Rye World

Maker: Krogman’s, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Distiller: Ross & Squibb (formerly MGPI), Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Single Barrel Indiana High Rye Rye Whiskey.

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 112 (56% ABV)

Notes: 95% Rye, 5% malt, #4 barrel char.

Price: $25 (Vine & Table)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Bold. Tarragon and leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and semi-sweet. Wintergreen, burn. More bitter with water. Char and peppermint.

Finish: Extra-minty toothpaste, apricot. With water, a little fruit but mostly faded starlight mint.

Parting words: As you may have guessed, Rye World is the Rye equivalent of the Bourbon World Vine & Table single barrel selections. That said, it’s a little less distinct than those two, since it’s basically just the standard high rye rye whiskey recipe from Ross & Squibb. That’s fine, though, since it’s a good example of that recipe, high proof, and cheap. If you like Bulleit Rye (apparently the best selling rye in the US at the moment!), you’ll love this. It’s aggressively herbaceous and minty, but take it easy with the water. It wasn’t able to withstand as much as I thought it would.

If you like Indiana Rye, Bourbon World 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.

Laird’s Single Cask, Comrade Brandy selection #2, Shelter in Place

Maker: Laird’s, Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Virginia, USA.

Age: 7 y/o (84 mos)

Barrel: 13J24-30

Notes: Bottled Oct 29, 2020, bottle 81(80?)/144.

ABV: 65%

Purchased for $65 (Comrade Brandy selection).

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Big dessert apple aroma. Apple sauce, cut crimson crisp. Water brings out vanilla.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Cider, then burn. With water: White chocolate candy apple.

Finish: Long. Hot apple pie. With water: cleaner with a little heat.

Parting words: Comrade Brandy is one of two private barrel selection groups I’m a part of. I joined for the inaugural selection (reviewed here) back in 2019. Coming right at the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, this second selection took a while to come out, but it finally arrived in members’ hands early this spring. It’s not quite as good as the first edition, but it’s close and still a very strong selection that I have no complaints about. It’s made in a classic American apple brandy style, but it does start to take on some Calvados characteristics when watered down.

$65 is a fair price for a cask strength private selection, so no complaints there either! Want to get in on the next selection? Hop onto Facebook and join the club! Laird’s Single Cask, Comrade Brandy selection #2, Shelter in Place is recommended.

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.

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.

Head to head: Laird’s Single Cask vs Laird’s Single Cask (Comrade Brandy)

GB= Generic bottle

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The Comrade Brandy sticker wasn’t my idea, I swear.

CB= Comrade Brandy bottling

Maker: Laird’s, Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Viginia, USA

Age

GB: 4.5 y/o

CB: 5.33 y/o

Bottled

GB: 12/11/18

CB: 5/20/19

Bottle

GB: 118/192

CB: 157/168

ABV: 65.8%

Purchased for

GB: $45

CB: $50

Appearance

GB: Pale copper.

CB: Darker. New penny.

Nose

GB: Alcohol, old oak, cider, young Calvados.

CB: Leather, crushed apples, middle-aged Calvados.

Palate

GB:  Caramel apple, burn.

CB: More middle-aged Calvados. Chocolate-covered candy apple, vanilla, honey.

Finish

GB: Sweet apples, alcohol, a bit of oak.

CB: Richer and leatherier. Dark chocolate, cider, burn.

Thanks to John Creek and Bhavik Patel for getting Comrade Brandy together.

Parting words: Laird’s is the bourbon-lovers’ apple brandy and I, a bourbon lover, love Laird’s. I was excited when it was announced that Laird’s was going to be releasing a high-proof single barrel edition, so as soon as it hit the stores and went out and bought a barrel. A few weeks later, I found myself in a Facebook group for a private barrel pick of that very same product. So I took the opportunity to write up another one of my beloved head to head tasting reviews.

I enjoyed both of these but Comrade Brandy had more Calvados-like depth and complexity than the off-the-shelf model. I’m very glad I decided to buy two bottles but I kind of wish I had purchased more. I was sent two I didn’t order accidentally, but I can’t just keep them, right? Right? Laird’s Single Cask selection is recommended.

 

 

Midnight Oil

Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan

Style: Peated bourbon (made with peated malt)

Age: NAS (dumped March 31, 2018)

Proof: 105.8 (53.4% ABV)

Purchased for: I forget (at distillery)

Note: bottle is boring, so no picture, at least for now.

Appearance: Dark copper, almost chestnut.

Nose: Freshly refinished hardwood floor, cherry jam.

Palate: Black walnut, a little peat, some smoke, brown sugar.

Finish: More peat and smoke, oak, a little bite.

Mixed: Very good in strong cocktails like Manhattans or Boulevardiers.

Parting words: This is the second of two bottles I got at Motor City Gas a few months ago. I was very impressed with it at the distillery. It seemed smokier and peatier (?) there too, probably because I tasted it after their rum-finished bourbon. It was still enjoyable at home, though. The peat blends seamlessly into its young, woody character to the point where it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the two. It doesn’t drink like 105.8 proof, either, which is dangerous. It’s at its best in cocktails, though, where it can stand up to just about any mixer, even amaro and black vermouth.

The price is high (even though I can remember what it was), but it’s barrel proof and the best peated bourbon I’ve had, although there aren’t very many to be had. Available only at the distillery on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Midnight Oil is recommended.

 

 

Four Roses Ltd Ed Small Batch, 2017

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA.

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Or something like that

Style: Standard recipe bourbon (OE recipe bourbons)

Age: 12 y/o (mix of 15 y/o OESK, 13 y/o OESK & 12 y/o OESV recipe bourbons).

Proof: 108 (54% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $150

Thanks the Eric for the sample!

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, corn on the cob roasting on the grill, tarragon. Water brings out black pepper.

Palate: Full-bodied. Toasted marshmallow, alcohol. With water: caramel, oak tannin, Habanero pepper.

Finish: Grape bubblegum, caramel, oak.

Parting words: This is an expression I used to review every year (See my reviews of the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 editions) but I haven’t in several years. I haven’t purchased any in a while either. Why? These limited editions were never cheap (I paid $90 for the 2013 edition) but demand for limited edition bourbon has grown so much in the past four years that I no longer have the time or budget to devote to hunting down these bottles. Even products like Old Forester Birthday Bourbon that used to languish on shelves for years are nearly impossible to find now. The secondary (black) market is always an option, but prices are even higher than retail as are the risks of various forms of fraud.

One of my concerns has also been decreasing quality of limited editions. I don’t think I have much to worry about when it comes to Four Roses. I tasted the 2017 alongside the 2013 edition and while the 2013 was more complex, there doesn’t seem like there has been much of a drop off in quality. No beverage is worth the stupid high prices of the secondary market, but I think $150 is fair for a bourbon as good as these always are.  I wouldn’t pay much more though. 2017 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch is recommended.

 

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.