Head to Head: Rittenhouse DSP KY 1 vs DSP KY 354

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Ketucky, USAwpid-20150130_172202.jpg

Distilled

1: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

354: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style: Kentucky rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $24 (DSP 354 edition is no longer being produced).

Appearance

1: Burnt orange.

354: A bit lighter. Bright copper.

Nose

1: Alcohol, caramel, creamed corn, tarragon, sawdust.

354: Softer. Spearmint, alcohol, roasted corn.

Palate

1: Neat- Heat and little else. Water brings out candy and oak notes.

354: Round and soft, even neat. Potpourri, rock candy, alcohol.

Finish

1: Hot and harsh. The caramel and herbal flavors start to shift into something much less pleasant.

2: Long and grassy. Freshly mowed lawn, alcohol, orange peel.

Parting words: After the infamous Heaven Hill fire in 1997, HH turned to their competitors/friends at Jim Beam and Brown-Forman to distill some of their whiskeys for them while they made necessary alterations to their new distillery in Louisville. Brown-Forman (the distillery formerly known as Early Times, DSP 354) picked up the distillation of Rittenhouse, our heroes’ flagship rye, during that period. It is also during that period that many whiskey enthusiasts like myself became big fans of the bonded Rittenhouse. Perhaps the consistently high quality of this rye and Sazerac rye during that period led to the current rye revival in some way.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do these two head to head for a long time. Now that I have, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect much difference between these two but there was quite a bit. When two whiskeys are so close to each other, those differences can become exaggerated, naturally, but that’s the point to these head to head tastings. “It’s the little differences,” as Vincent Vega said.

Simply put, the DSP 1 did not fare well against the 354. It wasn’t terrible, it but it was comparitively hot and unrefined neat. It was better with a splash of water and even better than that mixed. 354 needed no water and gave off some very pleasant characteristic rye notes in the nose and the palate. When mixed, there was very little difference between the two.

1 is mildly recommended overall but recommended as a mixer. 354 is recommended for all purposes but given its growing scarcity I would save it for sipping neat or close to it.

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Old Charter: The Classic 90

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)wpid-20140801_130826-1.jpg

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Note: No longer in production.

Thanks to @Primo55 for the suggestion of the final three words below

Appearance: Auburn with

Nose: Oak, black walnut, alcohol, caramel.

Palate: More walnuts, old oak, and a hint of butterscotch and brown sugar.

Finish: A little hot, but then a long, sumptuous oakiness that never falls into bitterness.

Parting words: Old Charter is an old brand dying a quiet death. It was founded in the nineteenth century by the Chapeze brothers (there is still a Chapeze house in Bardstown available for events), and was acquired by Sazerac in the 1990s when the newly spawned Diageo was selling off Kentucky bourbon brands. In recent memory, there have been 7 y/o, 8 y/o, 10 y/o, The Classic 90 (12 y/o) and Proprietor’s Reserve (13 y/o) Old Charters and Charter 101 (NAS). The only two left are the 8 y/o* and Charter 101. In the good old days of the glut, the 10 y/o and The Classic were two of the best bargains in bourbondom and the Proprietor’s Reserve (OCPR to bourbon nerds) was one of the finest bourbons of its era.

The Classic is a classic after dinner sipping bourbon. Even though they were a mere year apart in age, it  and OCPR taste very different from each other. OCPR was subtly sweet butterscotch while The Classic is defined by oak. There’s a resemblance to Barterhouse bourbon from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series, but the oak in The Classic is balanced by sweet caramel and nuts so it doesn’t taste tired like Barterhouse. A better point of comparison might be Elijah Craig 12 y/o. The role of oak is similar but in both cases there’s enough sweetness to keep it from going into “beaver bourbon” territory.

For many years Old Charter The Classic 90 was fairly easy to find but with the growing popularity of “dusty” out of production bourbons, it’s not so easy to find these days. It’s highly recommended if the price is right. I won’t be looking for any in the near future since I have two bottles in the bunker. Neener, neener, neener.

*Thanks to John B for reminding me via Facebook that even the 8 y/o is NAS now. They’re now calling it “#8” in true Sazerac style.

