Head to head: Laird’s Single Cask vs Laird’s Single Cask (Comrade Brandy)

GB= Generic bottle

The Comrade Brandy sticker wasn’t my idea, I swear.

CB= Comrade Brandy bottling

Maker: Laird’s, Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Viginia, USA


GB: 4.5 y/o

CB: 5.33 y/o


GB: 12/11/18

CB: 5/20/19


GB: 118/192

CB: 157/168

ABV: 65.8%

Purchased for

GB: $45

CB: $50


GB: Pale copper.

CB: Darker. New penny.


GB: Alcohol, old oak, cider, young Calvados.

CB: Leather, crushed apples, middle-aged Calvados.


GB:  Caramel apple, burn.

CB: More middle-aged Calvados. Chocolate-covered candy apple, vanilla, honey.


GB: Sweet apples, alcohol, a bit of oak.

CB: Richer and leatherier. Dark chocolate, cider, burn.

Thanks to John Creek and Bhavik Patel for getting Comrade Brandy together.

Parting words: Laird’s is the bourbon-lovers’ apple brandy and I, a bourbon lover, love Laird’s. I was excited when it was announced that Laird’s was going to be releasing a high-proof single barrel edition, so as soon as it hit the stores and went out and bought a barrel. A few weeks later, I found myself in a Facebook group for a private barrel pick of that very same product. So I took the opportunity to write up another one of my beloved head to head tasting reviews.

I enjoyed both of these but Comrade Brandy had more Calvados-like depth and complexity than the off-the-shelf model. I’m very glad I decided to buy two bottles but I kind of wish I had purchased more. I was sent two I didn’t order accidentally, but I can’t just keep them, right? Right? Laird’s Single Cask selection is recommended.



Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, Georgia Bourbon Society selection

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20160513_175337-1.jpg

Age: 9 y/o

Proof: 120 (60% ABV)

Barrel #3026, hand selected by the Georgia Bourbon Society

Appearance: Burnt (not Burt) orange with thick irregular legs.

Nose: Charred oak, caramel, leather, cinnamon, dried Thai peppers, earth.

Palate: Hot, but still drinkable neat. Roast corn on the cob, hard toffee, sage, alcohol.

Finish: Alcohol, oak, black licorice.

Parting words: Our timing was very poor this Spring. For the first time in years, my wife and I weren’t able to go to Kentucky on the last weekend of April. That was because my wife was due to give birth on April 28. I was excited at the prospect of having my son born at the fabled Gazebo in Bardstown but my wife wasn’t so keen on the idea. So we had to skip this year.

As a result of that and of living over 700 miles from Marietta, Georgia, I didn’t get my bottles of the Georgia Bourbon Society Knob Creek until just a week or so ago. My post about how we selected them has been one of the most popular posts on this blog. It’s here.

This bourbon lives up to its promise. The cinnamon notes I got at the barrel selection aren’t nearly as pronounced now as they were then, but they’re still present. This is a great bottle from a great barrel, if I do say so myself, and the fact that my friends and I helped pick it out makes drinking it an even greater experience. Highly recommended.

The Exclusive Malts- Cambus, 1988

Maker: Cambus, Cambus, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Style: Grain whisky

Age: 26 y/o

ABV: 48.1%

Price: $180 (K & L)

Thanks to Marshall for this sample.

Appearance: Old gold with thick, very slow legs.

Nose: Old oak, butterscotch pudding, serrano chili, alcohol

Palate: Banana pudding, then burn. With water the burn and banana fades into creamy vanilla custard.

Finish: Sweet and custardy, banana cream pie. Similar with water but with oak on the back end.

Parting words: Cambus was one of the first grain whisky distilleries in Scotland, and possibly the first to use a column (aka Coffey or patent) still. Its early history is fuzzy, but it may have been founded in 1806. What is known for certain is that it began at its current site in 1836 and was one of the founding members of Distiller’s Company Limited (DCL) a corporate ancestor of Diageo. When UDV (one of Diageo’s parents) was formed in 1993, Cambus was shuttered. This being Scotch, Cambus-distilled grain whisky has hung around for a long time.

