Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennessee, USA20160930_180620.jpg

Style: Tennesee Whiskey

Age: NAS

Proof: 94 (47% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $52

Parting words: Single Barrel select was the first premium line extension to Jack Daniels. It was introduced in 1997 and had a fairly good reputation whiskey enthusiasts as the most (or only) drinkable JD iteration, at least after the standard JD was lowered to 80 proof. JD Single Barrel has now turned into its own line. There is now also a 100 proof bottled in bond (originally a travel retail selection), barrel strength and a single barrel rye (the last two released this year).

I haven’t had any of the new ones, but I’ve never been impressed with the SB Select but this bottle was even worse than I remember. It strikes a balance between boring and unpleasant as only JD can. Other than the proof and the price, this is indistinguishable from the last glass of standard JD I had. The price is not as outlandish as the Frank Sinatra Editions ($170 and $450 respectively) but still dumb money. Individual barrels may vary, of course, but overall Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select is not recommended.

George Dickel No. 12

Maker: George Dickel, Tullahoma, Tennessee, USA (Diageo)wp-1465608740749.jpg

Style: Tennessee whiskey

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Peanut brittle, tarragon, leather, alcohol

Palate: Light. Caramel, grape bubble gum, oak, alcohol.

Finish: Fruity finish, fades to basil and burn.

Mixed: Did well in all applications, especially Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and a Godfather. OK in cola, with Benedictine and on the rocks. Gets lost in a Boulevardier, but who doesn’t?

Parting words: I was shocked and appalled that I had not yet reviewed this whiskey. It was long one of my favorites and even a go-to. The peanutbuttery flavors are not for everyone, I realize, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Good in cocktails too, but it’s at its best when sipped need on a humid summer afternoon on a rocking chair on a wrap-around porch. Or in another sort of chair in another circumstance of your choice. Point is, it’s a good casual sipper.

If I had reviewed it back when I first started drinking it, it might have earned a highly recommended. I can’t go that far now. What happened? Well, Dickel was one of the last distilleries to get out of the great whiskey glut of the 1980s and 1990s. The distillery had so much stock that it actually shut down for a few years until it sold its old stock. It reopened in 2003 to a brief shortage of their lower shelf No. 8 whiskey. The first bottles I had were from the shutdown years and tasted like they had spent more time in the barrel than this version. It may not be the steal it once was but I still like it. George Dickel No. is recommended.

Bernheim Originial (7 y/o)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-20150904_174616.jpg

Style: Straight Wheat Whiskey (made with at least 51% wheat)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Caramel with necklacing and thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, walnut, whole wheat biscuits.

Palate: Surprisingly hot. Cinnamon, crackers, caramel, pinch of tarragon.

Finish: Butterscotch, amaretto, alcohol, oak.

Mixed: Very good in a Manhattan and an old fashioned. Didn’t try it in anything else.

Parting words: Bernheim Original is a rare thing in two ways. First, it’s the only straight wheat whiskey on store shelves made by a major American whiskey distiller. Second, after years of being NAS, it was reintroduced with an age statement this year! This is unheard of these days when tightening supplies are causing age statements to drop like passes in the hands of rookie wide receivers.

I reviewed the NAS back in 2012. Judging by my old tasting notes, this age stated version is richer and beefier than the old version. It’s no longer a lightweight and has a solid caramel backbone to support the unusual baked goods and cinnamon flavors. This isn’t a novelty anymore, this is seriously good whiskey. With micro-distilled wheat whiskeys popping up all over the place, Bernheim Original has taken its rightful place as the benchmark of the category. The price hasn’t changed much, if it all, since 2012. Even more than three years ago, Bernheim Original is recommended.

Rebel Yell American Whiskey

Maker: Luxco, St. Louis, Missouri, USAwpid-2015-07-03-21.02.47.jpg.jpeg

Distillers (probable): Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky & MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Blend of straight bourbon and straight rye

Age: 2 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $25

Appearance: Light orange.

Nose: Alcohol, caramel, asparagus, orange zest.

Palate: Light bodied and hot. Caramel, cotton candy, alcohol,

Finish: Menthol, alcohol, cotton candy again. Lingers for a while.

