthusiast community. He was relatively tall, had a bushy beard before it was cool, and was legendarily generous. His palate was amazing, and his basement was a magical land of bourbons and Scotches that most people can only dream about now. In these days of the still-overheated bourbon secondary market, the value of his collection would be easily in the millions of dollars, maybe even higher. He, of course didn’t PAY millions of dollars for it, given when he started collecting. Tom was also well known for dry sense of humor and for making George T. Stagg Bananas Foster for the bourbon pilgrims who used to gather at the General Nelson motel in Bardstown, Kentucky twice a year. Sadly, Tom died of cancer in 2018.

Like I said, Tom’s palate and generosity were legendary and those qualities were passed down to his son Dave. These bourbons are both excellent examples of the R & S style , one that is very similar to that of my beloved Four Roses. If you don’t believe me, you can always try a little at V & T’s in-store tasting bar. You could even do your own head to head. I know Tom would be very proud of the bourbons Dave is bringing to V & T. At $40, these are easy buys. Bourbon World Purple label is recommended and the Pink label is highly recommended.

Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Strength, Holiday Market selection

Maker: Eastern Kille, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Selected by: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Style: Toasted barrel finished Michigan straight, rye recipe, bourbon

Age: 3 y/o (Barreled 10/31/17, bottled 11/4/20)

Batch: 70139 (or TOB9)

Barrel: TOB62420-9

Proof: 125.2 (62.6% ABV)

Purchased for $45.

Note: Tasted with a splash of water.

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Oak, sawdust, wood varnish, ash, whiff of amaretto.

Palate: More sawdust and toasted oak, with some sweet dessert flavors lurking somewhere in the background.

Finish: Sawdust, then burn.

Parting words: Eastern Kille (Gray Skies until dumb Campari threatened them with a lawsuit over the word sky, which they apparently own now), is a distillery and bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like many other businesses of the type, Eastern Kille also gets distribution around the state. I thought I had reviewed one of their products before, but it turns out I hadn’t.

They seem to be one of the distilleries that is trying to do things “the right way” so I jumped at the chance to try a single barrel selection from one of my favorite places to buy spirits. The toasted barrel appealed to me because rebarreling can sometimes be a good way to give young whiskeys a little more depth and oak character. The downside is that if the whiskey is left in the second barrel too long or the finishing barrel is too small (or both) the wood can overwhelm the spirit, and turn it into what I call “beaver bourbon.”

Sadly, the latter is what has happened here. Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish is an overly woody, unbalanced whiskey. There are some interesting things going on under all that oak, but they fade as soon as that finish hits like a 2×4. I tried mixing it with some success in a boulevadier, but that was all it was good in. The oak quickly overwhelms everything else, even a Manhattan made with a bold vermouth.

Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish is not recommended. That said, I’m not giving up on this distillery. There’s a good, solid base here so I’m eager to try their standard bourbon. Watch this space for that review!

Old Elk Wheated Bourbon

Maker: Old Elk Distillery, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High wheat straight bourbon (51% corn, 45% wheat, 4% malt)

Age: 5 y/o

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $67

Appearance: Medium copper

Nose: Cassia, star anise, powdered ginger, oak, alcohol.

Palate: Sweet and spicy. Cinnamon, allspice.

Finish: Cola, cinnamon rolls.

Parting words: Old Elk is an NDP/Micro-distillery located in Fort Collins, CO run by Master Distiller Greg Metze, who was chief distiller at MGPI for 38 years. Those years included the ones that saw it rise from an obscure industrial distillery to a famous (and somewhat infamous) bulk and custom whiskey producer that fueled the explosive growth in independent bottlers in the US, and the rye boom.

The big wheaters on the market, currently, those made by Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, and Maker’s Mark all trace their recipes back to the bourbons made at the legendary Stizel-Weller distillery in Louisville. While there are differences betweeen them, they have more in common than not.

This wheater is different. It’s the first high wheat bourbon I’ve ever purchased, and boy is it high. It’s 6 percentage points away from being a wheat whiskey. It has a bit of the “biscuity” quality of wheat whiskeys, but its primary characteristic is spice. Specifically what is often called baking or Christmas spice. It’s truly a unique product in the world of bourbon.

Old Elk has a few sharp points, but at 5 years old, that’s to be expected. $67 is too expensive for a 5 y/o, 92 proof bottling from a major distillery, but I’m willing to give it a pass, given how unique and well-crafted it is. I would really like to see the age go up and the price go down, but even as it is, Old Elk Wheated Bourbon is recommended.

A brief word on the bottle itself. The label and shape of the bottle is elegant, but I don’t like how heavy it is. We’re in the midst of a global climate crisis. Heavy bottles=more fuel needed to move them=higher carbon emissions. It’s (past) time to dump the heavy bottles.

Thomas S. Moore, Cabernet Sauvignon cask finish

Maker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Style: Rye-recipe bourbon finished in Cabernet Sauvignon casks.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 95.3 (47.65% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Ruddy brown.