A little ironically, The Exclusive Malts bottled this grain (not malt) whisky as a part of a big batch of vintage single cask Scotches they released last year. This one is the oldest. The others are all mid 1990s vintage. They include casks from nearby Deanston, Ben Nevis, Glen Keith, Glen Garioch, and Allt-A-Bhainne (no, that last one isn’t made up).

I love Twitter. One of the reasons is that it enables me to meet whiskey enthusiasts from all over the world and chat with them. One of the persons I’ve met that way is Marshall. We met in person back around Christmas (or was it Thanksgiving?) and he generously gave me a sample of this at that time. Earlier this week I was thinking of a special Scotch to review for the Friday before Burns Night and this one seemed perfect. It is delicious. It’s also surprisingly bourbon-like, specifically it’s like old bottles of Old Taylor, Very Old Barton or Old Charter Proprietor’s reserve (slope-shoulder Louisville version) that I’ve had. Big butterscotch and tropical fruit flavors, but perfectly balanced with wood, sweetness and vanilla. $180 isn’t chump change but it’s not unreasonable for a whisky of this quality and age from a closed distillery. Cambus 1988 is recommended.

Tequila Ocho, Single Barrel (Binny’s Selection)

Maker: La Alteña distillery, Jalisco, Mexicowpid-2015-05-05-19.52.46.jpg.jpeg

Age category: 1 year, 19 days (Añejo)

Rancho: El Refugio

Harvest: 2012

Barrel: 2/3

ABV: 54.57% (cask strength)

Price: $60 (Exclusive to Binny’s Beverage

Note: I received an informal tequila tasting from a Binny’s staff member before purchasing this bottle.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: White asparagus with hollandaise sauce, alcohol, lime peel, cane sugar, whiff of smoke.

Palate: Full bodied and rich. Agave syrup, tangerine, orange slice candy, burn.

Finish: Lime pulp, white pepper, burn.

Parting words: La Alteña is best known as the home of El Tesoro tequila, although it makes a few other brands including our friend Tequila Ocho here. Tequila Ocho was developed by Carlos Camarena of the Camarena tequila dynasty in partnership with Tomas Estes as a single-estate (rancho) tequila made using traditional methods.

Binny’s has a tradition of excellent whiskey selections that has now extended into tequila, a spirit that their whiskey staff is also passionate about. As a tequila novice, I found this to be accessible with lots of typical character, but not boring. In spite of being cask strength, it’s subtle and sophisticated with seamlessly integrated vegetal, citrus and sweet notes and aromas. The price is almost impossible to beat, too. Binny’s Single Barrel Tequila Ocho is highly recommended.

Four Roses triple header: OESO vs. OESO vs. OESO single barrel selections

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USAwpid-2014-11-12-17.24.33.jpg.jpeg

BBD= Binny’s

TPS= The Party Source

GBS= Georgia Bourbon Society

Warehouse: BN


BBD: 31-1D

TPS: 30-3E

GBS: 30-3G


BBD: 10 yrs, 11 mos.

TPS: 10 yrs, 3 mos.

GBS: 11 yrs, 5 mos.


BBD: 103.8 (51.9% ABV)

TPS: 115 (57.5% ABV)

GBS: 114 (57% ABV)

BBD: $55

TPS: $50 (current price for private selections)

GBS: Not disclosed (<$50)


BBD: Medium dark copper.

TPS: A little lighter with more orange.

GBS: Somewhere between the two (which are pretty similar anyway).


BBD: Leather, peanut brittle, cumin.

TPS: Big oak, touch of caramel.

GBS: Oak is just as big, but with more spice. Chili powder, Tabasco sauce.


BBD: Sweet and creamy on the palate, like vanilla toffee chews.

TPS: Sweet and creamy too, but not quite as rich.

GBS: Similar mouthfeel to BBD and just as sweet but more complex with Mexican chocolate flavors.


