Head to Head, Mint Julep ed: Old Forester vs Maker’s vs Mint Julep Elixir

OF= Old Forester Mint Julep, MM= Maker’s Mark Mint Julep, Mint Julep made with Old 20170505_114519Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond and True Kentucky Mint Julep Elixir=MJE

Maker

MM: Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

OF: Early Times/Old Forester, Louisville, Kentucky, USA (Brown-Forman)

MJE: Town & Country Specialty Foods, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA

ABV

MM: 33%

OF: 30%

MJE: N/A (made with 50% ABV bourbon)

Price

MM: $36/1 liter (The Party Source)

OF: $28/1 liter (Michigan State Minimum)

MJE: $5/5 oz bottle (makes 30 drinks with 2 oz of bourbon accord to label). Works out to around $28 a liter.

Head to head tasting

Tasted in julep cups with crushed ice

MM: Mint strong up front, then fades to bourbon sweetness and iced tea. Pleasant if a little chewy in the finish.

OF: Fruity up front. Not as bitter, but sweeter. Old Forester bite in mid palate fades to a sweet, slightly minty finish.

MJE: Practically all bourbon, even after adding more ice and syrup to make up for high proof. Syrup lingered at the bottom of the cup even with extensive stirring before pouring over ice.

The Liz Factor

My wife is a lover of the Maker’s Mark Mint Julep and always makes sure we come home from Kentucky with a bottle every spring. She tasted MM & OF blind (when I offered her one made with the syrup she politely declined having tried it before) and to her surprise found that she preferred Old Forester even though she liked both. She found MM to have an unpleasant aftertaste.

Parting words: I don’t drink a lot of pre-made cocktails but when we found both the Maker’s Mark and Old Forester Mint Juleps at Liquor World in Bardstown, Kentucky last weekend I thought a head to head would be a fun idea, since Liz enjoys the MM so much. I prefered MM over OF myself, but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra $8 or so. MMMJ has gone off the Michigan list for some reason so I couldn’t do an apples to apple comparison on price unfortunately. The mint julep syrup just didn’t cut it at all and reminded my why we’ve had the same little bottle sitting on our shelf for years. I’ve made my own mint syrup in years past and that worked a little better. None of these are a substitute for a well made home or bar Mint Julep.

Both Maker’s Mark and Old Forester Mint Juleps are recommended, though OF is a better bargain. MMMJ and OFMJ are only available in stores around Kentucky Derby time in late April and early May. True Kentucky’s Mint Julep Elixir is not recommended. Brown-Forman also makes an Early Times Mint Julep which is awful and highly not recommended. It is what is served in the stands at the Kentucky Derby if one orders a julep without specifying a bourbon.

 

Old Forester 1920

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20170106_195909.jpg

Age: NAS

Proof: 115 (57.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Bright chestnut with a clingy robe.

Nose: Crushed walnut, bubblegum, caramel, allspice, dried Cayenne. With water the Cayenne turns to sweet cinnamon.

Palate: Medium bodied. Caramel on entry, then burn. Turns chewy and spicy with water.

Finish: Grape  bubblegum, alcohol. Water brings out the oak, but doesn’t turn down the heat.

Parting words: Old Forester 1920 is the third installment in the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series. The first, Old Forester 1870 (in honor of the founding of the company), was released in 2014, 1897 (in honor of the Bottled-in-Bond act) was released in 2015. This one, released in 2016, was named in honor of the fact that Brown-Forman was one of the handful of Kentucky distillers that received a license from the US government to distill spirits for medicinal purposes. So it was actually possible to get Old Forester during Prohibition, with a prescription. It is 115 proof, not because that was the proof at which OF was sold in those days but because that was a common proof at which Old Forester came out of the barrel at the time.

All three Old Forester Whiskey Row bourbons have been good. This one is the best. It is what we OF fans have been waiting for. It does an excellent job of balancing the spice and oak of older OF with the fruity roundness of younger OF. It does this without falling into the weird plastic aromas and unbalanced oak that can come into some of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon vintages. 1920 is both elegantly balanced and powerful, like a JS Bach organ composition or a Brahms symphony. This is the Old Forester I had hoped B-F was capable of producing all these years but thought I would never see. Now all I can think about is the next installment. Single barrel? True barrel proof? Distillate of DSP KY 414, the old Old Forester plant? I can hardly wait. Old Forester 1920 is highly recommended.

Old Forester 1897

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA2016-02-18-11.58.26.jpg.jpeg

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $50

Appearance: Dark copper

Nose: Dates, alcohol, dried figs, leather.

Palate: Medium bodied and medium sweet. Cinnamon, mincemeat pie, sugar plums, caramel, oak.

