Head to Head, White on White: Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond vs Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond (White label)

1) Evan Williams, Bottled-in-Bond (white label)

2) Heaven Hill,  Bottled-in-Bond, 6 years old (white label)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Age

1) NAS (4 y/o minimum)

2) 6 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Nose:

1) Alcohol, roasted corn, caramels

2) Alcohol, basil, toffee, leather, corn tortilla.

On the palate:

1) Medium-bodied. Hot and sweet. Caramel and not much else, but that’s not a terrible thing.

2) Medium-bodied. Butterscotch candy, a bit of oak, peppermint.

Finish

1) Alcohol, corn syrup, lingers for a little while and then fades.

2) Heat, a little corn, wood, tarragon.

Mixed:

1) OK. Not good in a whiskey sour. Clashes with the lemon in a very unpleasant way. Does very well in a Manhattan if good bitters and a good vermouth are used.  Serviceable in an old fashioned and in Coke.

2) Does well in all applications. The sour has a nice whiskey muddiness but doesn’t clash with the lemon juice. The Manhattan is good, but the herbal notes in the HH throw it slightly off balance. Does very well in an old fashioned and in Coke.

Parting words: These are both excellent value bourbons from, yes you guessed it, Heaven Hill. It’s something of a specialty of theirs. Evan Williams BiB is new  to Michigan. I had never tried it before and while it didn’t blow me away it certainly met expectations. As much as I appreciate the higher proof and enjoy the BiB style, I almost think I enjoy the standard Evan Williams a bit more. Seems like it has older whiskey in the mix that the BiB doesn’t because of the requirements for BiBs. At any rate, this is still a good value. Evan Williams BiB is recommended.

The Heaven Hill line is sold primary in the American South, but we do get one wretched expression here in Michigan, the 80 proof Old Heaven Hill (gold label). I wouldn’t use that to clean my drain. Heaven Hill BiB is infinately better. It is in the classic Heaven Hill style. The yeast and corn are the stars here. The yeast provides the trademark mint/eucalyptus (and tarragon and basil to my palate) flavors with the rye riding shortgun. The corn brings the sweet caramel out from the wood. This is not one of the top 5 whiskeys I have ever had, but it stands alongside Very Old Barton BiB one of the best bourbon values, period. To sum up, I will quote my friend and bourbon connoisseur Cliff. Upon tasting Heaven Hill white label at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival last fall he remarked, “This is good bourbon. This is good bourbon. This is solid bourbon!” Heaven Hill BiB, 6 y/o (white label) is highly recommended.

Col. E.H. Taylor, Warehouse C, Tornado Surviving

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)taylor tornado

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (Bottled in Bond, 50% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper

Nose: Caramel, tarragon, almond extract, oak, alcohol

On the palate: Thick and full-bodied. Sweet and luscious, Marshmallows, caramel brownies. With water amaretto, and a hint of spearmint come out.

Finish: Fairly hot, but sweet and pleasant. Intense for a fairly long time.

Parting words: This is another in the already crowded field of Buffalo Trace Col. Taylor releases and it is probably the most popular of the bourbon releases. The “tornado surviving” aspect of it adds some interest (warehouse C was damaged by a tornado a few years back)and I will say that it is much more rounded and complex than the first edition, the old-fashioned sour mash. It is a very much in the BT house style and it is a very good bourbon, embodying the best aspects of the #1 bourbon mashbill.

The problem with the entire Col. Taylor line is the price. Sure it’s easier to find than the Antique collection, but it’s hard to justify paying close to those prices for bourbons without age statements at 100 proof. I can’t give it a non-recomendation because it’s simply very tasty. I can’t summon much enthusiasm for it, though, since it costs more than something like this should on paper. At $20 cheaper, this would be highly recommended. As it is, Col. Taylor Tornado Surviving edition is still recommended.

Old Grand-Dad, Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USAold-grand-dad-bonded

Style: High rye bourbon

Age: NAS (at least 4 years old)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with long sticky legs.

Nose: Caramel, butterscotch blondies fresh from the oven, alcohol, cumin.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Burnt caramel, butterscotch, clove, lavender.

Finish: Corn syrup, dark toffee, fairly hot, long and warming.

Parting words: Old Grand-dad is an old brand, one of the classic “Olds”, the others being Crow, Taylor, Forester, Charter, Fitzgerald and a few others. It was one of the brands Beam acquired when they bought out National Distillers in 1987, the purchase which made them into a major player in the spirits world. While Olds Crow and Taylor were changed to the standard Jim Beam yeast and recipe (some might say they even “trashed” those brands), Beam continued to use the same recipe and even the same yeast strain for Old Grand-Dad. Other variables like proof off the still and into the barrel and warehousing did change though.

At any rate, Old Grand-dad’s vital statistics may have changed somewhat, but it is still one of the best bargains and best kept secrets in the bourbon world. For every poseur on a waiting list for Pappy Van Winkle there are 10 cases of Old Grand-dad being purchased and enjoyed by people who know the value of a solid, unpretentious whiskey. Old Grand-Dad BiB is recommended.

Wild Turkey American Spirit

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Campari)

Age: 15 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Notes: Bottled-in-Bond

Appearance: Auburn with thick, viscous legs.