BBD: Sweet but drying. Toasted marshmallows. Lingers for a long time,

TPS: The oak carries through in the finish but with enough caramel to round it off.

GBS: Best of the bunch. Smoky chocolate and toffee.

Parting words: OESO is one of the most popular of Four Roses’ ten recipes for retailer and private selections, as this tasting illustrates. The E indicates the lower rye mashbill and the final O indicates the O yeast was used in fermentation. The O yeast is known for contributing a “robust fruitiness” to its offspring. These bourbons are all quite robust but not much was there in the way of fruitiness.

They are all very similar, as one might expect, but some of the subtle differences surprised me. I arranged the tasting the way I did, because I assumed that the TPS and the GBS would be closest in flavor but they weren’t. They were rick neighbors and came out at similar proofs but they ended up being the least alike of the three. The closest in profile were the BBD and GBS barrels. There were subtle differences between them but I highly doubt I could win a Pepsi Challenge scenario with the two of them.  The TPS barrel was the outlier. It is the youngest, but it was the woodiest of the three.

All three were very good, but the edge here goes to the product of the GBS barrel (which I and some friends of the blog helped select). The GBS selection was not for sale to the general public, but any GBS member would be happy to pour you some if you ask nicely. All are highly recommended.

Dickel 9 y/o Single Barrel Head to Head: Spec’s vs. Red Wagon

Maker: George Dickel, Tullhoma, Tennessee, USA (Diageo)Dickel vs Dickel

Style: Tennessee Whiskey

Proof: 103
(51.5% ABV)

Spc= Selected by Spec’s, Houston, Texas, USA

RW= Selected by Red Wagon, Troy/Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA


Spc: Dark copper, long, well developed legs.

RW: Brighter copper, similar legginess.


Spc: Alcohol, leather, lavender, char.

RW: Less alcohol, oak, peanut butter candy.


Spc: Well balanced with peanut brittle, a bit of maple.

RW: Sweet and bold with lots of maple and wood. A bit of peanut butter in the background.


Spc: Fairly hot finish that tingles for a long time with the signature George Dickel vitamin finish.

RW: Huge Dickel finish. Chewable vitamins, maple sugar candy and alcohol.

Parting words: Dickel’s single barrel program got kicked off a few months ago with a series of 9 y/o and 14 y/o retailer selections. The early reports had the 9 y/o barrels being superior to the 14 so I decided to invest in two of the 9s. In fact, I had been inquiring at Red Wagon about whether or not they would be participating in the program for weeks when I decided to just acquire one from an out of state store. The day after my Spec’s bottle arrived, I happened to be in Red Wagon and, lo and behold, theirs was sitting right there on the shelf. So, of course, I bought one of theirs too.

I was pleasantly surprised at the differences between these two bottles/barrels. Both were good but I give Spec’s the edge. Red Wagon’s tasted like an amped up version of Dickel #12. Lots of sweet peanut butter and maple with a touch of that famous vitamin note. I enjoy the #12 so I didn’t mind that, although anymore of that vitamin taste would have been unpleasant.

Spec’s had those signature Dickel flavors and aromas but they were more subtle and had a sweet leathery quality that reminded me of Elmer T. Lee and similar Buffalo Trace bourbons. It was surprising and showed how subtle and elegant George Dickel has the potential to be. Let’s hope it’s a sign of good things to come from Tullahoma.


Red Wagon’s 9 y/o Dickel Single Barrel is recommended and Spec’s is highly recommended.

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.


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).

Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength Head to Head: What a difference a yeast makes!

1)     OBSK (Binny’s, barreled 4/27/99)

2)     OBSF (Binny’s, barreled 7/11/02)

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: NAS (around 9 y/o)


1)     121.2 (60.6% ABV)

2)     124.2 (62.1% ABV)


1)     Reddish copper

2)     Auburn, with a little char in the bottom.

Nose (with water added)

1)     Caramel, spice, jalapeno

2)     Peppermint candy

On the palate (with water added)

1)     Full-bodied. Caramel, a little clove and peppercorn mélange, then burn.

