Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye, 2018

Maker: Jim Beam, Boston/Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20191108_192435.jpg

Style: Kentucky-style Rye (low rye rye)

Age: 9 y/o (? barreled 2009, released 2018)

Proof: 119.6 (59.8% ABV)

Purchased for $70 ( Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium copper

Nose: Oak, black pepper, cayenne, tumeric. With water, a little more sweetness. Caramel and anise.

Palate: Full-bodied and creamy, then hot. Still creamy, but with toffee, a little citrus and clove.

Finish: Heat and not much else except a little sweetness at the end. With water: Red pepper, oak, brown sugar.

Parting words: I love Knob Creek rye, so I was very excited when I saw this limited edition release. I was less excited when I started drinking it. KCR is already very bourbon-like but this edition is even more so. I like bourbony ryes, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself why you’re not just drinking bourbon (which is usually cheaper).

The strength of this editon of Knob Rye is its lucious mouthfeel. It’s a show-stealer, and it even holds up with a generous does of water. Aside from that, there’s not much here that isn’t in the standard Knob Creek Rye. I think I might like the standard edition better, even without factoring in the much higher price. It’s pleasant, but I really can’t recommended it at $70, even mildly. Hopefully the next edition of cask strength Knob Creek Rye will be better.

 

Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut

Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20190208_215424.jpg

Age: 5 y/o (label says 5-6 but the age of the youngest barrel in the mix is the legal age of the whiskey)

Style: Standard rye-recipe bourbon.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Cayenne pepper, caramel, peanut butter, tarragon.

Palate: Medium-bodied and hot. Behind the heat there’s toffee and caramel and grape soda.

Finish: hot pepper-infused peanut brittle.

Parting words: Jim Beam has been putting out so many new expressions in recent years, I’ve literally been unable to keep up. If I had, I would have probably purchased and reviewed this bourbon sooner! It’s 100 proof like its stablemates Jim Beam Bonded  and Knob Creek. Unlike those, it’s not chill-filtered and is 5 y/o (the label annoyingly calls it 5-6 y/o). This makes it identical on paper to the Urban Stillhouse Select. In the glass, the USS is more rounded and shows more baking spice than peanut brittle. Compared to Beam Bonded, it is older and less funky but the price is identical, at least in this state. If you like the funk, stick with the Bonded. If you want something a little more refined but still firmly Jim Beam, pick up some JB Distiller’s Cut. It is recommended.

 

 

Old Overhold Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20180824_172229.jpg

Style: Kenctucky-style bonded straight rye

Age: At least 4 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Cut grass, leather, tarragon, alcohol, black pepper.

Palate: Full-bodied and silky. Startlight mints, oak, tarragon.

Finish: Anise candy, woodruff, oak, alcohol. Long.

Mixed: Did well on the rocks, with soda and with Ginger Ale. Subtle but good in a Manhattans, and Sazeracs. Quite good with a splash of Akvavit.

Parting words: Old Overholt was founded in Pennsylvania in 1810, making it one of the oldest whiskey brands in the US (maybe the oldest), even older than most single malt Scotch distilleries. It was one of National Distillers’ brands back in 1987 when Beam and ND “merged”. Once the ND distillate ran out, Beam filled OO with its youngest, worst rye, similar to how it turned Olds Crow and Taylor into bottom shelf bourbons. Until last year, Beam little interest in Old Overholt, aside from 2013’s weird, ill-fated “The Olds” ad campaign in collaboration with Onion Labs (yes, affiliated with The Onion).

Jim Beam improved its Jim Beam rye a few years ago, raising it to 90 proof and four years of age. I reviewed it here. ND had produced a BiB years ago, but it had not been produced in decades and was pretty rare even as a “dusty”. Last year, Beam finally brought OO BiB back. The popularity of Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye was probably a factor in the reintroduction of OO BiB. OO’s old-timey label is also appealing to bearded hipster mixologists and now it finally has liquid inside that will appeal to them too.

Old Overholt Bottled-in-Bond is a good companion to the other fine ryes in Beam’s stable and outclasses competitors like Rittenhouse and Sazerac ($3 more and 5% lower ABV). OO BiB is recommended.

Canadian Club 20

Maker: Canadian Club, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Beam Suntory)20180307_101740.jpg

Distiller: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Corby)

Age: 20 y/o

ABV: 40%

Purchased at an LCBO store for $60 Canadian ($47 US). Not available in the US.

Appearance: Dark caramel.

Nose: Roasted corn, clove, oak, alcohol, dried flowers.

Palate: Full-bodied. Caramel corn, crème brûlée, oak, toffee.

Finish: Creamy and sweet with some heat.

Parting words: While the 8 y/o and 12 y/o expressions of Canadian Club have their own recipes, the 6 y/o and 20 y/o expressions share the same blend. The only difference is age and you can taste it. All the elements of Canadian Club are there but in much more mature form. It’s like seeing a picture of a your significant other in formal attire after looking at a picture of them as a drooling toodler. The spice, oak and sweetness are much better integrated than in baby CC. CC 20 manages to be both flavorful and very drinkable, an impressive feat at 40% ABV.

Like Scotland, Canada’s climate lends itself to long-aging periods for its whiskies. I wish there were more Canadian whiskies in the 20+ year range on the market.

It tastes even better when looking at the price tag. It doesn’t reach the dizzing heights of Wiser’s Legacy or special releases, but it’s better than it needs to be for $47. It blows away similarly priced Crown Royal expressions. If this were available in the states it would be on my regular rotation for sure.  Canadian Club 20 is highly recommended.

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.