Nose: Alcohol, peanut butter, leather, citrus blossom. A little grassy with water.

On the palate: Full-bodied and velvety. Alcohol, black walnut, oak, papaya. Water brings out fruity notes. Kiwi, cherry, apricot.

Finish: Warm, woody, some char. Burns in the mouth for a long time.

Parting words: This is the first entry in my occasional series of reviews of so-called dusty whiskeys. American Spirit was a limited edition offering that was discontinued a few years ago (can’t find exact dates). There still should be some in the wild, but they originally sold for around $100. I got mine on sale as a neighboring state was closing the brand out a couple years ago.

Packaging wise, American Spirit teeters on the edge of gaudiness. The pine box the bottles comes in resembles a coffin and the label is a little cheesy with all the gold and script, not to mention the faux tax strip and pompous paragraph on the inside of the coffin lid. The bottle itself is elegant with a smart wooden stopper.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a very good bourbon. It’s very dry and very much in the Wild Turkey house style. It’s not as sought after as Wild Turkey Tribute or the old split label 12 y/o editions, and there’s a reason for that beyond scarcity. Next to those, American Spirit doesn’t hold up well. But on its own terms it’s very good and worth a recommendation although the high price keeps it from entering highly recommended territory. If you haven’t had many of the old Wild Turkey special releases, it’s worth getting.

Col. E.H. Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash, Bottled in Bond (1st edition)

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Age: 9 y/o

Style: High Corn Bourbon

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with thick lumbering legs

Nose: Slightly yeasty, but not unpleasant. Hint of tobacco, spearmint.

On the palate: Medium bodied, bit of caramel, spearmint, and tarragon. Sweeter with a splash of water. Homemade marshmallows, Alpine Mints.

Finish: Fairly short, some caramel, vanilla. Longer and mintier with water. Leaves behind a nice tingle in the lips.

Parting Words: First, I should mention the bottle and the canister this came in. Both are beautiful. They’re similar in design, busy and slightly campy, but very well designed. I know I’m a sap, but I got a little choked up to see the Old Taylor “Castle” Distillery gone from the right side of the label, replaced by a vintage picture of the O.F.C. Distillery (nka Buffalo Trace).

The Old Taylor castle is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) derelict distilleries in Kentucky. If you are visiting Woodford Reserve distillery, turn left out of the parking lot and keep driving down McCracken Pike through the woods and horse farms. You’ll think you’re lost, until a massive castle-like distillery looms up on your left side. Right next door is the Old Crow distillery. Park on the right side of the road, look around and take a lot of pictures. Trespassing is, of course, illegal.

At any rate, this new Old Taylor, made at E.H. Taylor’s first distillery, is the first in the series of high-end bottlings under that name from Buffalo Trace, who acquired the brand from Beam in 2010 (I think). Buffalo Trace representatives have said they want this line to be for rye-recipe bourbons what Van Winkle has become for wheaters. They have a long way to go.

This first edition was made using an older method of creating a sour mash. Instead of adjusting the ph in the mash tub, the mash was allowed to sit in the holding area before going into the still for a few days until proper sourness was achieved. This shows up in some of the sourdough notes I picked up. The second release was single barrel, the current release is the “Tornado Survivor” edition, which I hope to acquire and review in a few weeks.

At any rate, Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash is not bad, pretty good, actually. The problem is the price. I’ve had Binny’s  selected bottles of Buffalo Trace bourbon that were as good or better than this, but at half the price. I don’t think it’s fair to give this a non-recommendation since I did enjoy it, but I can’t bring myself to be enthusiastic either. Col. E.H. Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash gets a mild recommendation.

 

Thanks to John Burlowski for helping me acquire this bottle.

Review: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Heaven Hill (distilled at Early Times Distillery, Shively, Kentucky)

Age: NAS (by law BiBs must be at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Color: dark copper

Nose: Creamy caramel with a hint of dry wood and potpourri

On the palate: dry by tempered with some sweetness. A nice hit of cedar on the back end.

Finish: Dry, but lacking much in the way of woody notes. Just a pure, dry rye spice with some friendly heat lingering for a long, long time.

Parting Words: Rittenhouse BiB is my benchmark rye. It is everything a standard Kentucky-distilled rye should be. It’s firmly in the “barely legal” category, with a lot of corn character balanced with the spicey, fruity rye influence. It’s good for sipping, and cocktails and even works mixed with coke or ginger ale. But that’s what Beam Rye is for.

Review: Very Old Barton, Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Tom Moore Distillery, Bardstown, Kentucky (Sazerac)

Age: 6 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Color: surprisingly dark given the stated age.  Caramel.

Nose: Oak, alcohol, caramel corn, brown sugar.  With a splash of water, the wood comes on even more strongly.  This edition is certainly woodier than I remember.

On the palate: Corn, sweet caramel, turbinado sugar, tiny tang of maraschino cherry.  Like in the nose, water brings out the wood, and even some spice that was submerged before. The cherry is also easier to pick out.

Finish: sweet and hot like a teenage summer fling. I am also getting the faintest hint of graham crackers out of the finish, but I’m not sure what to do with that. Let’s ignore it and stick with the teenagers.