I’m not sure what all the negativity was about this one. It’s fine. #WhiskeyFriday
Maker: Lux Row, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA(Luxcon)
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.
GB= Generic bottle
CB= Comrade Brandy bottling
Maker: Laird’s, Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Viginia, USA
GB: 4.5 y/o
CB: 5.33 y/o
GB: Pale copper.
CB: Darker. New penny.
GB: Alcohol, old oak, cider, young Calvados.
CB: Leather, crushed apples, middle-aged Calvados.
GB: Caramel apple, burn.
CB: More middle-aged Calvados. Chocolate-covered candy apple, vanilla, honey.
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.
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.
Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA.
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.
Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
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.
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland.
Distiller: Caol Ila, Port Askaig, Argyll, Scotland, UK
Age: 8 y/o (distilled July 2006, bottled August 2014)
Price: $65 Exclusive to Vine & Table, Carmel (CAR-muhl), Indiana, USA
Notes: Single cask, natural color, not chill filtered. Aged in a refill sherry hogshead, cask #306213. One of 260 bottles. At cask strength, this whisky was all peat and smoke to me, so I diluted it to around 50% ABV for this review.
Appearance: Medium copper with thin, irregular legs.
Nose: Peat, smoke, black tea, drop of sherry.
Palate: Full bodied and hot. Some tropical fruit and vanilla in the beginning then the burn grows as does smoke, but without a lot of peat.
Finish: Ashy. Fireplace, old ashtray at grandma’s house back in the 1980s when people smoked inside. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon.
Parting words: Diageo’s Caol Ila is best known as a supplier of smoky malt for a myriad of independent bottlers and makers of blended malts. There’s also a 12 y/o distillery bottling that I reviewed here and friend of the blog My Annoying Opinions reviewed here. There was at one time a Distiller’s Edition, but I’m not sure how available that was in the US. In recent years there have also been a number of young, cask strength, independent bottlings like this one making the rounds. Most single malt Scotch doesn’t get bottled at anything less than ten years of age, but smoky malts often do because the smoke is more prominent at a younger age.
If fire is what you crave, this is the malt for you. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon. There’s not much else going on, though. There’s a hint of sweet malt and sherry, but it is hard to find behind the inferno. This Caol Ila is one dimensional, but it is only $65 and at cask strength which makes it more attractive than it might be at a standard proof. A volcano like this is especially good if you enjoy making your own blends at home. I mixed a little bit in with some Craigellachie 13 and some 16 y/o grain whisky and it added a nice extra bit of smoke to both of those.
If you enjoy smoky whisky like I do or if you’re looking for some smoke in your personal blending lab, Vine & Table’s 8 y/o, cask strength Caol Ila from V & T is a good choice. Recommended.
Proof: 111.3 (55.65%)
Michigan State Minimum: $60 (also available in 375 ml bottles for $35)
Appearance: Reddish copper with thin, frequent legs.
Nose: Alcohol, oak, vanilla. Toned down a little with water.
Palate: Hot. Alcohol, leather, vanilla. A little tamer than at full strength. Starts sweet but dries into a bitter char note.
Finish: All alcohol. Pretty tasty with water. Drying with oak and vanilla. Lingers a while.
Parting words: Beam Suntory has been experimenting a lot lately. Most of that has been with Jim Beam, but some of it has spilled over into Maker’s. First Maker’s 46 and now this, Maker’s Mark Cask Stength. Maker’s had a 101 proof expression at one time (although I think it was only available overseas) but other than that, high proof has never been something that Maker’s has really done.
I like standard Maker’s, especially in the summertime. It has a nice, easy drinking sweetness that can refreshing, but is never particularly interesting. This expression tasted drier than I expected (similar to Pappy 15 in that way) but otherwise it is pretty standard Maker’s. The higher ABV brings out more of the bitter char flavors with is not necessarily tasty. I almost wanted to water it down even further but
what’s the point of watering a cask strength bourbon down to standard strength? There’s certainly no price savings here.
Tasting makers at cask strength was interesting but not interesting enough to make me want to buy a second bottle. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is mildly recommended.
Age category: 1 year, 19 days (Añejo)
Rancho: El Refugio
ABV: 54.57% (cask strength)
Price: $60 (Exclusive to Binny’s Beverage
Note: I received an informal tequila tasting from a Binny’s staff member before purchasing this bottle.
Appearance: Pale gold.
Nose: White asparagus with hollandaise sauce, alcohol, lime peel, cane sugar, whiff of smoke.
Palate: Full bodied and rich. Agave syrup, tangerine, orange slice candy, burn.
Finish: Lime pulp, white pepper, burn.
Parting words: La Alteña is best known as the home of El Tesoro tequila, although it makes a few other brands including our friend Tequila Ocho here. Tequila Ocho was developed by Carlos Camarena of the Camarena tequila dynasty in partnership with Tomas Estes as a single-estate (rancho) tequila made using traditional methods.
Binny’s has a tradition of excellent whiskey selections that has now extended into tequila, a spirit that their whiskey staff is also passionate about. As a tequila novice, I found this to be accessible with lots of typical character, but not boring. In spite of being cask strength, it’s subtle and sophisticated with seamlessly integrated vegetal, citrus and sweet notes and aromas. The price is almost impossible to beat, too. Binny’s Single Barrel Tequila Ocho is highly recommended.
Notes: Natural color, unfiltered. Limited edition: Casks 108 & 166.
Appearance: Pale gold with thick legs.
Nose: Lemon pepper, peat, vanilla.
Palate: Full bodied. Lemon Meringue, peat, then burn and a touch of gravel.
Finish: Lots of heat and smoke. Hot but enjoyable.
Parting words: OK, so the name of this one doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it is delicious. I’ve had English Whisky Co.’s Classic Malt in years past and it struck me as whisky with lots of potential, but nothing impressive. This is impressive. It easily goes toe to toe with entry level peated Scotches without being an imitation of peated Scotch. The sweet citrus notes in the nose and on the palate set it apart from Islay and other attempts at peated spirits from outside of Scotland.
$70 for a cask-strength peated whisky this delicious is a steal. There are only a few bottles left (mine is #405 out of 426) so run to Binny’s immediately and grab yourself a couple. English Whiskey Company Cask Strength Binny’s Handpicked Dual Cask Peated Single Malt is highly recommended.