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.

Angel’s Envy Rye

Maker: Angel’s Envy, Louisville, Kentucky, USAAE Rye

Distiller: Likely MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye rye, finished in Caribbean rum casks.

Age: NAS

Batch: 1C

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Thanks to Oscar for help in obtaining this bottle and Amy for splitting it with me.

Appearance: Pale copper

Nose: Butter rum, carrot cake, almond brittle.

On the palate: Medium bodied, sweet and spicy. Fruitcake (the good, homemade kind), crystallized ginger, allspice, nutmeg, clove, mace, molasses.

Finish: More spice cake with a good bit of alcoholic burn. Clears out the sinuses and the sweetness lingers on the tongue and lips.

Parting words: This is another special release from this year that I have delayed reviewing in typical Sipology style. When it was announced that Angel’s Envy was releasing a rye, I was skeptical. When I heard the price, I was even more skeptical. When I tasted it, I was no longer skeptical.

This is a whiskey unlike any I have ever had and in a very good way. The rum flavors are very up front and they meld in an effortless way with the spice of the high-rye recipe rye to create a whiskey that is like drinking a 100 proof spice cake. It’s just an amazing product, albeit a very expensive one. It sold for $70 or more when it was to be found but it’s worth every penny and then some. There may be a few on shelves still, so if you see one, buy it. This is an amazing whiskey. Highly recommended.

Rendezvous Rye

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USArendezvous-bottle

Distillers: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana (6 y/o, 95% rye component) & Barton-1792, Bardstown, Kentucky (16 y/o, 80% Rye component)

Style: Indiana style rye whiskey (high rye)

Batch: 12A31

Age: 6 y/o (but blended with a 16 y/o)

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with a pinkish hue. Slightly cloudy.

Nose: Cedar, barbecue sauce, fresh cut grass.

On the palate: Medium bodied and soft. Dry with some spearmint. Water brings out a gentle sweetness to balance out the grassiness. Thyme, caramel, allspice, ginger.

Finish: Light, with a little sweetness but mostly tarragon and burn. Some char comes through and then softly fades. Much the same with water, but the burn has been transformed into a pleasant tingle.

Mixed: Very tasty in a Sazerac. Didn’t try it in anything else.

Parting Words: Rendezvous Rye was the first (or at least one of the first) products to be released by High West. The source material has shifted since that first bottling, but Rendezvous has been HW’s most consistant, and to me, most successful product. The tangy ketchup notes that plague Son of Bourye are here too, but they are kept firmly in the background by caramel and herbal flavors and aromas. Through prudent barrel selection and judicious mingling of ryes of two different styles, High West as created a rye that is very much worth seeking out. With rye supplies tightening, I hope they can continue to keep Rendezvous at an affordable price and at its current level of quality. Rendezvous Rye is recommended.

Willett Family Estate Rye

Maker: Willett/KBD, Bardstown, Kentucky, USAWillett Rye

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye rye whiskey (I am now dubbing this Indiana style rye)

Barrel: 132

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Appearance: Fairly dark copper with thick legs.

Nose: Pine sap, oak, caramel, tarragon, alcohol, woodruff.

On the palate: Full bodied. Sweet and herbaceous, then hot. With a splash of water, the resemblance to Bulleit rye is very apparent. Sweet caramel, hay and spearmint.

Finish: Burn and a little caramel, then it’s all starlight mints. Lasts for almost as long as one of those would in the mouth! With some water,  tarragon and basil come out and settle into licorice before gently fading away.

Parting words: The Willett ryes being released at increasing ages every year are from the same Indiana distillery supplying Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye and many others. The differences being that the Willetts are all at barrel proof and are single barrel selections. They are not available in Michigan, but are fairly easy to find in Kentucky and Indiana. At over $30, they’re not cheap but these are at barrel strength so one is getting more for one’s money. If 110 proof is too high for you, that’s why God made water.

Anyhow, Willett Family Estate Rye is the finest example of Indiana Rye I have tasted to date.  For something that is almost entirely rye and is only 4 years old, it has a good deal going on. I wouldn’t call it complex, but it’s more balanced than many of its siblings and it is a much better value than Templeton or High West’s Double Rye. I enjoy Kentucky “barely legal” style rye better, but if rye character is what you crave, Willett Rye is recommended.

Head to Head: Spring Mill Bourbon vs. Beer Barrel Bourbon

A. Spring MillSpringMillbeer-barrel-bourbon

B. Beer Barrel

Maker

A. Heartland, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

B. New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Age: NAS

Proof

A. 90 (45% ABV)

B. 80 (40% ABV)

Notes

A. Rebarreled in new charred oak barrels

B. Finished in barrels used to finish beer in

Appearance

A. Light copper

B. Burnt orange

Nose

A. Wood shavings, alcohol, chocolate-covered caramels, fennel, leather

B. Dried cherries, roasted malt, corn chips, alcohol

On the palate

A. Sweet and hot. Medium bodied. Brown sugar, sweet tea, vanilla

B. Full bodied. Licorice, stone fruit.

Finish

A. Hot and long lasting with a bit of candy behind the burn.

B. Mellow and fruity. Grape soda, alcohol. Fades quickly.

Mixed

A. Excels in a Manhattan and does well in an old fashioned. Gets a little lost in cola.

B. Adds an interesting fruitiness to the Manhattan, does the same in an old fashioned. Downright tasty in ginger ale.

Parting words

Both of these bourbons are examples of small producers selling bourbon sourced from MGPI, Indiana but putting their own stamp on it. Both are successful in creating something different and probably superior to what they started with. As for Beer Barrel Bourbon (B), the fruity aspects of the stout that previously occupied the barrel come through the most, although a little of the roasted malt character also comes through.  It is a successful experiment but I don’t know if I’d buy another bottle. Mildly recommended.

Spring Mill (A) has more of a classic bourbon flavor. Rebarreling the often lackluster MGPI bourbon has added needed depth and sophistication. One of the proprietors of Heartland was not forthcoming about the nature of the second barrel (char level, size) when I communicated with him on social media, but I suspect it is a slightly smaller barrel with a lighter char, maybe 2 or 3. Whatever the case, it worked very well. The ceramic bottle adds interest (although I’m not quite sure how to recycle it) and the fact that the bottle shares the name of a street on the North Side of Indianapolis near where I grew up is a sentimental bonus for me. Spring Mill is recommended. Looking forward to some of the new barrel strength version of this stuff soon!