Nose: Overdone cherry pie, particle board, alcohol, anise.

Palate: Full bodied. Cherry juice, oak, then burn.

Finish: Cherry vanilla ice cream, alcohol.

Parting words: Sazerac has done a lot with the Barton distillery in Bardstown since they purchased the distillery from Constellation in 2009. The latest thing is the Thomas S. Moore line of wine barrel finished bourbons.

I’m not a purist when it comes to finished bourbon. I think a finish can be a nice addition to bourbon when applied judiciously and when the underlying bourbon is good quality. Fortified wine finishes are pretty common with whiskeys of all kinds, so I thought I’d try the Cab Sauv finish first. The finish adds some fun, fruity notes, but they’re quickly overcome by an underlying unrefined harshness. Water reduces the heat, but the harshness remains. It reminds me of going to my senior prom. I was wearing a tux and a sporting a fresh haircut, but underneath I was the same crude, rude teen.

If this were $20 cheaper, this harshness might be easier to overlook or I could write it off as an interesting mixer, but $70 is serious money for a bourbon from a major distiller. Sazerac can do better than this.

While I’m at it, I might as well mention the bottle and label, which are worse than what’s inside. The two tone horse picture, disjointed graphic design, and ugly, generic bottle, makes Thomas S. Moore look more like a prop from a mid-century movie set than a 21st century high-end bourbon.

Thomas S. Moore, Cabernet Sauvignon cask finish is not recommended.

1792 Bottled in Bond

Maker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Style: High malt (?) bonded bourbon.

Age: At least four years old (all from one distilling season).

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $38

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Roasted corn, sweet malt, cayenne powder.

Palate: Cola, alcohol. With water. Caramel, cola, less burn.

Finish: Sweet and custardy. Sweet cola (yes again) with melted ice cubes.

Parting words: For many years, the Bottled-in-Bond category was a guarantee of quality among American whiskeys. Then, when I was getting into the hobby, it was most common as a sign of a good value. The pendulum has swung back a bit these days and premium bonds are making a comeback. The new, pricey Old Fitzgerald and Heaven Hill BiBs, Henry McKenna, and now 1792.

I like the standard expression well enough, and I have really enjoyed the single barrel and barrel strength editions I’ve had. Sadly, the Bottled-in-Bond doesn’t live up to those. It’s not bad, it’s just not enough of an improvement on the Small Batch to warrant $8 more dollars and the hard work of trying to locate a bottle. Ironically, it may be hampered by being bonded and restricted to one distilling season. There’s a lack of complexity that the addition of older bourbon might be able to fix.

1792 Bottled-in-Bond is only mildly recommended.

Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection

Maker: Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming, USA.

Style: Wheat recipe bourbon.

Age: 5 y/o (according to paragraph on back label)

Proof: 107.72 (53.86% ABV)

Selected for Red Wagon stores, Troy & Rochester, Michigan, USA.

Barrel #4743

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, alcohol, custard.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Caramel, brown sugar, candy cake decorations, then burn. With water: Even sweeter with more oak, but with less burn, obviously.

Finish: Clean and hot. With water: blondies, oak.

Mixed: Outstanding in classic cocktails, Kentucky mule, and even with cola or ginger ale.

Parting words: During the first wave of micro-distillers there were a lot of distilleries making bourbon who were trying to find shortcuts to get product on the market as soon as possible. They resorted to gimmicks like weird grains, small barrels, magical cave water, historical fiction, overpowering finishes, ill-conceived technologies (eg TerrePure®) and flat-out lies to try to ride the bourbon wave to profitability. I grew very tired of these cheesy “craft” distilleries very quickly.

There were a few micro-distilleries that seemed to be committed to doing things the “right” way, though. They used full-sized barrels, planned on aging the whiskey properly, used unique but not gimmicky recipes, and, most importantly, they hired people who knew that they were doing. It was clear from the beginning that Wyoming Whiskey is in that second category, so I made a mental note to watch for their bourbon on shelves. A few months ago, I was perusing Red Wagon’s Rochester location and to my delight I saw a Wyoming Whiskey selection in an in-store display! I grabbed it and brought it home.

I have to admit that I was disappointed at first sip. There was a strong wood varnish note that was very off-putting neat, so I laid off the bottle for a while after that. The next time I poured from it I used it in a Manhattan and it was great. Next I tried an Old Fashioned and it was even better. By the time I tried it neat again, it had blossomed into a beautiful, classic, but still distinctive, wheater. Now I can’t wait to try some more selections and I’m fantasizing about possible future releases with ages in the double digits.

Anyway, I like this bourbon a lot, obviously. I’m less of a fan of the price, but factoring in the high proof, wheat recipe, age and the usual micro-mark-up, I think $60 is a fair, though more than that might be pushing it. Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection is recommended.