Rare Breed

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA

Style: Standard recipe straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 116.8 (58.4% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $45

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Leather, black pepper, grape soda.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet, then hot chile, caramel, grape jelly. Similar with water, but more corn syrup than caramel.

Finish: Hot with leather, chipotle powder. Sweeter with water.

Parting words: Oddly enough, it seems like I have never reviewed Rare Breed for this blog! I’m as shocked as you are.

For many years, Rare Breed was one of my favorite barrel proof bourbons. Then the quality at Wild Turkey began to slip and I nearly stopped buying Wild Turkey products altogether. Thankfully, the distillery has rebounded (getting a bigger, more productive distillery helped) and I’ve starting buying Wild Turkey again.

I’m glad I did, too. While this Rare Breed is not as good as the bottles from the mid and late 1990s, it’s well-balanced and powerful with the classic Wild Turkey profile. Prices on NAS barrel proof selections are absurdly high these days, often outweighing any value to be gained from buying less water, with spirit acquired from who knows where. With Rare Breed, you can rest assured that you’re not buying crap and you’re getting more than just a less watered down version of the flagship product.

Rare Breed is a classic bourbon that has returned to form. It is recommended.

Yellowstone Select: Holiday Market single barrel selection

Maker: Limestone Branch, Lebanon, Kentucky, USA (Luxco)

Distiller(s): Undisclosed

Style: Standard recipe, single barrel bourbon.

Selected: June 14, 2019

Barrel 7166842

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV

Michigan State Minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Roasted peanuts, Caribbean chilies, sawdust.

Palate: Full bodied. Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, burn.

Finish: Peanut brittle, alcohol.

Parting words: Yellowstone is an old brand with an interesting history. If you’re interested in that history, I would recommend entering Yellowstone Bourbon into a search engine it or buying a bourbon book that talks about it.

What matters for our purposes is that the Yellowstone brand is now owned by Luxco and made by their microdistillery, Limestone Branch. Limestone Branch was founded and is still run by Stephen Beam, a man with equally long and interesting roots in the distilling families of Kentucky.

Although the plan (I think) is for Yellowstone to eventually be made entirely at Limestone Branch and recreate the taste of old Yellowstone bourbon, it is currently selected from sourced Kentucky bourbon. And it’s selected well.

Holiday Market’s Yellowstone Select is much richer that most four year old bourbons. It is pretty peanutty, but I like peanuts so that’s a good thing to me. It coats the tongue and makes a bold sipper, and also serves as a good mixer for classic cocktails.

I really like this bourbon and I’m very excited for its future. Holiday Market’s Yellowstone Select is recommended.

Longbranch

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Campari)

Style: Straight, standard recipe bourbon “refined” in oak and Texas (!) mesquite charcoal.

Celebrity: Matthew McConaughey

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o, but hang tag says 8 y/o)

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $40

Parting words: Since the invention of what we now call bourbon, humanity has been asking one question: What if you took aged Wild Turkey and filtered it through oak and then Texas (as opposed to Mexican, I guess) mesquite charcoal? Thanks to Eddie Russell and movie star Matthew McConaughey, we now know the answer.

The process seems to be similar to the one behind Dickel Rye. Standard Dickel and Jack Daniels filter their whiskey before it goes into the barrel, which I don’t think they’re doing here, but the internet has not been particularly clear on this.

The target market seems to be the bougie casual bourbon drinker who isn’t a fan of assertive, high proof whiskeys (what Wild Turkey is known for) and values “smoothness” but still wants flavor and a fancy-looking bottle. In other words, Basil Hayden and Woodford Reserve drinkers. But why shouldn’t Wild Turkey have a share of that market?

At any rate, there’s nothing not to like about Longbranch. The price is even reasonable for Celeb Whiskey. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as fellow Texan Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River (a collaboration with Heaven Hill), but it’s still all right, all right, all right.

I apologize.

Longbranch is recommended.

Old Tub

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

Style: Standard recipe, bonded bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: Not listed but available in the state. $30ish?

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: That mixed peanut butter and jelly stuff.

Palate: Alcohol, burnt peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Finish: burnt peanut brittle.

Mixed: Fine mixed, but plenty of better, cheaper, options for mixers.

Parting words: Beam was on a hot streak for a while but that streak seems to have ended here with Old Tub. The name was the original name of what’s now Jim Beam bourbon. It was first produced in 1880 by David Beam’s distillery, and became the flagship bourbon of the new Jim Beam distillery after prohibition. The name was changed to Jim Beam in 1943 to honor Jim, who passed away a few years later.

I think I get what they’re going for here, and I like the idea, but I don’t think it ends up being something worth buying, other than as an objet d’art. I like Bonded Beam, but I don’t like this. Old Tub is not recommended.

Old Ezra

Maker: Lux Row, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA(Luxcon)wp-1582340562351.jpg

Distiller: Undisclosed (tastes like Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA)

Style: standard recipe bourbon

Age: 7 y/o

Proof: 117 (58.5% ABV)

Purchased for $50

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Cayenne, corn chips, lavender.

Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet. Caramel, vanilla, oak, then big alcohol burn. Water makes it a little leathery.

Finish: Nutty and then burn. Same but more mild.

Parting words: For many years, Old Ezra 101 was one of my go-to bourbons. As I said in my previous review, it was maybe the best example of Heaven Hill’s distictive, minty, yeast-driven style despite having a Luxco label.

Alas, a few years ago Luxco turned this relatively obscure favorite into a barrel proof high-end release at more than twice the price. Before that, the source of the bourbon changed from Heaven Hill to Jim Beam (according to my tastebuds anyway). Beam does a lot of contract/bulk whiskey work these days, since it’s one of the few distillers in Kentucky that still has the ability to do so.

At any rate, this is no substitute for the good old HH Old Ezra 101, but it’s still pretty good. Old Ezra is recommended.

Old Forester 1910

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USAwp-1578702014650.jpg

Style: Barrel-finished straight bourbon whiskey.

Age: NAS

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $55

Appearance: Chestnut.

Nose: Light oak, ghost pepper, toasted pecan.

Palate: Full-bodied. Brown Sugar and then burn. With water: Pralines, plum, cocoa.

Finish: Long. Maple candy, then alcohol and bubble gum.

Parting words: This is the fourth and final entry in Old Forester’s superb Whiskey Row series of historically inspired bourbons. I’ve liked every single one and I like this one too. The first two, 1870 and 1897, were better (probably older) versions of their two standard expressions the 86 proof and 100 proof (fka Signature) Old Foresters. The third (my favorite) was the 114 proof 1920.

Brown-Forman went in a different direction for 1910, jumping backward ten years to replicate an alleged incident when a fire on the bottling line forced the distillery to store bourbon in a second barrel for some reason. The whole thing sounds a bit dubious to me, but, historicity aside, this is a very good bourbon. The second barrel (new I believe) rounds out OF’s usually sharp edges to give it decadent candy flavors without becoming overly sweet. Depite the relatively low (93) proof for serious bourbon people like you and me, OF 1910 benefits from a few drops of water.

1910 is cheaper than 1920, but much harder to find in my experience. $55 may seem like a lot for a 93 proof NAS bourbon from a big distillery, but it’s well worth it in this case. It’s an excellent capstone to the Whiskey Row series. Old Forester 1910 is highly recommended.

 

Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bottled in Bond

Maker: Wilderness Trail, Danville, Kentucky, USA20191025_165431.jpg

Style: Single barrel, sweet mash, wheated, bonded bourbon

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Barrel #15A23, Bottle 147/269

Price: $50 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Spicy. Cayenne, caramel, new oak, wintergreen.

Palate: Fruit punch, cherry, caramel, burn. Water brings out more wood and sweetness, but makes it less complex.

Finish: Hot but fruity with peppermint. Water shifts the finish away from peppermint and towards wintergreen.

Mixed: Excells in every cocktail I tried it in. I did not try it in cola or ginger ale because it’s $50.

Pating words: Wilderness Trail began operations in 2013 and has distinguished itself as one of the distilleries doing things the right way by distilling their whiskeys themselves, aging in standard 53 gallon barrels and letting them sit in those barrels for at least four years. WT’s stated goal is to get their regular releases up to 6-8 years old. That’s right in my bourbon sweet spot, so I’m really looking forward to that.

As for the bourbon itself, WTBiB doesn’t fit the profile of a standard wheater. There’s more fruit, mint and spice than I expected. If I had to compare it to another wheater, it would be Larceny or Rebel Yell, but I don’t think Wilderness Trail could be mistaken for either of those. It has a unique, but still bourbon-y profile.

I do wish it was closer to Larceny in price. Hopefully the price will come down as their stocks go up. Factoring in its unique character, unusual Sweet Mash process, and the standard micro-distillery inflation, Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond is recommended.

Featherbone Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Berrien County, Michigan, USA.20190823_222646.jpg

Style: Wheat/Rye bourbon whiskey (not straight)

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Orangy copper.

Nose: Wood shop, licorice.

Palate: Full-bodied and hot. Licorice, cinnamon gum, strawberry candy.

Finish: Hot and woody.

Parting words: Journeyman is a whiskey distillery located in the heart of Southwest Michigan wine country. They’re in the perfect place to capitalize on tourist traffic but they don’t content themselves cottage-dwellers wandering in, they make an effort to produce unique, high-quality spirits.

The flavors are largely good, but it could be better integrated and have less sawdust in the nose and on the palate. That comes with more time in a full-sized barrel. I’m hoping they are allowing the Featherbone to linger longer and longer with every batch, so that future editions will be less harsh and more velvety.

The hardest thing about rating micro-distilled whiskeys is factoring in the price. I would not pay $50 for something like this from a big bourbon producer, but is it acceptable from a small one? Maybe it would be if it were 100 proof or higher, but at 90 proof, Featherbone garners only a mild recommendation.