Mixed: Rebel Yell American Whiskey mixes very well across the board. Makes for an excellent boulevardier and Manhattan. Old Fashioned is not quite as good but still decent. Does ok with club soda or on the rocks too.

Parting words: While I would say that my least favorite bottom shelf bourbon is Benchmark, many people would give that dubious honor to Rebel Yell. Once upon a time it was a mid-lower shelf offering from the Stizel-Weller distillery, more famous for the Old Fitzgerald and Weller brands of wheated bourbon (that is, bourbon made with corn, malted barley and wheat rather than corn, malted barley and rye). When Diageo was formed, they sold off all of the old S-W brands except for Rebel Yell, which they intended to make their worldwide flagship bourbon. That didn’t work out so they sold the brand to Luxco, one of the biggest non-distiller producers of bourbon.

Luxco already owned the Ezra Brooks line of rye recipe bourbons but no wheaters so it was a good fit for their portfolio. They released the slightly older Rebel Reserve (no longer made but still languishing on shelves) a few years ago and in 2015 expanded the line again and redesigned the bottle (now Confederate soldier free!). The new products are Small Batch Reserve, Honey and Cherry flavored bourbons, this product and a rye for some reason.

I was pleasantly surprised by this. The high-rye rye balances the caramel and vegetable notes in the bourbon and brings a light citrus flavor to the party. It lacks complexity and depth, but one could do a lot worse for $25. For mixing and casual sipping, Rebel Yell American Whiskey is recommended.

Parker’s Heritage Straight Wheat Whiskey (2014 edition)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-2014-10-03-14.49.22.jpg.jpeg

Age: 13 y/o

Proof: 127.4 (63.7% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $100

Purchased for $85

Appearance: Dark auburn with long thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, old oak, caramel, wheat bread in the oven.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet on entry. Butterscotch, toffee hard candy, chewy taffy, cocoa powder. Water brings out more of that trademark Bernheim “biscuity” flavor, but still plenty of candy.

Finish: Pretty hot with lots of oak and a touch of sweetness. Lingers for a very long time.

Parting words: Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Original is the world’s best selling straight wheat whiskey. I can say that with confidence because it’s also the only straight wheat whiskey produced by a major American distiller. To almost everyone’s surprise, they added an age statement recently and those bottles are now hitting the shelves.

An even bigger surprise was when it was announced that the 2014 edition of the PHC was going to be a wheat whiskey. Many mistakenly assumed that it was going to be another wheat bourbon, but that’s not what this is. It’s a wheat whiskey, meaning that it is made from a mashbill containing at least 51% wheat, the rest being corn and malted barley. It is required to meet all the legal requirements for straight ryes or bourbons, only with wheat in the place of rye or corn.

I came in expecting a very dry, subtle whiskey along the lines of Bernheim Original but oakier. I didn’t expect such a lush, sexy whiskey. It has a round voluptuousness that I associate more with Four Roses or older Van Winkle bottles than I do with Heaven Hill (as much as I love HH). Bottling at barrel proof and not chill filtering were the right choices to make for this one, but when aren’t they the right choices? It’s hard to compare this to anything else, but I think it’s the best in the Parker’s Heritage Series since 2010’s Wheat Bourbon edition. It also fits easily into my personal top twenty list.

I got a good deal on mine, but even at $100-$120 Parker’s Heritage Original Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey (full name) is highly recommended.

If you want a second opinion, consider this: I brought a full bottle of this to the table at a recent gathering of some of the most obsessive and discerning American whiskey enthusiasts in the country. It shared the table with dusties from Wild Turkey’s golden age, Four Roses limited editions, Stitzel-Weller products and dozens of bottles of that caliber. After an hour or so I had to hide it under a chair because it was already half empty. That says it all.

Dickel 9 y/o Single Barrel Head to Head: Spec’s vs. Red Wagon

Maker: George Dickel, Tullhoma, Tennessee, USA (Diageo)Dickel vs Dickel

Style: Tennessee Whiskey

Proof: 103
(51.5% ABV)

Spc= Selected by Spec’s, Houston, Texas, USA

RW= Selected by Red Wagon, Troy/Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA

Appearance

Spc: Dark copper, long, well developed legs.

RW: Brighter copper, similar legginess.