2)     Even fuller bodied. Big herbal hit of mint on initial entry. Then some oak that gets more prominent as the whiskey lingers in the mouth. Bourbon lovers will know what I mean when I saw that at times I wondered if this wasn’t a Heaven Hill product rather than a Four Roses.


1)     Burn, and a little bit of wood. This hangs around for a long time and as it does, it transforms itself into cotton candy and a little tingle that lingers on the lips like the kiss of a long-distance lover.

2)     In the finish, the mint starts to become unpleasant. It feels like I just got done brushing my teeth. Not that it’s a bad feeling, just way too much mint. It doesn’t linger long though. Much shorter finish than the OBSK.

Parting Words

Yeast is something that doesn’t get a lot of discussion in the world of whiskey. Until recently there wasn’t much opportunity to do a head to head comparison. But over the past few years Fours released all 10 of their individual bourbons (2 mashbills, 5 yeasts) as single barrel barrel strength selections at around nine years old to big retailers like Binny’s in Chicago, Party Source and Cork & Bottle in the Cincinnati area, and Julio’s in Massachusetts. For a breakdown of the 10 recipes and the products that use them, click on friend-of-the-blog Oscar’s post here: http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showpost.php?p=256627&postcount=63

In addition to being really tasty, these releases offered a chance to deconstruct Four Roses and conduct amateur experiments (like this one) on the impact of mash bills and yeast strains on the taste of the finished product. As you can see above, it makes a big difference.

Viewed simply as individual whiskeys, I’d have to give the edge to OBSK but the OBSF is tasty too, especially when vatted with other whiskeys, like Four Roses Small batch or another single barrel barrel strength recipe. Both are recommended, the OBSK highly.

Now Drinking

Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength KSBW

Age: NAS, ca. 9 y/o

Proof: 112.8 (56.4% ABV)

Recipe: OBSO (For a breakdown of the 10 recipes, click here)

Barrel: GE 553C (bottle 1/172)

This whiskey is not available at your friendly neighborhood grab & go.  This is what is called a “private bottling”.  Where the law permits, certain liquor stores, clubs or even individuals will buy an entire barrel of whiskey (or brandy, rum, tequila, etc) and have it bottled for them by the producer.  The producer will usually pour samples of the contents of a few different barrels, then the purchasers will try them and decide which barrel(s) to purchase.  Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago is well known for its private bottlings of bourbon, rye and Scotch, for instance.  The Bourbon Society of Louisville, KY is also known for its private bottlings for members.  Two friends of mine even got together and bought a barrel of Four Roses single barrel that is very well regarded and very tasty.  I know because I’ve had some.

Not all distilleries do private bottlings though.  Four Roses, Willet (not really a distiller, but a producer of excellent whiskeys nevertheless) and Buffalo Trace are well known for their private offerings, but Heaven Hill has started doing them with their single barrel whiskeys too, and one will even find a private bottling of Wild Turkey’s Kentucky Spirit on occasion.

At any rate, in 2009, Four Roses decided to release some of their 10 recipes at barrel strengthas private bottlings to select liquor stores across the country.  Binny’s, as usual, got some of the best barrels.  This one, OBSO, is one of the constituent whiskeys in Four Roses Small Batch.

When sipped at barrel strength, it does that magical thing that high proof spirits do.  The moment a drop hits your tongue, it vaporizes.  This trick is amusing the first few times it happens.  After that, you decide you would like to actually taste it, and you decide you don’t want to have heartburn all night.  So you add a splash or two of water.

The whiskey itself is a dark amber, the proverbial copper penny color.  The nose has a lot of caramel, but a sharp edge to it, too, as the barrel char punches through.  Even with a splash of water, it’s still a hot whiskey.  But it’s a mature heat, more Kim Cattrall than Megan Fox.  The caramel is still there and even stronger on the palate.  The char has retreated a bit, but adds depth to the sweetness and keeps this whiskey from becoming one dimensional.  Not the best one of these Binny’s Four Roses bottlings I’ve had, but still worth the price of admission.