Finish: Hot and leathery, like me in my senior year of high school.

Parting words: Old Forester 1897 is the latest entry in OF’s Whiskey Row series. I reviewed the first one, 1870, here. Old Forester is a great old bourbon brand. I won’t recount its long history here. Google it if you’re interested. This iteration is named in honor of the 1897 Bottled-in-Bond act that established the BiB designation for spirits (not just whiskey) and other quality controls. Bottled-in-Bottle aged spirits are at least four years old, the product of one distiller at one distillery from one distilling season, and bottled at 100 proof. The distillery must be identified on the label as well as the bottler, if bottled at a different facility than the one at which it was distilled. Old Forester BiB was in production for decades (maybe even a century) until it was replaced by Old Forester Signature. Signature is 100 proof but not technically a BiB presumably because it is not taken from one distilling “season”.

1897 is bottled in bond and it’s very good. While I like OF Signature, 1897 is superior. It’s much more complex and fruitier than its dry, spicy sibling. It’s creamy and fruity and a joy to drink. $50 is much higher than most BiBs are priced these days, but this is not Jim Beam bonded or J.T.S. Brown. This is a complex, flavorful bourbon worth sipping alongside Blanton’s or Rock Hill Farms. Old Forester 1897 is recommended.

Old Forester 1870

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-2015-10-09-17.57.32.jpg.jpeg

Style: High rye bourbon

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $45

Appearance: Medium copper with medium, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Alcohol, caramel, old leather, squirt of wild blackberry juice.

Palate: Soft and medium bodied on the palate with nougat, caramel candies, and vanilla but then moving into cassia and burn. Water brings out some nice chocolatey flavors.

Finish: Oak, chocolate chews, amaretto, burn.

Parting words: Old Forester occupies a unique place among American bourbons. It is the only nineteenth century brand that is still owned by the company that founded it. It was Brown-Forman’s (Forman was a one-time partner) first brand. Who Forester actually was has never been satisfactorily answered. Early batches had an extra r in the name, so it has been asserted that it was named after a physician named William Forrester or even confederate general, early KKK leader and war criminal Nathan Bedford Forrest.  At any rate, over the years, Brown-Forman gobbled up Early Times (founded by a Beam) and then, of course, Jack Daniels. The company is publically owned, but the majority of shares are still owned by the Brown family.

Brown, like many of his peers, began as a broker or rectifier. He bought whiskey from various distilleries and sold it under the Old Forester name by the barrel to retailers and taverns. The concept of branding was taking off at the time and Brown wished to protect his brand’s reputation against unscrupulous retailers and bar owners, so he began selling his bourbon by the bottle instead, to insure that he had total control over what was being sold as Old Forester. The idea spread like wildfire, of course.

This iteration, Old Forester 1870 is inspired by those early batches. It is composed of barrels drawn from three different warehouses, from different barrel entry proofs and production dates, corresponding to the three different distilleries from which Brown sourced his first batches. I would not be surprised if some of those barrels were from the old Old Forester plant (DSP 414).

As for the bourbon itself, I was underwhelmed at first but it has grown on me. It has a subtle richness that is very satisfying after dinner or as sipper to accompany a book or good TV. 1870 also stands up very well against its little sibling, the 86 proof Old Forester. Where the 86 is thin, simple and slightly astringent, 1870 is creamy and multi-faceted. It lacks the fruitiness in the Old Forester Single Barrel selections I’ve had, but it more than makes up for it in rich candy flavors. Frankly, I wish the 86 proof would taste more like this.

It’s pricy at $45 but I do think it’s worth the money (although not much more). Old Forester 1870 is recommended.

Five-Way Honey Liqueur Tasting

Under the “we taste them so you don’t have to” category comes this 5 bottle tasting of bourbon (and Jack Daniels) honey wpid-20150411_205850.jpgliqueurs. While flavored spirits are very popular now, the whiskey liqueur has a long history. In the early days of distilling in Scotland, the spirit (it would not qualify as whisky in the 21th

century) was usually sweetened with honey and flavored with herbs and spices to make it more palatable for recreational consumption. The popular Scotch whisky liqueur Drambuie is a marketed as a modern riff on that tradition. In the mid to late 20th century, many bourbon producers sold whiskey liqueurs as well, the best known and best being Wild Turkey Liqueur. It’s worth a purchase if you ever come across it. This current crop of whiskey liqueurs is only a few years old, but they’re already ubiquitous. They’re all over the place too.

I want to thank Mrs. Sipology Blog, Liz for being my co-taster in this exercise. In fact, it was her idea. So without further ado…

Wild Turkey American Honey, $21, 71°

L: Color like a golden apple. Butter, pear, whiskey. Thick but not sticky. Airplane sippable. Thumbs up.