Nose

Spc: Alcohol, leather, lavender, char.

RW: Less alcohol, oak, peanut butter candy.

Palate

Spc: Well balanced with peanut brittle, a bit of maple.

RW: Sweet and bold with lots of maple and wood. A bit of peanut butter in the background.

Finish

Spc: Fairly hot finish that tingles for a long time with the signature George Dickel vitamin finish.

RW: Huge Dickel finish. Chewable vitamins, maple sugar candy and alcohol.

Parting words: Dickel’s single barrel program got kicked off a few months ago with a series of 9 y/o and 14 y/o retailer selections. The early reports had the 9 y/o barrels being superior to the 14 so I decided to invest in two of the 9s. In fact, I had been inquiring at Red Wagon about whether or not they would be participating in the program for weeks when I decided to just acquire one from an out of state store. The day after my Spec’s bottle arrived, I happened to be in Red Wagon and, lo and behold, theirs was sitting right there on the shelf. So, of course, I bought one of theirs too.

I was pleasantly surprised at the differences between these two bottles/barrels. Both were good but I give Spec’s the edge. Red Wagon’s tasted like an amped up version of Dickel #12. Lots of sweet peanut butter and maple with a touch of that famous vitamin note. I enjoy the #12 so I didn’t mind that, although anymore of that vitamin taste would have been unpleasant.

Spec’s had those signature Dickel flavors and aromas but they were more subtle and had a sweet leathery quality that reminded me of Elmer T. Lee and similar Buffalo Trace bourbons. It was surprising and showed how subtle and elegant George Dickel has the potential to be. Let’s hope it’s a sign of good things to come from Tullahoma.

 

Red Wagon’s 9 y/o Dickel Single Barrel is recommended and Spec’s is highly recommended.

Wild Turkey Forgiven

Wild-Turkey-Forgiven-WhiskeyMaker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA

Style: Blend of straight whiskeys (bourbon and rye)

Age: NAS

Proof: 91 (45.5% ABV)

Batch: 302

Michigan state minimum: $51

Thanks to Oscar for the sample

Appearance: Medium copper with legs and a decent necklace.

Nose: Alcohol, fresh cut grass, sawdust, lavender, hint of barbecue sauce, corn chips.

On the palate: Hot and dry but with a soft mouth feel. A bit of sweetness, a kiss of oak and then nothing but alcohol.

Finish: Mild alcohol burn, a touch of anise, then nothing.

Parting words: Upon tasting this bourbon I was filled with joy. That joy was because I hadn’t spent $50+ on a full bottle. Thanks again to Oscar for this sample! Forgiven was named for an alleged incident when a WT employee mistakenly mixed bourbon and rye (Your chocolate’s in my peanut butter!) but was forgiven because of the allegedly delicious results. The end result is not awful, but really dull. Boring is forgivable at <$25, but not at $51. This is another miss for Wild Turkey under Campari’s ownership. Forgotten seems like a more appropriate name. Not recommended.

Mellow Corn, Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA. (Distilled at DSP KY 31)988_437_Mellow-Corn
Style: Aged corn whiskey
Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Appearance: Dark straw, long thin legs.
Nose: Thyme, sage, corn masa, toffee.
On the palate: Full-bodied and soft. Sweet caramel, oak, alcohol, sugar cookies.
Finish: Hot and sweet. Caramel corn, alcohol, tarragon. Lingers and tingles.
Mixed: Use as you would a bourbon or American blend. Makes a very nice Old Fashioned. In a Manhattan and with Benedictine (4:1 ratio on the rocks) makes a mixer-forward but still well-balanced and, most importantly, tasty drink.
Parting words: Corn whiskey occupies its own odd little corner in the world of American whiskey. Before the rise of micro-distillers, corn whiskey was a niche product popular in Appalachia and with nerds like me. It is, by law, composed of at least 80% corn but unlike bourbon it cannot touch new, charred, oak barrels. It doesn’t have to be aged at all, but if it is used cooperage is, well, used.
Mellow Corn is the most widely distributed and probably best selling aged corn whiskey. In my mind it thus provides a benchmark for judging all other aged corn whiskeys. The only thing from a major producer that comes close to it is Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, which has a similar mashbill and is composed of whiskey aged in new and used barrels. Mellow Corn far outclasses Early Times. Comparing it to a bourbon is not helpful, in my opinion, because that’s not what it is. Mellow Corn is a corn whiskey and should be judged for what it is, not what it isn’t.
Before I finish, I should mention that I love the campy, mid-century label on this whiskey. Loads of praise to Heaven Hill for not updating the label on this one. OK, I’m starting to ramble. Mellow Corn BiB is recommended.