Head to Head: Bourbon Supreme Rare vs. Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve

BS= Bourbon SupremeBourbon Sup vs Cleve

CB= Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve, Batch 004

Maker

BS: American Distilling, Pekin, Illinois, USA (facility now owned by MGPI and used in ethanol production)

CB: Cleveland Whiskey Co., Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Age

BS: NAS

CB: <6 mos.

Notes

BS: Tax-stamped, volume listed as 4/5 of a quart. In a bottle resembling Blanton’s with a gold tassel.

CB: Sourced whiskey treated with a patent-pending process intended to speed up aging. The process involves the use of high-pressure, “oxygen infusion” and “heat processed, charred white oak segments”.

Proof

BS: 86 (43% ABV)

CB: 100 (50% ABV)

Price

BS: Acquired for free (thanks Oscar)

CB: $30

Appearance

BS: Light orange. Slightly cloudy with “dusty” floaters. Some light necklacing.

CB: Mahogany with thin, clingy legs.

Nose

BS: Wood varnish, the lumber section at a hardware store.

CB: Dry erase marker, grape jelly.

On the palate

BS: Thin and light. Like sawdust-infused vodka.

CB: Medium bodied. Like sucking on a grape-scented marker.

Finish

BS: Resembles accidentally inhaling sawdust and then washing your mouth out with cheap vodka. Fades into a locker-room.

CB: Lots of burn, which covers up the taste nicely. Fades into a headache.

Parting words: This is a head to head I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. On the surface, these two whiskeys don’t have a lot in common. Bourbon Supreme is a “dusty” that was made in Illinois at an industrial alcohol plant and Cleveland Whiskey is a new product made in Cleveland by a startup company.

What they do have in common is that they are two of the most frequently mentioned names in discussions of the worst American whiskeys ever made. They live down to the hype.

Bourbon Supreme quickly belies its origins as industrial alcohol more suited to use as racing fuel than a beverage. The wood notes are very clear, but there is no integration and no balance with anything resembling traditional bourbon flavors like caramel, vanilla or spice.

Cleveland Bourbon resembles something kids might huff to get high. The headache mentioned in the finish came on just seconds after I swallowed the first sip. It was remarkable. I have never had that experience before, except for a Croatian Cabernet that gave me a headache at the moment I first smelled it. At least Croatian wine let me know how awful it was right off the bat.

Can anything good be said about either of these? Bourbon Supreme is still fairly easy to find on shelves (for obvious reasons) and the bottle would look attractive as a display piece on the back of a bar. Cleveland Bourbon also has an attractive bottle, is 100 proof and is only $30 which makes it cheaper than most “micro” products of similar age.

Still, these are both terrible products, worthy of their place in the “worst ever” discussion. I will say that I have tasted something worse than these two bourbons: these two bourbons vatted together. Neither Bourbon Supreme Rare or Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve are recommended.

Wild Turkey Tradition

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USAWT Trad

Age: 14 y/o

Proof: 101 (50.5% ABV)

Retail Price: $100 (Binny’s)

Michigan State Minimum (when available): $120

Appearance: Auburn with long, regularly spaced legs.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, barrel char, citrus blossom, Genoese basil.

On the palate: Full-bodied and rich. Burn, purple Kool-Aid, oak, ginger, mace, brown sugar.

Finish: Fruity in the cheeks, dry on the tongue and the actual palate.

Parting words: This is Wild Turkey at its finest, complex but still powerful. It strikes a lovely balance between fruity sweetness, spice, alcohol and oak, even without water. Compared to its siblings, I would rank Tradition above American Spirit (some of my friends might reverse that ranking), but not as good as Tribute. It’s a perfect holiday or special occasion sipping bourbon.

The packaging is absurdly complex with a display stand covered by a chestnut colored cover, but the bottle itself is simple and elegant. The over the top packaging does mean that it travels and ships well, so that’s something.

Tradition was released in 2009, but I was still seeing them on shelves as late as a year ago. The price is steep for a bourbon but these limited edition Turkeys rarely disappoint, and it is officially a dusty now so if you see it for $150 or less, buy it. Wild Turkey Tradition is recommended.