 

Sipsmith London Dry Gin

Maker: Sipsmith, Hounslow (Chiswick), Greater London, England, UK. (Beam Suntory)20161220_085558.jpg

ABV: 41.6%

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Crystal clear.

Nose: Juniper, lime peel, navel orange, alcohol, horehound.

Palate: Full bodied, Orange peel, alcohol, juniper.

Finish: Licorice, alcohol, pepper jam.

Mixed: Out of balance in dry martinis and with tonic. Better with juice and in richer cocktails like Negronis or Princetons.

Parting words: Sipsmith is one of the few micro-distillers that has chosen to focus on gin specifically. Many make it (and make it well) but others are focused on whiskey and see gin and vodka as a way to bring in cash while their whiskey ages. I applaud how gin-focused Sipsmith is and how seriously they seem to take their craft. That care and focus has paid off in a big way for Sipsmith’s founder when they sold out to Beam Suntory for an undisclosed sum earlier this month (December 2016).

All that said, this gin is so unbalanced that I can’t recommend it. I enjoy dry, spicy gins, but Sipsmith London dry takes it too far. It’s all sharp juniper and citrus peel balanced with nothing but alcohol. It’s like a soprano singing a capella at the top of her range for ninety minutes. High notes are good, but absent a chorus with beefy altos and basses, they become noise.

At $40, this gin is on the top shelf, even for micros. That makes its lack of balance even less tolerable. There are dozens of other “craft” gins that manage to be dry without turning into the Mojave desert. Sipsmith London Dry Gin is not recommended.

Jim Beam Bonded

20161209_170242.jpgMaker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

Age: 4 y/o (minimum)

Style: Bottled in bond bourbon (single season, single distiller, 100 proof, at least 4 years old)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $23

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, cut grass, fresh caramel corn.

Palate: Creme brulee, alcohol, tarragon.

Finish: Alcohol, creamed corn, burnt caramel.

Parting words: Bonded Beam was a staple of the Jim Beam line for decades, but was discontinued in the 1980s. Jim Beam Bonded was (re)released in 2015 at the demand of bartenders, according to Fred Noe. It has a touch of the grassy Beam Funk, but it doesn’t overwhelm. JB Bonded mixes well in everything from Coke to eggnog to Manhattans. It’s not particularly complex but it’s what one expects from a bond at this price. Speaking of price, now that Knob Creek has dropped its age statement, it might be worth looking at JB Bonded for your sipping needs if KC’s price (currently at $37 in Michigan) goes up any more. Jim Beam bonded is a good choice to work into your middle shelf mixer rotation. It is recommended.

Alberta Premium

Maker: Alberta Distillers, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Beam Suntory)wp-1467151542331.jpg

Style: Canadian Rye

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

LCBO price: C$26 ($20 US)

Appearance: Pale copper.

Nose: Roasted corn, cut grass, leather, lavender, alcohol.

Palate: Semi-dry. Woodruff, jalapeno, butterscotch.

Finish: Hot and grassy. Hangs around a long time.

Mixed: Didn’t get a chance to try it in many drinks. It very well in an Old Fashioned and excellent in a Sazerac. OK in a Manhattan, but I that may have been the weird vermouth I used.

Parting words: Alberta Distillers is a unique distillery. Unlike most Canadian distillers, Alberta doesn’t produce a multi-grain blend, but whiskies from 100% rye. This made it very attractive at the beginning of the rye boom when rye was hard to come by. A few companies like Whistle Pig and Jefferson’s took to bottling Alberta rye and charging a premium for it. It was good stuff to be sure, but it’s hard to beat the original for the price. It’s not available on US shelves, but those of us fortunate to live near the border have no excuse not to grab a few bottles when we can. Canadian Club (also owned by Beam Suntory) has been using Alberta rye to fill its new Chairman’s Select label (Now available in the US for about the same price as Alberta Premium), so if this sounds like your cup of tea, it might be worth trying that one out. Needless to say I’ll be reviewing CC Chariman’s Select in the near future.

At any rate, Alberta Premium is a good solid whisky at a good price. Equally good mixed and neat. It’s recommended.

Tangle Ridge

Maker: Alberta Distillers, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Beam Suntory)wpid-2015-11-20-18.13.12.jpg.jpeg

Age: 10 y/o

Style: Double casked blended Canadian Rye

ABV: 40%

Michigan State minimum: $18

Appearance: Soft copper.

Nose: Grassy and pungent in a good way. Rye, black pepper, green cardamom, alcohol, cumin, ginger.

Palate: Characteristically mild, but with enough flavor to carry it. Tarragon, jalapeno, white pepper, roasted ginger.

Finish: Cola, alcohol, woodruff. Lasts for longer than expected.

Mixed: OK in an Old Fashioned, but I think I added too much sugar and bitters. Great in a Manhattan. Does very well on the rocks too.

Parting words: The last time I bought Tangle Ridge has to have been over five years ago. I didn’t really care for it then, because I got really big maple syrup notes out of it. Nauseatingly big. I don’t get that out of this at all. Either I misremembered, my palate was out of whack, or they changed their formula since then. They have changed the bottle since then, though. For the worse, I think. The old one was squat but with a long neck and ridges along the side. The current one is just a tall, dull, rectangular bottle.

So, what exactly is Tangle Ridge? The Beam Suntory website says it’s “made from 100% of the finest Canadian rye”, but the label just calls it a blended Canadian whisky, no mention of rye. Is this because the double casking process means they can’t call it rye? Or because “100% Canadian rye” refers to the flavoring whisky only, not the base whisky? Or is it of no significance?

Whatever it is, it’s good, especially for the price. At under $20, it’s a steal. Recommended.