Head to Head: Virginia Lightning vs Glen Thunder Corn Whiskeys

1) Virginia Lightning

2) Glen Thunder

Maker

1) Belmont Farms of Virginia, Culpepper, Virginia, USA (product no longer made)

2) Finger Lakes Distilling, Burdett, New York, USA

Age

1) NAS (unaged)

2) Less than 30 days

Proof

1) 100 (50% ABV, taken down to 90 proof for tasting)

2) 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance

1) Clear

2) Clear

Nose

1) Raw spirit, lavender, corn syrup, dried flowers, nail polish.

2) Spirit, corn tortillas, rose water, varnish.

On the palate

1) Full bodied and velvety. Sweet. Grape juice, mango.

2) Medium bodied. Milder than the nose would indicate. Drier and delicate.

Finish

1) Long, soft and fruity. Alcohol, starlight mints.

2)Corn husks, sweet cornbread, a bit of an alcoholic tingle

Parting words: These are two of my favorite unaged corn whiskeys. They are both good in their own way. Virginia Lightning is mild and fruity. It’s easy drinking for an unaged corn. Glen Thunder has more of an edge, but much more in the way of corn character. I have heard rumors that Belmont Farms, when they made this product, added sugar to their mash to achieve its relative smoothness. Both perform well mixed with sweet soft drinks or even on the rocks with a wedge of lime or a maraschino cherry (a summer favorite of mine) Virginia Lightning is no longer made now that Belmont Farms is under new management. If you can find it, it is worth buying. Glen Thunder is still made, but may be hard to find. It has the strong corn character of a traditional corn whiskey, but is accessible enough to work its way into the rotation of whiskey lovers who enjoy this sort of thing. Both are recommended.

Head to Head: Bourye vs. Son of Bourye

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USA

Distilleries: Four Roses, Barton-1792, LDI

Style: Blended whiskeys (bourbon +rye, no GNS)

1. Bouryre

2. Son of Bouryre

Batch

1. 1 (thanks Amy!)

2. 3

Age (youngest whiskey in the mix)

1. 10 y/o

2. 3 y/o

Proof

1. 92

2. 92

Appearance

1. Dark copper, long, thick legs.

2. Burt orange, long, fairly thin legs.

Nose

1. Alcohol, oak, caramel, cumin, crushed red pepper.

2. Peppermint, lemongrass, tomatoes, ginger.

On the palate

1. Thick, soft mouthfeel. Creamy soft caramels, nougat, a bit of fennel, alcohol

2. A little thin. Mild, some mint and orange.

Finish

1. Hot, but fading to sweet caramel with a hint of oak.

2. Warm, but not too hot. Some light vegetal notes as it fades slowly.

Parting words

The Bourye is from a bottle I split with a friend, but  I failed to record the batch information. At any rate, the differences between these two whiskeys are pretty stark. The Bourye is well-balanced and an enjoyable sipper. It has plenty of spice, but balanced out by caramel (presumably from the bourbon) and oak (presumably from the 16 y/o rye in the mix). I have seen it on shelves recently, but in most places it has long since sold out. It was pricey, and the remaining bottles will be even pricier now, but it is very well done and there’s nothing not to like. Bourye is recommended.

Son of Bourye was really awful when I first opened it. It was like drinking tomato ketchup. It has settled down in the bottle since then, but it is still mediocre. Some apparently enjoy sour, citric notes in their bourbon. I don’t. The whiskeys in the mix are very young and it shows. The young high rye rye, overwhelms everything else. If this whiskey were $20 cheaper, it might earn a mild recommendation as a change of pace and a decent mixer. Its price, around $40, puts it into the sipper category. As a casual sipping whiskey, it fails. I find it hard to recommend Son of Bourye compared to its competition in that range such as Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, or Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Not recommended.