J: Pale. Light vanilla and honey in the nose. Medium bodied. Sweet and slightly herbaceous with a little burn. Pretty good for what it is.

Evan Williams Honey Reserve, $13, 70°

L: Very, very light in color. Watered down apple juice. Sweeter nose, sweeter overall. More honey than alcohol. Sugary aftertaste. Too sweet to drink neat. Needs mixing, maybe with club soda.

J: Paler. Mildly sweet nose with some peanut butter. Honeyed water. No burn. Honeycomb finish. It’s big. Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, but unbalanced.

Jim Beam Honey, $20, 70°

L: Bourbon-like in color (contains caramel). Strange smell, like peat, charcoal and corn. More burn than the EW, but not as complex. Honey, charcoal, nothing else. “I don’t think I finish this [1/4 oz pour].”

J: Much darker. Very weird nose, like white dog. Bland with a bit of sweetness and little else, not even honey. Finish like grape soda. Really bad. To the sink!

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, $25, 70°

L: Pretty light. Nose is honey, big time. No burn in the nose. Weird taste on the roof of the mouth toward the back. Smells better than it tastes. [grimaces] “Flat soda. I don’t like it. I don’t want to finish it.”

J: Wonderful jellybean nose. Waxy and perfumed on the palate like a scented candle. Not as bad as the JB, but not great either.

Red Stag Honey Tea, $20, 80°

L: At a loss for notes. More burn, less sugar but dull. Charcoal again. Nice bourbon flavor but too bland overall.

J: An improvement on the JB. Higher proof allows the bourbon to shine through a little more. Close in flavor to the EW until I get to the finish. A big burst of used teabags rounds things out. Better than the JD or JB.

Final results (unanimous)

Winner: Wild Turkey American Honey

Final standings: 1) WTAH 2) EWHR 3) RSHT 4) JDTH 5) JBH

(unanimous decision on both)

Parting words (Josh): This tasting surprised me a bit. The winner did not surprise me, but how bad JB and JD were did. Jim Beam honey was vile, disgusting stuff and Jack wasn’t much better. Another surprise was that Red Stag Honey Tea was not vile. I don’t see myself ever buying a bottle but a casual whiskey drinker might enjoy it on the rocks on a hot day with a slice of lemon.

If one is looking for a bargain, EWHR qualifies, but it’s so bland it hardly seems worth saving the extra $8. The only one on the list that I recommend is Wild Turkey Honey. It’s not as good as the old WT liqueur but it’s by far the best of this bunch. It’s best enjoyed in cocktails or as a digestif.

Collingwood 21

Maker: Canadian Mist, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada (Brown-Forman)wpid-20150206_163642.jpg

Style: 100% malted rye Canadian whisky finished with toasted maple wood.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Bright orange

Nose: Rich and bright. Dried orange peel, vanilla sugar cookies, cut oak, ground walnut.

Palate: Soft and mild. Grade A maple syrup, faint notes of clementine, maple sugar, oak.

Finish: A little oak and potpourri, then softly fades into a gentle sweetness.

Parting words: The nose on this whisky is truly amazing. It’s complex, elegant and beautiful from beginning to end. Wood is very much present, both maple and oak, but it’s never overbearing. Everything is seamlessly integrated. I could just sit and smell this whisky for hours.

Then there’s the taste and finish. Anticlimactic would be a polite word for it. Neither is bad, but they don’t even come close to matching the promise of the amazing nose. This is yet another Canadian Whisky that is held back from being the world class spirit is should be by being bottled at 40%. At 45% or, God forbid, 50% this would be world class. As it is, it’s a sad reminder of what is holding Canadian whiskies back. No, forget sad, Collingwood 21 makes me angry. The women and men who made this product deserve better than a showing like this.

$60 is too high but, my anger not withstanding, at $50 or lower, Collingwood 21 is recommended.

Head to Head: Rittenhouse DSP KY 1 vs DSP KY 354

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Ketucky, USAwpid-20150130_172202.jpg

Distilled

1: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

354: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style: Kentucky rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $24 (DSP 354 edition is no longer being produced).

Appearance

1: Burnt orange.

354: A bit lighter. Bright copper.

Nose

1: Alcohol, caramel, creamed corn, tarragon, sawdust.

354: Softer. Spearmint, alcohol, roasted corn.

Palate

1: Neat- Heat and little else. Water brings out candy and oak notes.

354: Round and soft, even neat. Potpourri, rock candy, alcohol.

Finish

1: Hot and harsh. The caramel and herbal flavors start to shift into something much less pleasant.

