Col. E.H. Taylor Rye

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USAtaylor_rye

Style: High Rye Rye (Bottled-in-Bond)

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Caramel, alcohol, potpourri, pine.

On the palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Caramel, tarragon, Thai basil, cumin, coriander.

Finish: Oak, alcohol, leather, dried flowers.

Parting words: This is Buffalo Trace’s stab at a high rye rye whiskey. It is made using rye and a small amount of malted barley, but no corn. The result is something spicier and with more rye character than their Sazerac line of rye whiskeys, but not as far over the line as the 100% rye whiskeys being sourced from Canada like Whistlepig, Jefferson’s, etc. It’s more elegant than those or the MGPI ryes like Bulleit and Willett. The caramel flavors (a bit surprising given the absence of corn) and oak keep the rye from overrunning things.

As with the rest of the Col. Taylor line, price is a problem. Even accounting for the relative scarcity of straight rye, $70 is too much for this. At $10-$20 less Taylor rye would be a sure-fire recommendation, but as it is, it’s only mildly recommended.

RIP Truman Cox

Recently I, as a (part-time) whiskey blogger, have been urged to take up the banner and “give Maker’s Mark shit” for lowering the proof of their bourbon. I’m not going to do that. The decision to lower the proof of Maker’s is unfortunate and disappointing, but the level of internet outrage regarding the proof change is completely out of proportion, surpassing even the Ebay/Pappy hysteria of 2012. I have no desire to contribute to this silliness any more than I already have.

Instead, I’m going to call attention to something much  more worthy of getting upset about: The death of A. Smith Bowman Master Distiller Truman Cox.

I didn’t know Truman very well. We were Facebook friends and I only recall meeting him once in person. He was the kind of guy who would greet you with a hearty handshake and a smile. As a friend of mine said, he was above all a genuine guy. He loved his family and he seemed to enjoy life immensely.

He was also a whiskey man through and through.  His prior position was at Buffalo Trace as chief chemist. He became Master Distiller at Bowman at a crucial time, as Bowman had recently moved to a new location, had a relatively new owner, Sazerac (also owner of Buffalo Trace), and was in the midst of a profound transformation. 10 years ago, Bowman was little more than a curiosity. It was the only large-ish bourbon distillery still operating in the state of Virginia and had only one (fairly) widely distributed brand, Virginia Gentleman. It came in 80 and 90 proof expressions.

When Truman moved to Virginia, the transformation of Bowman was well underway. The 90 proof VG had been replaced by Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon at 90 proof  and a 100 proof single barrel bourbon, John J. Bowman, was also introduced (review coming soon). Also made are Abraham Bowman Rye (I review the TPS barrel-stength version here) and Sunset Hills Gin. Under the brief period of Truman’s leadership the transformation of Bowman was completed, and Bowman began putting out some of the most highly regarded and sought after private bottlings of bourbons and ryes among enthusiasts. They were able to have the best of both worlds. They operated like a micro-distillery in many ways, but they were also able to draw upon the resources of a large spirits company like Sazerac and a large distillery like Buffalo Trace.

Truman was one of the brightest rising stars in the world of American whiskey and his sudden death is a great loss for the industry and bourbon drinkers alike. Here are some links:

The Spirits Business Article on Truman’s death.

Lew Bryson on Truman’s passing.

Chuck Cowdery on Truman’s death

Truman’s famous barrel dance.

Truman tasting Pappy Van Winkle 20 y/o

Truman’s autobiographical bit on the Bowman website

Members of StraightBourbon.com congratulate Truman on becoming Master Distiller

Here’s hoping he gets that bottle named after him at last.

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.

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.

Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel (Kahn’s selection)

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

Age: NAS

Barrel: Kahn’s 6-11/09

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: Shiny copper penny

Nose: Big vanilla like a Van Winkle wheater, and black tea, but just a touch. Orange peel and coriander.

On the palate: Medium bodied, light, but pleasantly so. Sweet, more orange peel, leather, sweet cinnamon, some heat, but never rough. Complex, balanced and elegant.