Video Review: Eagle Rare Head to Head

Our Walloon Lake tasting panel returns with a head to head, or tête-à-tête as it were, tasting of Eagle Rare 101 and Eagle Rare Single Barrel (Kahn’s Fine Wine selection). I was going to edit this video down a little but I decided to go with the extended director’s cut. We had a lot of fun making these review, and I hope you enjoy it! Cheers!

 

Jim Beam Distillers Series

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Inc.)JBDS

Age: 7 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Medium copper with nice thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, caramel, oak, tan roux, sourdough starter, lavender.

On the palate: Full bodied and slighly sour. Heat, cola, caramel, vanilla, yeast.

Finish: Heat building into more heat. In the background some corn syrup, licorice, and a touch of wood.

Parting words: This is officially a dusty now, meaning it is no longer being produced and is only available as old stock sitting on shelves. When it was released a few years ago it wasn’t met with much hoopla by the bourbon enthusiast community. Jim Beam is not a popular line with many enthusiasts and there has been a seven year old version of the white label Jim Beam available in Kentucky for many years. So many were underwhelmed or simply ignored this bottle. One bourbon writer said the only reason to buy it would be for the fine  picture of Fred Noe on the label, and he already has a few of those. I disagree.

I think for what it is, Distillers Series is a fine bourbon. While the seven year old white label is bottled at 80 proof (and the eight year old black label at 86), DS was bottled at 90 proof and was available all over. To me, it tastes how the standard white label should taste. It’s not subtle or particularly complex, but it’s a good sipping bourbon for the beginning of the evening or while tending the grill or smoker. I think it’s worth seeking out if you enjoy that sort of thing. Jim Beam Distiller’s Series is recommended.

Head to Head: A Tale of Three Old Fitz’s

As a part of our winter series on bonded spirits, in this episode we will be comparing three bottles of the same bourbon, Old Fitzgerald, Bottled-in-Bond. Two are from the same distillery (presumably). Special thanks to White Dog & Tommyboy for giving me these bottles (yes they were gifts, those guys are both outstanding individuals).

All three are 100 proof wheated straight bourbons with no age statement (NAS).

The bottles

1) 200 ml bottle with faux tax stamp, distilled & bottled at DSP KY 16 (Stitzel-Weller), Louisville, Kentucky, USAIMG_20130201_155428

2) 1 liter bottle, no tax stamp, distilled at DSP KY 16, bottled at DSP KY 24 (Glenmore) Owensboro, Kentucky, USA

3) 750 ml bottle, distilled at DSP KY 1 (Bernheim), Louisville, Kentucky, bottled at DSP KY 31, Bardstown, Kentucky (current edition)

Appearance

1) Medium copper with fairly thin legs and necklace.

2) Darker, with similar legs and necklace.

3) Same as #1 but with thicker legs

Nose

1) Alcohol, tea, tarragon, caramel corn.

2) Oak, toffee, corn chips, old wood, ancho chilies.

3) Grape bubble gum, alcohol, spearmint

On the palate

1) Full bodied and sweet. Alcohol, creamy caramel. The vegetal notes are gone.

2) Full bodied and slightly drier. Oak, toffee, Mexican chocolate.

3) Medium bodied and even drier. Dry oak, a bit of caramel corn and mint.

Finish

1) Sweet and hot. Seems to get drier as the finish goes on. A bit of oak, then fading back into caramel corn.

2) Woody. The wood lingers for a long, long time with pralines in the background.

3) Pretty hot and minty with touches of oak, eventually settling down into a caramel sweetness.

Parting words

I’ve been wanting to try this line up for a long time. A few things interesting things arose in this tasting. First was how much oakier the later Stitzel-Weller bottle was than the earlier one. The logical explanation for that would be that the bourbon going into the later one was older than that going into the earlier one. Why the maker would do that is a puzzle. Perhaps the infamous whiskey glut was reaching a climax when bottle 2 was filled? Bottles labeled with “Bottled-in-Bond” have to be filled with spirit from the same distillery and the same distilling season. So another explanation for the greater wood influence could be a series of hot summers during the aging period for that batch of whiskey.