2: Long and grassy. Freshly mowed lawn, alcohol, orange peel.

Parting words: After the infamous Heaven Hill fire in 1997, HH turned to their competitors/friends at Jim Beam and Brown-Forman to distill some of their whiskeys for them while they made necessary alterations to their new distillery in Louisville. Brown-Forman (the distillery formerly known as Early Times, DSP 354) picked up the distillation of Rittenhouse, our heroes’ flagship rye, during that period. It is also during that period that many whiskey enthusiasts like myself became big fans of the bonded Rittenhouse. Perhaps the consistently high quality of this rye and Sazerac rye during that period led to the current rye revival in some way.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do these two head to head for a long time. Now that I have, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect much difference between these two but there was quite a bit. When two whiskeys are so close to each other, those differences can become exaggerated, naturally, but that’s the point to these head to head tastings. “It’s the little differences,” as Vincent Vega said.

Simply put, the DSP 1 did not fare well against the 354. It wasn’t terrible, it but it was comparitively hot and unrefined neat. It was better with a splash of water and even better than that mixed. 354 needed no water and gave off some very pleasant characteristic rye notes in the nose and the palate. When mixed, there was very little difference between the two.

1 is mildly recommended overall but recommended as a mixer. 354 is recommended for all purposes but given its growing scarcity I would save it for sipping neat or close to it.

El Jimador Reposado

Maker: Herradura, Amatitán, Jalisco, Mexico (Brown-Forman)Jimador Rep

Age: Reposado (2-11 mos.)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $20

Appearance: Pale gold with long thin legs.

Nose: Citrus rind, white pepper, touch of oak and vanilla.

Palate: Full bodied and medium sweet. Alcohol, corn syrup, lime peel, a wiff of smoke.

Finish: Lots more rind and a little pepper. Lasts for a good while.

Mixed: Does very well in everything I tried it in. Makes a good margarita, does well in cola and in a tequila sunrise and a Bloody Maria. My favorite way to drink it was on the rocks with a squeeze of lime and maybe even some orange bitters.

Parting words: This isn’t my first tequila review but it’s my first in years. I was drawn to the El Jimador line (also containing a white and an añejo expression) because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to find. There’s nothing mind blowing or transcendent about El Jimador Reposado. It has a nice balance of typical tequila characteristics. Citrus, pepper, smoke and barrel notes are all in evidence, although the emphasis is on the sweetness, citrus and pepper here.

According to online sources, Herradura uses a device called a diffuser in the manufacture of its brands, even with the eponymous higher-end line. The diffusion process takes the place of the more traditional roasting and cooking of the agave hearts. Both are intended to bring out the natural sugars in the plant, but the diffuser does so in a more efficient manner. The trade off, many connoisseurs say, is that the resulting spirit is less flavorful. I don’t have enough information and experience to form an informed opinion on the topic myself.

Diffuser or no, El Jimador Reposado is simple, tasty and versatile. At $20 it’s inexpensive too, especially compared to its older siblings in the Herraduraline which I’ve been told is virtually indistinguishable from El Jimador. Recommended.

Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennessee, USA (Brown-Forman)

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: light copper.

Nose: Light banana scent, corn syrup, papaya, nail polish, touch of wood..

On the palate: Light and sharp. Nail polish, clove, maple sugar, bit of anise.

Finish: Hot and harsh. Bitter clove, acetone, not much else.

Parting words: Jack Daniels is the best-selling brand of whiskey in the world. I have trouble figuring out why. It is fairly easy-drinking with some spice and sweetness. There is not much else going on here, but what is going on is pretty unpleasant. The special charcoal mellowing process Jack (and George Dickel) goes through is supposed to remove many of the harsher congeners found in bourbons of the same age, but there were still plenty left over.

I didn’t bother to try it in a manhattan or anything like that, but I did try it in its most popular applications: Jack and Coke and Jack and Ginger Ale. It does very well in both these drinks. The cola smoothes out the rough edges, but there is enough there to (barely) taste the whiskey inside. The ginger ale complements the spice and fruit notes, and covers up the embarrassing nail polish ones.

As a bargain brand, it doesn’t stand up too well to the competition. It’s well over $20 here in Michigan. Not good value for something of this quality at 80 proof. There are seasonal editions of Jack Daniels Old No. 7 that come out at a variety of proofs and one dedicated to salesman Angelo Lucchesi at 90 proof, replicating the proof of Jack when he started working at the company in the 1950s when Brown-Forman purchased it. That one is only a couple dollars more and probably a better bargain if you enjoy Jack Daniels.

At any rate, I’ve had worse, but not at this price. Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey is not recommended.