Finish: Warm, with more sweet cinnamon and potpourri flavors. Leaves the mouth all tingly.

Parting words: Rock Hill Farms is one case in which it pays to judge the book by its cover. It comes in one of the most elegant decanter of any bourbon on the market, and it tastes like the sort of drawing room bourbon it looks like.

The biggest drawback the standard issue Rock Hill Farms has is its price, $55 for a 100 proof NAS in the state of Michigan, and that’s before taxes. The Kahn’s edition is better than the standard version, and the last few times I’ve purchased it, it went for $45 before taxes. For a bourbon this suave at 100 proof, that is a pretty good deal. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Last spring I bet a bourbon buddy of mine a bottle that Purdue would make it further in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament than his Ohio State Buckeyes. I lost and sent him my bottle. He fell in love with it and now wants me to pick up a case of the stuff up for him next time I’m in Indianapolis. Kahn’s Rock Hill Farms is highly recommended.

 

George T. Stagg

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

Age: 16 y/o

Proof: 141.2 (70.6% ABV, the 2005 edition)

Appearance: Dark copper with thick, luscious legs.

Tasted neat and with a splash of water.

Nose: Neat: alcohol, oak, almond extract, mace. W/water: Weaker, but the sweetness really comes to the fore, even a little spearmint. Water does bring out some varnish notes that are a bit unpleasant at first but they seem to disappear after a few seconds.

On the Palate: Neat: Vanishes on the tongue without a trace in a matter of seconds. When swallowed Stagg burns all the way down in what seems like an all-out assault on the upper digestive system. W/water: much more palatable. Still plenty of burn, but it doesn’t overwhelm the complexity of this amazing bourbon. Dry but with undercurrents of caramel, clove, mace, allspice, black pepper, almond extract, pecan.

Finish: Neat: None, evaporates almost instantly. W/water: Still pretty quick, but the caramel and wood linger in the mouth. My lips were tingling for a long time afterwards.

Parting words: George T. Stagg the man was the co-founder (with E.H. Taylor) of what is now the Buffalo Trace Distillery. George T. Stagg the whiskey is the king of bourbons, and hence the king of American whiskeys. It is the most sought after and consistently the best of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection released annually in the fall. The other members of this series are William Larue Weller (a barrel-proof wheat bourbon), Eagle Rare 17 year old, Thomas Handy Rye (a barrel-proof rye) and Sazerac 18 year old rye.

Each year is slightly different, but always excellent. Many of the top-shelf offerings from Buffalo Trace are not worth the price, but George T. Stagg is truly worth every penny. Highly recommended, but don’t be a hero, add some water after nosing it. Your esophagus and stomach will thank you.

Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Barrel-Strength Rye

Maker: A. Smith Bowman, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA (Sazerac)

Age: 9 y/o

Proof: 136.4 (68.2% ABV)

Notes: Lot 01-C-14, The Party Source barrel #1

Appearance: Dark, ruddy copper with thick, slow legs.

Nose: Surprisingly mellow, leather, caramel, mango, a little copper.

On the palate: Medium-bodied, sweet and hot. Cotton candy, butterscotch. When a splash of water goes in, more spice comes out. Jalapeno, paprika, and cassia join the party.

Parting words: This is an exclusive offering from The Party Source (TPS) in Bellvue, Kentucky. TPS is one of the only retailers outside of Virginia to carry the Bowman line of spirits. The whiskey is first distilled in Frankfort at Buffalo Trace, trucked to Fredericksburg where it is redistilled and then aged there in Virginia. This is good whiskey, much better than its barrel-proof sibling Thomas Handy, and rye of this age is very hard to come by. That said, it’s expensive at $73 and while it’s good, it’s not great, in spite of all the internet gushing over this stuff. Nevertheless, it’s worth a recommendation. Makes a pretty good Sazerac cocktail too (on the rocks or with a little water added).

McAfee’s Benchmark, Old No. 8

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA

Age: NAS (4 y/o?)

Style: High-corn bourbon

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: Light copper with thin-medium, fast legs.