Another interesting phenomenon was how minty bottle #3 got as the tasting went on. #1 had an herbal note at first, but that went away within a few minutes. That mint is considered one of the signature notes for the Heaven Hill stable of bourbons. Bottle#3 has convinced me that Heaven Hill, the current distiller of Old Fitzgerald, is now using its own house yeast strain in its manufacture. They are clearly not using Stitzel-Weller yeast or the “Schenley yeast” master distiller Parker Beam reported finding at DSP KY 1 when Heaven Hill took it over.

Finally, while differences certainly showed up between the three, I was surprised at how similar they all were too each other. There was none of the sweet vanilla in #1 & #2 that many of us who are accustomed  to drinking our Stitzel-Weller from bottles labeled “Van Winkle” might expect. Aside from the minty finish on bottle #3, I doubt I could distinguish any of these from each other in a blind tasting. Not to say #3 is the equal of #1 or #2; it’s not. But they are all middle to lower shelf wheated bourbons and they all perform that role well.

Old Fitzgerald, Bottled-in-Bond, whatever the distiller, 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.

Last Night

Old Charter Proprietor’s Reserve (Bourbon Heritage Collection) Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Age: 13 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Maker: Belmont Distillery (?), Louisville, KY (United Distillers)

So that I don’t have to pretend like I’m getting all boozed up in the daytime, I’ve added a “Last Night” catgory.  This is what I was drinking last night.  Get it?  Good.

The Bourbon Heritage Collection (BHC) was a collection of whiskeys put out by United Distillers back in the 1980s and 1990s (I think).  There were five of them, representing the five biggest brands of American whiskey owned by UD at the time.  UD has a long conplicated history, but it is a descendent of the Guiness company and the Schenley whiskey company, and was itself an ancestor of international alcohol conglamorate Diageo.  The 5 were: Old Charter Propritor’s Reserve (OCPR), I.W. Harper 15 y/o, Weller Centennial (10 y/o, 100 proof), Very Special Old Fitzgerald (12 y/o) and George Dickel Special Barrel Reserve (a Tennesee Whiskey, 10 y/o).  Of these, the Weller Centennial and the and the OCPR are the best regarded, although all of them are very good whiskeys.

In the 1990s when UD was becoming Diageo, they decided to sell off their bourbon distilleries and most of their bourbon brands.  Old Charter and Weller went to Buffalo Trace and Old Fitzgerald went to Heaven Hill.  They kept Harper (now only sold overseas) and Dickel.  Of the BHC whiskeys, the only one that is still made is the Very Special Old Fitzgerald (VSOF).  The Centennial and OCPR continued being made by Buffalo Trace for several years after their acquisition, and they can still be found on shelves, but they are becoming increasingly rare, especially the highly sought-after Centennial.  The older OCPRs are easily distinguished by their “sloped shoulders” as opposed to the squat bottles (similar to Elmer T. Lee and the Centennial bottles) used by Buffalo Trace after they took over the brand.  All the BHC members also have a BHC neck band that was only used when they were made by UD.

As for the whiskey, the color is a light copper.  It has thin, light legs.  A good deal of wood comes through on the nose.  This smells older than 13 years old.  There must be a fairly high preportion of older whiskeys in this baby.  The predomiant aroma here is of butterscotch or toffee.  What it reminds me of the most is Werther’s Original hard candies.

On the palate it is light and sweet, with a big hit of wood upfront, like Sideshow Bob getting hit in the face with a rake.  Ok, that was kind of silly.  Sweetness follows on quickly, then some good, old fashioned alcohol burn.  It fades away into a faintly sweet finish, with some more of that light, sweet butterscotch.

What I like about this whiskey is that it is not a butterscotch monster like some of its younger kin.  It is very well-balanced.  It’s soft and sweet, but it still has plenty of character.  Again, I’m not too much of a fan of the other products of this distillery, but this one is truely an excellent whiskey, a classic.  Track one down if you can.