Nose: Cool Ranch Doritos, caramel, alcohol

On the palate: Thin, a bit of sweetness and that weird cool ranch note again. Not much else going on.

Finish: Very light, slightly sweet with a fruitiness coming through in the end.

Mixed: When Benchmark is mixed, the results are themselves mixed. It’s invisible in manhattans, sours and cola. For whatever reason, it does pretty well in hot drinks like coffee and hot toddies. I have also found it adequate for Bourbon cream pies and soaking woodchips.

Parting words: It’s hard to believe this is the same recipe as George T. Stagg. No one is quite sure who McAfee is, but Benchmark is a relatively new brand. It was introduced in the 1960s and was produced by Seagram’s, along with its stablemate Eagle Rare, at what is now the Four Roses Distillery. When Seagram’s was dismantled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Benchmark and Eagle Rare both came into the possession of Sazerac Co., present owner of Buffalo Trace Distillery. They are both currently made in there. Benchmark has always been lower-shelf bourbon, but Saz did experiment with a Single Barrel version which was actually quite good. It’s no longer available but still lingers on shelves (including one of mine) around the country.

Benchmark does what it sets out to do. It is cheap, well bourbon. At under $10 for a 750 ml bottle, it’s hard to expect too much, but $2-$3 more opens up many better possibilities. Even the mediocre Ancient Age shows up better. In light of all that, I cannot recommend Benchmark.

Blanton’s (Kahn’s Select)

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky (brand is owned by Age International, a division of Takara Shuzo Ltd)

Barrel: 86,Rick 7, Warehouse H (Kahn’s select barrel #3).

Age:  NAS. Dumped 2/23/09.

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper. Long, thick legs, like Khloe Kardashian.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, leather, delicately sweet caramel, a bit of corn syrup.

On the palate: medium bodied, rich caramel, wood, burn, leather

Finish: Burn, cocoa power, burn, wood, burn leather, burn.

Parting words: Along with rickhouse and something else I won’t mention here, leather is one of my favorite smells. For my 17th birthday, I asked for and received a black leather jacket I wore almost every day for the next three years. That said, I rarely taste leather in whiskey. This was the first bottle I ever got leather out of. It bears a family resemblance to Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms, and Ancient Age. The tannins that come out as black tea in AA are the leather here. Blanton’s is not a bourbon I talk or think a lot about, but I can’t think of any other bourbon that better represents Buffalo Trace’s #2 mashbill than this. It has all the earthiness, sweetness, and balance that epitomize Buffalo Trace’s Single Barrel offerings. Definitely recommended.

Gone Antiquing: Old Weller Antique Head to Head

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky

Age: NAS (Loch & K(e)y is around 9 y/o)

Style: Wheat Bourbon

Proof: 107 (53.5% ABV)

1)     Kahn’s

2)     Loch & K(e)y

Appearance:

1)     Dark Copper with big thick legs.

2)     Similar but seems lighter. Legs are a little thinner as well.

Nose

1)     Sharp and hot with char and homemade caramels.

2)     Not as sharp. The char comes through even more. The caramels are still there, but they now are studded with pecans.

On the palate

1)     Hot, but sweet. Assertive but not aggressive, more caramel and chewy vanilla toffees.

2)     Thinner, but milder belying its high proof. More complex than the Kahn’s. Wood, vanilla, toffee, caramels, pecans and walnuts.

Finish

1)     Big and hot especially on the lips, tempered by a growing sweetness in the form of the aforementioned vanilla toffees.

2)     Milder, but still bold. The sweetness leads more than in the Kahn’s bottle, but the tingle on the lips is still there and persists for what seems like a very long time.

Parting Words: These are both very good private bottlings. The Kahn’s drinks like an exceptionally good version of the standard bottling. The Loch & K(e)y bottling (associated with Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, Massachusetts) is more refined tastes closer to a Van Winkle wheater than the standard Old Weller Antique. Both these bottlings are sold out, but if you find a friend with one of them or you have an opportunity to buy a future private bottling of Antique from either of these retailers, I highly recommend you do so!